Soldiers’ Hidden Struggle: Providing Food for Their Families

A new report reveals that 1 in 4 U.S. military families rely on food banks and similar programs.


Many U.S. soldiers and their families have too little on their plates.

Twenty-five percent of military families, or 620,000 households, rely on food pantries and other charitable programs to help feed their families, according to a new report from Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks.

The organization describes how it came up with its results here. The military households counted in the survey include at least one active-duty military member or member of the National Guard or Reserves.

Nationwide, the Feeding America survey found that 46 million people, or 1 in 7 Americans, are dependent on food banks and meal service programs to put food on the table. USA Today reported:

“The results are alarming,” says Bob Aiken, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “It means that people in America have to make trade-offs. They have to pick between buying food for their children or paying for utilities, rent and medicine.”

According to NBC, military families need food assistance for a variety of reasons:

For active duty, pressures include low pay, poor financial planning by junior soldiers, the difficulty for spouses to hold steady jobs amid base transfers and deployments, and the higher costs of living in some states. For veterans, the triggers are the transition to the civilian world, and, for some, living off low disability pay or retirement funds. Both groups were hit by the Great Recession, too.

The Pentagon disputes the survey results. NPR reported:

After reviewing the results, [Pentagon spokesman Nate] Christensen wrote in an email, “The Department of Defense disagrees with the methodology that Feeding America used to calculate the estimated percentage of military households served by its food assistance programs.”

But Christensen also said that military pay and benefits compare favorably with the private sector, and if a service member has financial troubles, counseling is available.

According to NBC, newly enlisted soldiers start at $18,000. They also get tax-free allowances for food, clothing and housing. But it doesn’t stretch far enough.

We told you earlier this year that food stamp usage at commissaries, or military grocery stores, had tripled since the Great Recession. Fortunately, $200 million in planned cuts to commissaries was restored by a Senate budget panel earlier this month, CNN Money said. The cuts would have shaved grocery savings averaging $4,500 a year for a family of four to just $1,500.

Are you surprised to see how many military families rely on food donations? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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