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San Diego Rep. Susan Davis Proposing Military Food Assistance Legislation

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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 like 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.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Military families on the low end of the official pay scale often find themselves in a bind, especially when they're stationed in high cost areas. Their housing allowance is increased, but that increase disqualifies the military family from most food assistance programs so the families can end up struggling. San Diego, Congresswoman Susan Davis is proposing a basic needs allowance for low income military families in high cost areas to get them out of that bind. But so far it's not been approved as part of this year's National Defense Authorization Act. Earlier today I spoke with San Diego Congresswoman Susan Davis. She's a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congresswoman Davis. Welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:45 Nice to be with you, Maureen.

Speaker 1: 00:46 Thank you. What are the basic needs allowance that you're proposing supplement military pay or actually raise the salaries of low income military families?

Speaker 2: 00:58 Well, it's really similar to snap, um, which allows families to receive a bump. Really, it's, 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, in another areas, their housing allowance counts as income. And so when you look at, uh, whether or not they're eligible for snap benefits, they're not because they have additional monies coming into their household essentially. And then, so what this does is it says, okay, there are some essential needs, um, that families who live out 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.

Speaker 1: 01:56 What would be the base pay here in San Diego that would be eligible for the basic needs allowance?

Speaker 2: 02:03 Well, it would be around, it really looks at the snap formula. And so it would be, um, no, I think in the roughly below 32,000 in the, in that range.

Speaker 1: 02:14 And the snap that you're addressing is the supplemental nutrition assistance program right now. What have you heard from military families here in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 02:24 Well, what we know about the families, if you, um, just take a look at, at, uh, the, the lines of people who are going to the pantries. We have roughly, I think there are four pantries in San Diego and um, that's, they participate in these. And when you talk to people about that, you know, they, um, they feel badly, you know, they don't like the idea that military families, um, would nature to receive, um, help and support from a food pantry. Uh, it's, it's, it's fine. I think in many ways for to receive the, uh, the, the, the benefit which they could be getting, uh, understand, but because their housing allowance was counted, that makes them ineligible.

Speaker 1: 03:11 Now, congresswoman, 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.

Speaker 2: 03:26 Well, I think there certainly is bipartisan support for that as along with some money. 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, um, is that we're looking at a 730 billion, at least a defense budget. And out of that, uh, if it costs 20 to $30 million overall for all those people that are affected all at the, the men and women who are serving our country, um, then we should do this.

Speaker 1: 04:06 The Trump administration has been publicly in opposition to this idea though. There's 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?

Speaker 2: 04:31 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, uh, is, um, 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, uh, gain in salary if they are even choosing, uh, or able to work often. They're not. Uh, 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.

Speaker 1: 05:24 Where is the basic needs allowance proposal in Congress now?

Speaker 2: 05:29 Well, I had put it into the National Defense Authorization Act, um, that recently, um, passed out of the House on the house side. Uh, the Senate, unfortunately, um, senator Tammy Duckworth had tried very hard to get an into the Senate bill and was not successful. But, uh, the two, uh, versions essentially, um, will be conferenced and then sent onto the president. So we will all in this again and I'm hoping that with the senators, a strong support for this bill that we'll be able to, um, have it in the conference bill. And then that will go to the precedent and they'll have to decide, um, whether they're for military families or not. This is not for all the families. This is only for that group of families who live in high cost housing areas who, you know, by, by virtue of adding those dollars to their income, um, should ordinarily be the eligible for some assistance, uh, in, um, in there and, and which amounts to, uh, you know, a little help, uh, every month in their food budget.

Speaker 1: 06:42 Now, finally, congresswoman, I wanted to ask you if you took a stand on the impeachment vote that was proposed in Congress yesterday. Okay.

Speaker 2: 06:50 Uh, yes, I did. Uh, I voted to table, um, the measure and I voted to table it. Uh, as I've said to you, um, my constituents, I'm fully prepared, uh, to move forward, um, at the appropriate time. Um, but I think we need to do that with the bulk of information, um, that can be persuasive and which is basically before our committees and number of investigations and even in, in a number of courts. Um, and that we can, we can have that case in and, you know, fully prepared, uh, for our, for our colleagues. The particular bill that passed out was, you know, based really on a number of the president's remarks. Um, but I think that we know that there are many, many other egregious, uh, acts of the president and, um, that those were not included in this impeachment. And so that was really not the appropriate way to go.

Speaker 1: 07:52 I've been speaking with Congresswoman Susan Davis, and thank you so much for your time.

Speaker 2: 07:57 Thank you. Take care, Marie.

Speaker 3: 08:01 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.