Troops Facing Food Insecurity and High Rent Will Get Increase in Funds From Pentagon

For troops experiencing food insecurity and high rent, the Pentagon will give higher housing payments and look for ways to fight hunger in the force, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Wednesday.

Austin told reporters that troops already have enough to worry about and "basic necessities like food and housing shouldn't be among them," the Associated Press reported.

As many as 160,000 active-duty military members are having difficulty feeding their families, based on an estimate from Feeding America. The group, which coordinates the work of over 200 food banks around the nation, estimates that 29 percent of soldiers in the most junior enlisted ranks experienced food insecurity in the past year.

Austin said the department would temporarily give higher housing allowances for troops who live in areas where rent has increased by at least 10 percent this year. For those moving into areas with housing shortages, temporary lodging reimbursement will be extended, according to the AP.

Austin said the undersecretary for personnel has 90 days to create a long-term strategy.

The exact extent of the issue topic for debate, as there is no formal study. However, activists say this isn't new and it mainly affects junior-level enlisted service members, rank E1 to E4, with children.

Lower-ranking enlisted troops receive little pay and frequent moves make it hard for spouses to search for steady work. This problem is worsened by an Agriculture Department rule that restricts thousands of poor military families from accessing the SNAP government assistance program, more commonly known as food stamps.

A housing allowance is given to soldiers who don't live on bases. This allowance is counted as income when calculating eligibility for food stamps. That additional allowance usually is enough to prevent families from qualifying for food stamps. Other federal programs, however, do not count housing payments as income.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Pentagon, Armed Forces, Funding, Food Insecurity, Housing
The Pentagon announced it is giving higher housing allowances to troops facing food insecurity and high rent. Above, a man receives food at an Armed Services YMCA food distribution on October 28, 2021, in San Diego, California. Gregory Bull/AP Photo

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a former Blackhawk pilot who lost both legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq, has sponsored a bill that would establish a Basic Needs Allowance payment for military families in need.

Representative James McGovern has sought a Pentagon study of the problem and a repeal of the USDA's Basic Allowance for Housing regulation.

In addition to the immediate actions, Austin said in a memo that the department should look into a number of other steps to increase stability for service members. They would include extending the tour length for troops deploying to some locations overseas when they are accompanied by their families.

Where possible, he said the department should consider extending the three-year time limit on assignments at bases within the United States.

Austin also said the Pentagon should take steps to improve financial education and counseling for troops.