December 09, 2021

Rep. Mike Levin Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Provide Free or Reduced-Cost School Meals to Eligible Military Children

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and Richard Hudson (R-NC) introduced the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act to make it easier for military families to qualify for school meal programs. Nearly one in seven military families report experiencing food insecurity, but many do not qualify for programs like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) because servicemembers’ housing allowances are considered income and push them out of eligibility. The Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act would stop counting servicemembers’ Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) as part of their income when determining eligibility for school meal programs, which would then qualify almost all children of entry-level, active duty servicemembers for school meals, up through ranks E-6. It would also automatically enroll children of eligible servicemembers into school meal programs so servicemembers are no longer required to do burdensome paperwork every time they relocate.

A fact sheet on the bill is available here. Text of the legislation is available here.

“The men and women who risk their lives for our country should never struggle to feed their children, and it’s unacceptable that nearly one in seven military families face food insecurity,” said Rep. Levin. “Our bipartisan legislation will help address that injustice by taking a more accurate measurement of servicemembers’ income and automatically enrolling the children of eligible active duty servicemembers in school meal programs. While we must do more to improve the financial security of our men and women in uniform, this is an important step towards ensuring military parents around Camp Pendleton and across the country can focus on fulfilling their mission rather than on where their kids will find their next meal.” 

“I’ve always said that joining the military is more than just a job – it’s a family commitment to our country. That's why it's so disappointing that we find ourselves in a position where food insecurity is becoming a growing concern amongst our military families. This is not a challenge military families should be faced with, and we must do something to address it immediately," said Rep. Rodgers. "While this bill won't fix everything, it will take an important step towards providing critical food security to military children and promote their success in the classroom, reduce financial stress for military families, and allow active duty servicemembers at Fairchild Airforce Base and across the country to focus on serving our nation. Kids who have balanced, nutritious meals do better in school and experience better health outcomes. This is a commonsense piece of legislation, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead on it for our servicemembers and their families.”

“We have an obligation to our service members to ensure that their basic needs are met, which includes making sure that their families have access to the nutritious food needed to lead healthy and productive lives. When children in military families go hungry, their school success is put at risk,” said Rep. Bishop. “School meal programs have been an effective safety net for America’s school children since the end of World War 2. I am proud to join my colleagues in assuring that school children in our military families — like those from Fort Benning, Robins Airforce Base, and the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany — also have access to school meal programs.”

“Our servicemembers and their families have enough challenges to worry about and putting food on the table should not be one of them,” said Rep. Hudson. “I’m proud to sponsor this bipartisan legislation that will ensure military dependents at Fort Bragg and across our nation have access to school meals. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this common sense bill that offers one more measure of support for our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families.”

The Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act has been endorsed by the National Education Association, Food Research Action Center, Blue Star Families, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, San Diego Hunger Coalition, School Nutrition Association, California Association of Food Banks, and others.

“It’s important to note that, while the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing is adjusted regionally to account for different housing costs, base pay is not adjusted by region,” said San Diego Hunger Coalition President and CEO Anahid Brakke. “In an expensive area like San Diego County, the unintended consequence is that a bigger housing allowance makes military families ineligible for nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and free and reduced-price school meals, but their base pay isn’t high enough to cover their other basic expenses in such a high-cost area. I applaud Congressman Levin for responding to the nutritional needs of his district with legislative action that will support military families by allowing for military dependents to be directly certified for free and reduced-price meals at school.”

“We are so grateful that Reps. Mike Levin, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Sanford Bishop, and Richard Hudson are taking leadership to address military hunger, which is truly an urgent matter of mission readiness, retention, recruitment, and racial justice,” said Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “As detailed in MAZON’s recent report, Hungry in the Military, children from military households are more likely to enter military service than their counterparts in civilian households, but if they experience food insecurity at a young age, they are at much greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related chronic health conditions that could make them unfit to serve. By removing barriers to federal school meals programs and calling on the Department of Defense to directly certify children in military families, the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act will take important steps to ensure the health and well-being of our servicemembers and their families.”

"Too many children in need slip through the cracks in the complex and burdensome free and reduced-price meal application process," said School Nutrition Association President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS. "America owes it to the men and women who serve our country to ensure every eligible military dependent receives the benefits of nutritious school meals. By directly certifying eligible students for school meals, we can support the health and success of military dependents and ease burdens on our active-duty service members."