KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A FOX4 investigation that exposed widespread food insecurity among active-duty service members in Missouri has sparked concern and outrage by Iraq War Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator from Illinois Tammy Duckworth.
FOX4’s investigation revealed that 30% of Missouri students whose parents serve in the military qualified for free or reduced lunches this year.
FOX4 also discovered there are food pantries and food distribution programs on or near every military base in the country and it’s not uncommon for junior enlisted soldiers to rely on food stamps and other governmental assistance programs to feed their families.
“Our military is weakened when service members are unable to feed their families,” Duckworth said in response to the investigation.
“As someone whose family depended on food stamps after my father lost his job, I’m outraged that so many of our service members who are deployed must worry about whether their children are able to be fed.”
Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient who lost both legs and partial use of her right arm in 2004 when an RPG struck her helicopter, added: “We must pass legislation to address this problem, which is why I’ll continue to push for solutions like creating a basic family needs allowance.”
The Military Family Basic Needs Allowance would provide targeted cash benefits – on average about $400 a month – to service members who do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House approved this measure; the Senate did not. The provision is now pending in a Congressional conference committee.
“The number of active duty service members struggling to put food on the table is particularly alarming.“
Duckworth is the latest lawmaker to respond to this investigation, which analyzed records from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education about the number of students, whose parents are active-duty or in the National Guard, who qualified for free and reduced school lunches.
FOX4 discovered a high percentage of struggling military students attend classes in the Kansas City area. In the Belton School District, for example, our analysis revealed 44% of military students qualified for assistance under the National School Lunch Program this year. In the North Kansas City School District, that number is 35%.
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver said no level of food insecurity, among any segment of society, is acceptable.
“Having said that, the number of active duty service members struggling to put food on the table is particularly alarming,” he said. “The men and women making great sacrifices for our country should never struggle to provide meals to their families.”
Cleaver said he supports the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance and pay raises for service members.
“Members in the House are open to the inclusion of this provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and when it comes time to vote, I will support its inclusion, he said. “I supported the 3% increase in base pay for soldiers included in the 2021 NDAA and would be happy to see this increase should the opportunity arise.”
“No service member should be food insecure.”
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley told FOX4 he supports salary increases for service members and the state’s recent action that makes it easier for military spouses with professional licenses to get a job when they move from state to state.
“No service member should be food insecure,” Hawley said. “That’s why I supported a 3% pay raise for troops last year and will do so again this year. That’s why I also support Missouri’s decision to allow license reciprocity, so military spouses can transfer their professional licenses quickly and easily when they and their active-duty spouses are stationed in our state.”
“I voted last year to direct the Secretary of Defense to work with state governors to improve license reciprocity even further,” he added. “Our service members represent the best of our nation, and I will continue to fight to make sure they and their families have everything they need.”
Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler’s office echoed those views.
“The safety and well-being of our military families has and continues to be a priority of the Congresswoman,” a spokesman said.
“She has consistently supported military pay increases, including this year, and has been an advocate for changes in Missouri law to allow employment licensing reciprocity for military spouses.”
Hartzler’s office also said she supported action last year that required the Department of Defense to study food insecurity among military families and report its findings to lawmakers.
“This report will provide the necessary data and information to effectively address this issue moving forward,” her office said, adding the report should be released early next year.
Missouri Congressman Sam Graves also told FOX4 he supports salary increase for our troops.
“When the families of our men and women in uniform struggle at home, our military struggles abroad,” he said. “This is exactly why I’ve consistently supported pay raises for military families and increased funding for our military. I will always stand up for those that defend our country and our freedom.”
“I didn’t sign up to serve, protect, and struggle to feed my children.”
An active-duty sergeant in Missouri — and single mother of two young children – told FOX4 she supports any action that will help her and other military families who struggle to put on their families’ table.
“Food insecurity is a pretty widespread problem in the military,” said Jane, who asked us to protect her identity for fear of retribution by her commanding officer.
“The military doesn’t want the public to know about this issue because it would project that the military isn’t perfect. But I’m a sergeant and this impacts me and my family.”
“I signed up to serve and protect my country,” she said. “But I didn’t sign up to serve, protect, and struggle to feed my children.”