Protect Access to Critical Nutrition Programs for Military Families (Sen. Mike Johanns)

Every day the men and women of the United States military and their families are making sacrifices as they serve our country. We have an obligation to honor that sacrifice, which is why I strongly believe we must ensure our military families are not excluded from critical nutrition programs if a family member is deployed and begins to receive combat pay.

The bill I have introduced with two of my colleagues would exclude combat pay from income used to determine a family's eligibility for programs such as the school lunch and breakfast programs, Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, or day care assistance, if a family member is deployed to a combat zone. Passing this legislation would ensure military families will not lose access to these critical programs when a loved one is called to the front lines of battle.

As Secretary of Agriculture, I was proud to include a combat pay exemption when determining eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the food stamp program) in the Farm Bill I proposed to Congress. This exemption was included in the final language of the Bill that passed last year. I have no doubt this exemption has been a help to military families struggling to make ends meet.

Now, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join Senator Bennet (D-Colo.) and Senator Casey (D-Pa.) in backing important bipartisan legislation that would provide a similar exemption for military families to continue qualifying for other nutrition programs when receiving a temporary pay increase related to combat duty. They deserve a consistent policy that will ensure combat pay does not disqualify them from critical programs they depend on when a loved one is called to duty. We have a commitment and a responsibility to ensure military families can count on us to provide the full support they might need.