San Diego Rep. Susan Davis Proposing Military Food Assistance Legislation
Military families on the low-end of the official pay scale often find themselves in a financial bind, especially when they are stationed in high-cost-of-living areas such as San Diego. While their housing allowance is increased to be able to afford a place to live, that increase boosts their overall income and disqualifies them from most food assistance programs. So these families can face food insecurity and wind up at food pantries.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, is proposing a basic-needs allowance for low-income military families in high-cost areas to help them become eligible for food assistance. So far the allowance has not been approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.
Davis, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke to Midday Edition on Thursday about the legislation. The interview transcribed below has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Would the basic needs allowance that you're proposing supplement military pay or actually raise the salaries of low-income military families?
A: Well it's really similar to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which allows families to receive a bump, really. It's a bump basically to their salary. But the reason that they need it is that there are a number of families who, because of high housing costs, in San Diego, for example, and in other areas, their housing allowance counts as income. And so when you look at whether or not they're eligible for SNAP benefits, they're not because they have additional moneys coming into their household essentially. And so what this does is it says, 'OK there are some essential needs that families who live at about 130% of the poverty line and we want them to get some benefits. And we're going to take out their housing allowance in order to really take a more honest look at their income.'
Q. What would be the base pay here in San Diego that would be eligible for the basic needs allowance?
A. It really looks at the SNAP formula. And so it would be I think in the roughly below $32,000. I think in that range.
Q. What have you heard from military families here in San Diego?
A: Well, what we know about the families, if you just take a look at the lines of people who are going to the pantries, we have roughly, I think, there are four pantries in San Diego and they participate in these. And when you talk to people about that, they feel badly. You know they don't like the idea that military families would need to receive help and support from a food pantry. It's fine, I think, in many ways for them to receive the benefit, which they could be getting under SNAP, but because their housing allowance was counted that makes them ineligible.
Q: This sounds like an issue that should cross bipartisan lines. The idea that active-duty military members are struggling to put food on the table is I think disturbing to most Americans. Has it united Congress?
A: Well I think there certainly is bipartisan support for that. Along with so many other issues that we deal with it often comes down to money and what you need to allocate in order to do this. I think what I believe strongly and I think those who support this is that we're looking at a $730 billion at least, defense budget and out of that if it costs $20 to $30 million overall for all those people that are affected all about the men and women who are serving our country then we should do this.
Q: The Trump administration has been publicly in opposition to this idea though there is a quote here from the administration, “The administration strongly objects to this provision because it would be an unnecessary entitlement. Military members receive appropriate compensation already.” What's your reaction to that and can you fight against that opposition?
A: Well I don't think that the administration is taking everything into account. When our men and women and their families, and of course I say all the time, that when a service member is sacrificing on behalf of our country their entire family is also paying a price. And in many cases, it means that a spouse who has to move more often is not able to gain in salary if they are even choosing or able to work. Often they're not. And we're trying to work on better ways that they can be certificated get licenses as they move around the country all the time. But it's just a reality and many families do survive today when there are two wage earners in the family. Military families are often not able to do that.
Q: Where is the basic needs allowance proposal in Congress now?
A: I had put it into the National Defense Authorization Act. That recently passed out of the House on the House side. The Senate, unfortunately, Senator Tammy Duckworth had tried very hard to get it into the Senate bill and was not successful. But the two versions essentially will be conferenced and then sent on to the president. So we will all participate in this again. And I'm hoping that with the senator's strong support for this bill that we'll be able to have it in the conference bill and then that will go to the president. And they'll have to decide whether they're for military families or not. This is not for all of the families. This is only for that group of families who live in high-cost housing areas who you know by virtue of adding those dollars to their income should ordinarily be eligible for some assistance. Which amounts to a little help every month in their food budget.
Q: Finally congresswoman I wanted to ask you if you took a stand on the impeachment vote that was proposed in Congress yesterday?
A: Yes I did. I voted to table the measure. And I voted to table it, as I've said to my constituents, I'm fully prepared to move forward at the appropriate time. But I think we need to do that with the bulk of information that can be persuasive and which is basically before our committees, a number of investigations and even in a number of courts and that we can have that case in and you know fully prepared for our colleagues. The particular bill that passed out was you know based really on a number of the president's remarks. But I think that we know that there are many many other egregious acts of the president and that those were not included in this impeachment and so that was really not the appropriate way to go.