Shoot down this new military entitlement

Shoot down this new military entitlement
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Yet another dangerous entitlement expansion could be coming soon. On Nov. 10, the House Agriculture Committee will discuss a bill that would put significantly more members of the armed forces on food stamps, weakening the military in numerous ways. Yet the federal government has no evidence to justify this policy — and even if there is a problem that needs to be solved, there’s a better option than greater dependency on government welfare.

The Equal Access to the Right Nutrition for Military Families Act, or EARN Act, is being sold with the usual tugging at the heartstrings. Its congressional sponsors are focused on “food insecurity” among U.S. forces. They must not have read their own bill, which fails to prove that such a crisis exists. 

The EARN Act begins with a lengthy discussion of the Department of Defense’s lack of data on food insecurity in the military. The Pentagon has been tasked with discovering that information since 2016, yet government investigations have found little to no movement. Congress again directed the Pentagon in 2020 to submit a report on the matter, but it has yet to materialize. As a result, the officials who oversee the armed forces apparently have no idea how many military families are dealing with food insecurity. 

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The EARN Act’s co-sponsors don’t mind. They cherry pick food insecurity statistics from other sources, even though such findings are all over the map. The bill tacitly acknowledges that government data would be superior, since it appropriates money to prepare an official report within a year. Yet rather than start there, the bill begins by expanding welfare first and getting the facts later.

What’s worse is how the bill would affect the military itself.

My husband has a combined service of 20 years, active duty and Army National Guard, and he and I can both attest to the administrative nightmares surrounding pay and benefits. Yet the EARN Act would inject a new welfare bureaucracy into the already bloated military bureaucracy. There are programs within the military for families who need extra help and this duplication would add to the massive administrative complexities that frustrate military families. The Defense Department should focus on keeping the American people safe and keeping ahead of our increasingly aggressive and advanced adversaries — not administering welfare. 

Most disturbingly, the EARN Act would remove personal responsibility. Each branch mandates that service members provide for their families — in the Army, it’s Regulation 608-99. For many, the bill would shift a big part of that responsibility to the government, undercutting the military’s efforts to train and maintain stable troops with strong families.

The potential for disruption is severe. Even if non-Pentagon estimates of food insecurity are accurate, the EARN Act likely would shift an even larger percentage of the military onto food stamps. Housing allowances wouldn’t be counted as household income, thereby expanding eligibility to troops making well above the federal poverty line. Families that don’t need the help would wind up trapped in welfare. That’s insulting. 

The bill also would institute a six-month transitional program for troops leaving the military, regardless of their income, assets or pension. A full-bird colonel who made close to six figures a year could be swiping an EBT card at the local grocery store. Food stamps were never meant to cover people in that position — and it should not be allowed to happen.

This bill is just Congress’s latest attempt to shift more Americans onto welfare without proving the wisdom or need for such a move. Instead of the EARN Act, Congress should prioritize fact-finding. The only useful part of the bill is its requirement of — and funding for — an official Pentagon report. That should be the only part that passes. If a report finds evidence of widespread food insecurity, then Congress could consider raising military subsistence levels or enact larger annual increases to military salaries. That’s a discussion that should happen in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, not the Agriculture Committee, which has no expertise in national security.

It says a lot about our current political moment that the go-to approach is putting more people on welfare, regardless of the need or its effects. Those in the armed forces deserve better, and so does America. 

Robin Walker is senior director of federal affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Follow on Twitter @TheFGA.