The Republican push to cut $40 million from the agricultural bill will hit veterans and families of active duty military hard. According to reporting by Stars and Stripes, food stamp use among active duty military and veterans has increased “sharply” since the U.S. was hit hard by the Great Recession.
While no data is kept on who uses Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – more commonly known as food stamps — at commissaries nationwide, in 2011 nearly $88 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers were redeemed. Joyce Raezer, executive director for the National Military Family Association, credits the spike in use to veterans separated from the military before retirement and members of the National Guard and Reserve. “I suspect that we are talking about more recently [separated],” she said, “who have gotten out of the military and found out that it’s not so easy to find a job in the civilian sector,” she told Stars and Stripes in 2011.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP benefits are already scheduled to go down. Boosted until November 1, 2013, by the 2009 Recovery Act, families of three will lose $29 a month. That may not seem like very much, but the daily per person per meal benefit will be less than $1.40 once that reduction is in place.
In June, Democrats derailed a $1-billion per year cut to food stamps ensconced in the $1-trillion Farm Bill, but the House GOP is doubling down, trying to cut $20-billion over five years from an upcoming bill. The Senate passed a bill cutting $400 million a year from the SNAP program, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said that the difference between the House and the Senate was so “huge and dramatic” that the White House may have to intervene.
Many disabled veterans also rely on food stamps. Nationally, 16 percent of all food stamp recipients are disabled, but disabled veterans may have an easier time qualifying for the additional assistance because they have more lenient work search requirements.
Disabled veterans with total disability as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who is permanently housebound and in need of regular attendance automatically qualifies for food stamp benefits, although they do have to apply through the appropriate agency.
Income requirements are also modified for veterans. Civilians must qualify based on both their gross household income and their net income, while households with a disabled veteran are only required to qualify using net income which may include a deduction for medical expenses related to the veteran above $35 per month. Service-related disability income is not counted as earned income for SNAP purposes.
Civilians with household assets above $2,000 are also ineligible for supplemental food assistance; if the household houses a veteran, that limit rises to $3,000. A veteran’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are also excluded from household income. Any veteran who lives alone and receives SSI automatically qualifies for food stamps, unless (s)he is a resident of California, wherein instead of food stamps, SSI benefits are increased.
Special consideration for veterans with regards to food stamp assistance also applies to dependents and survivors.
Nearly 600 veterans signed a letter through VoteVets.org asking the Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) , chairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry committee, to continue to provide food stamps, saying that they are among those who are food insecure and rely upon the program to feed themselves and their families. “Nearly 1.5 million households with a veteran received food-stamp benefits, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in 2011.
Sadly, this also includes far too many members of the military who are on active duty. In that same year, over $100 million in food aid was used on military bases,” the letter states. “We have received food assistance, too. The benefits under the SNAP program are no hand out. They are simply a bridge to get people through hard times, and ensure their families don’t starve.”
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