A lot of attention has been paid lately to viral social media photos from service members that the public-at-large finds “disrespectful.” Those who share the photos and post angry comments claim to be “standing up” for veterans and the military, often speaking of the “respect” they deserve. However, over the last seven years none of these advocates have paid any attention to the rising number of military families living below the poverty line.
According to numbers released by the Defense Commissary Agency and reported by CNN Money, usage of food stamps “at military grocers has been rising steadily since the beginning of the recession in 2008.” During the last fiscal year, $104 million worth of food stamps were used at military commissaries. This is quadruple the amount of SNAP benefits used in 2006, according to RT.com.
The reason behind the increase in food stamp usage is considered to be two-fold. First, it is a symptom of the larger economic woes that have gripped the country since the Great Recession began in 2008. Specifically, it affects military spouses who struggle to find decent work because of frequent moves or an overly-demanding schedule for their service member spouse. Secondly, this reflects the growing income inequality gap, where wages have not kept pace with general cost of living increases.
Lower-enlisted soldiers—E-1 to E-3 pay-grades—make only slightly above the poverty line and can have very large families upon enlisting. It is these soldiers (the majority of whom are under the age of 25) that military officials believe are the ones using the program.
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In post-sequestration America, the Department of Defense is perhaps the agency at the center of the crosshairs with respect to budget reduction. All too often, these cuts come at the expense of the soldiers and their families. Still, no one serving their nation should have to rely on the SNAP program to feed his or her family.