October 07, 2020

Reps. Davis and Levin Unveil Legislation to Provide Free or Reduced-Cost School Meals to Eligible Military Children

WASHINGTON - Many military families, facing the challenge of affording food, find themselves ineligible for federal food assistance due to how their income is counted. To help alleviate this problem, Reps. Susan Davis (CA-53) and Mike Levin (CA-49) introduced legislation to automatically enroll children of eligible servicemembers into school meals programs. 

The Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act (H.R. 8534) authorizes the Department of Defense to alert the state agencies overseeing school meal programs to directly certify the children of eligible active duty servicemembers. Child dependents of active military families who earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line would be enrolled in free and reduced-cost lunch programs. The state would then notify school districts to add the children to their approved student list.  

“Of all the sacrifices our military families make, putting food on the table should not be one of them,” said Rep. Davis, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. “Through no fault of their own some military families are denied food assistance because their housing allowance is considered income. I have been working to fix this unfair policy and make these families eligible for assistance. Until then, the least we can do is ensure their children are properly fed and provide peace of mind for their parents.”

“The men and women who risk their lives for our country should never struggle to feed their children. It’s unacceptable that one in seven military families face food insecurity,” said Rep. Levin. “Today, Rep. Davis and I have introduced bipartisan legislation that will help eligible active duty servicemembers to enroll in school meal programs. While there is much more we must do to improve the financial well-being 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.”  

“No child should go hungry, yet nearly one in seven military families report being food insecure,” said Anahid Brakke, San Diego Hunger Coalition. “Automatically enrolling qualified child dependents of active military families in the free and reduced-price meal program will improve health, academic outcomes, and quality of life of military children, and bring us one step closer to eliminating child hunger in this country.”

“Children in military families have to give up so much already,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “They shouldn’t also have to give up a meal. By sending information the DOD already has on file directly to school districts to streamline free school meal program certification, fewer of them will. Since California is home to more active duty members of the military than any other state, not only will the children in our state have the most to gain with the passage of the Military Dependent School Meal Eligibility Act, so will our economy.”

“For nearly a decade, we have been urging policymakers to address the shameful and painful reality that military families are struggling with food insecurity,” said Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “We’ve been disappointed time and again by leaders who fail to address the devastating reality that military families around the country are quietly relying on free and reduced-price school meals, as well as seeking help from food pantries that operate on or near every military base in the U.S. It is completely unacceptable that thousands of military families find themselves ineligible for programs like SNAP simply because their Basic Allowance for Housing is unfairly treated as income. I am grateful to Representatives Susan Davis and Mike Levin for their leadership in addressing this issue, and MAZON is proud to support the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act.”   

“Right now more children than ever are going to bed hungry,” said Andrew Cheyne of the California Association of Food Banks. “We must do everything we can to stop child hunger, especially for those in our military families. Improving information sharing between the Departments of Defense and Education is an important step towards ensuring food access for the children of our families who serve, and we thank Rep. Davis for her continued leadership in bringing forward the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act.” 

"FRAC supports the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act, which will help ensure that children whose parents serve in the military will be able to experience the educational and health benefits linked to participating in school breakfast and lunch," said Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research and Action Center.                         

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 19,500 active service members received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2014. Yet many military families are denied federal food assistance because, under current law, a servicemember’s housing allowance is counted as income. In expensive housing markets, such as San Diego, the housing allowance pushes these families out of eligibility. 

In addition, 43% of military spouses are not in the labor force which is due in part to frequent relocations and lack of affordable childcare.

This forces thousands of military families experiencing food insecurity in San Diego and across the nation to visit food pantries and charitable programs. According to the San Diego Food Bank,  nearly 39,000 veterans and active-duty military personnel and their dependents use their services every month.

Ensuring children of low-income servicemembers have access to school meals will help reduce hunger in military families and stress on our soldiers. This in turn would benefit our military's readiness while improving health and academic outcomes of military children.

At 185 percent of the federal poverty line, almost all children of E-1, or entry-level, active servicemen would qualify for school meals through the program, as well as many children of servicemembers up through ranks E-6.

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

Bill text of the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act.

One-pager on the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act.