Mar 5, 2014 12:23 AM by Maddie Garrett
More military families are relying on food stamps to get by, according to new numbers from the Defense Commissary Agency. Last year military members used $103.6 million in food stamps at commissaries, a 5% increase from 2012 and almost double the amount used in 2009, which was $52.9 million.
But Fort Carson Financial Advisors are saying that no soldiers should be on food stamps, because the military has its own food assistance program, Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA).
Sgt. Dautriel Moore, CF NCO, is now a financial counselor at Fort Carson. But he remembers what it was like when he first joined the Army.
"I got married before I joined the military, had a baby on the way," he remembered.
He had all of that and was providing for his family on a new soldier's salary.
"For me it was difficult," he said. "Make sure I get groceries, make sure the kids get clothes, make sure my bills get paid."
His story is all too familiar for many young soldiers. He said those are the ones, newly enlisted with families, most likely seeking financial help.
"It's not green roses for our younger soldier's, they're not making that much money," said Dale Mckitrick, Army Community Services Financial Advisor at Ft. Carson.
On top of low starting salaries, many military spouses are also unemployed or have difficulty finding good jobs because of moving often and job availability. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families reported that 30% of military spouses, ages 18 to 24 were unemployed in 2012. With a spouse not working, that increases the financial strain.
"So a family of four, a family of five, living on $1,300 a month, not that much money," explained Mcktrick.
On top of the base pay, service members can still get free or subsidized housing. But even with that added income, some military families still qualify for food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The latest records from the Agriculture Department show 5,000 active duty service members were on SNAP in 2011. Still, that is less than one percent of total Americans on SNAP that year, which was 44 million people.
"They shouldn't have any soldiers on food stamps because the military has an entitlement program that replaces it and puts it directly in their pay check," countered Mckitrick.
But somewhere there's a disconnect. The Pentagon reported only 421 military families qualified for the military's food assistance program in 2012.
At Fort Carson, Mckitrick also said that the numbers are low when it comes to people applying for the military's FSSA program.
"We're only talking three or four people a month," he said.
That shows many families might be looking elsewhere to get help, and it's not just from food stamps. Operation Homefront Executive Director Charlotte Merriam in Colorado Springs said emergency food assistance is still their number one request.
"We're there to help them, they're just like any other family in the United States who's struggling right now," said Merriam.
Military families also have the opportunity to shop at commissaries, which offers lower grocery prices. But those prices could go up because of proposed cuts to commissary budgets from $1.4 billion to $4 million over a three year period.
Also keep in mind, food stamp benefits were recently reduced for everyone last fall.