Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Mike Levin have reintroduced the bipartisan Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act of 2023. The act aims to remove the basic allowance for housing from the military’s calculation of income for eligibility in free and reduced-price school meal programs.

According to the Department of Defense, in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an astounding 24% of active duty service members reported experiencing food insecurity. Even before the pandemic, research showed that 25.8% of active duty service members experienced food insecurity in 2018. A number that seems inconceivable, given that these men and women are responsible for our protection and defense abroad.

In many cases, it is because of the basic allowance for housing that contributes to these military families finding themselves ineligible for federal food assistance, despite the staggering numbers. The two sponsors of the bill say that by removing basic allowance for housing from the calculation of military income, more military families would have access to free and reduced-price school meals for their children.

In a press release, Rep. McMorris Rodgers stated, “We made a promise to our service members that in return for their sacrifice, we would help take care of them and their families. The fact that any military family in the United States is struggling to put food on the table is proof that we must do better. While this bill won't fix everything, I’m confident it will be an important step towards providing critical food security for our nation’s heroes and their families.”

In the same press release, California Rep. Levin added, “The men and women who risk their lives for our country should never struggle to feed their children. Though there is much more we must do to improve the financial well-being of service members, this is an important step towards ensuring military families based at Camp Pendleton and across the country can focus on fulfilling their mission rather than on where they will find their next meal.”

The Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act of 2023 would also require the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense to provide a report to Congress on the feasibility and cost of establishing a program to directly certify military dependents for free and reduced-price school meal programs.

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