While food-stamp use rose steadily nationwide at commissaries, the use at Fort Hood dropped by $81,000 in 2013.
Known since 2008 as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, about 6.6 million people living in 22.3 million U.S. households receive assistance. About 5,000 of those users are active-duty military, or 0.01 percent.
“Most soldiers, unless they’ve got a very large family, are not going to qualify,” said Karen Bradshaw, Fort Hood’s Army Community Service Financial Readiness Branch manager.
“You have to be a pretty low rank with a large-sized family to qualify for this.”
In the communities surrounding Fort Hood, food stamp use is higher. About 12 percent of Bell County residents utilized the benefit in March, spending $4,258,412, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. In Coryell County, about 9 percent of residents have access to the resource.
About 0.36 percent of the total active-duty population uses SNAP.
Military members normally “promote out” of the need for additional subsistence benefits, due to corresponding raises in basic pay and other allowances as they move to higher pay grades.
“Military compensation compares favorably with the private sector, and this has allowed the department to continue to succeed in recruiting and retaining the high-quality, all-volunteer force required by the nation, despite a decade at war,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, Defense Department spokesman for personnel and readiness.
The Herald reached out to families to share their stories for this article, but many were afraid to comment because of potential repercussions or judgment.
Bradshaw said the need for subsistence benefits isn’t given because of bad choices people make in their lives, it’s solely based on the income they bring in and the number of mouths they have to feed. That can include adult parents who need support.
“Life happens,” she said. “I think people should look at what options are available to them.”
One program her office promotes is the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, which is run by the Defense Department for service members. It uses the same income criteria as SNAP, but instead of users getting benefits through a special card, the funds are deposited along with their paychecks.
At Fort Hood, counselors who promote the program to units have seen the number of soldiers participating triple to 150 since August. Bradshaw credits the increase to promotion, not more need. The maximum amount a soldier can receive is $1,100 a month.
As soldiers visit the financial readiness office with issues, counselors screen them for FSSA and educate them on the benefits.
“They typically come in here for something else,” Bradshaw said. “Our clients come here for the different classes we have, budgeting advice or consumer advice.
“If their budget is negative or real tight, they can turn to counselors for things they can do,” she added.
Counselors warn people that these type of benefits count as income and can affect other income-based benefits such as child care or lunch programs, Bradshaw said.