In response to national survey findings indicating military families are visiting food banks more frequently than their civilian counterparts, the National Military Family Association is raising awareness of this population’s financial vulnerabilities.
One out of every four military families relies on a food bank, according to a recent national survey [PDF] of charitable food distribution in the United States. That’s a high number when compared to the 14 percent of all American households that rely on food pantries.
“The number of military families living on the financial edge is higher than it should be,” National Military Family Association Executive Director Joyce Raezer said in a statement last week responding to the survey by Feeding America, a network of food banks.
Although NFMA was not involved in the study, “we don’t dispute that military families are using these resources,” added Raezer, who said the association is doing several things to help call attention to fact that many military families are teetering on a financial ledge.
“First is to clarify for folks who aren’t familiar with the military community who these families might be,” Raezer said. They could be active-duty service members, for example, who after a move to a high-cost area may realize that the household budgets that worked in their old assignments won’t cut it anymore.
Frequent moves can also hurt employment opportunities for military spouses, who are experiencing much higher unemployment rates than their civilian counterparts. Poor money management skills and reduced income levels and job opportunities when returning from deployment are also likely causes of financial vulnerability, Raezer said.
NMFA wants military families to know that it’s OK, preferable even, to rely on food pantries instead of racking up high-interest credit card debt or payday loans to help cover their grocery bills.
“For a lot of folks, even within military communities, the initial reaction is, ‘Oh, isn’t it horrible that military families are going to these places,’” Raezer said. “Well, for many of our families this is a good decision, because the alternatives are bad financial decisions.”
NMFA is calling on Congress and policy makers to avoid cutting funding from financial education and spouse employment support programs while raising cost-of-living expenses, including higher prices at military commissaries and increased housing and healthcare costs, for service members and their families.
“My message to everybody is, don’t think that as those deployments and as the wars wind down, our military families are going to need less support,” Raezer said. “We think in many ways they’re going to need more, because they’re going to have to deal with legacy of that time at war.”