Legislation co-sponsored by Senator Mike Johanns to protect military families' access to federal nutrition assistance programs passed the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday. Currently, the additional pay military personnel receive as a result of deployment to a combat zone can cause families to become ineligible for several of these programs. The Military Family Nutrition Protection Act of 2009 would exclude combat pay from being counted as income when determining a family's eligibility. The programs include Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the national school lunch program, and others.
"Our men and women in uniform should not have to worry about their families' access to federal nutrition assistance while they are defending our country on the battlefield," Johanns said. "This legislation honors the dedication of our courageous service members by ensuring we care for their spouses and children while they are deployed."
Senator Johanns is the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). The Senators in April circulated a letter encouraging support for the bill (attachment below).
The WIC program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for mothers and children. The program, one of the most successful federally-funded nutrition programs in the country, provides vouchers that can be use at authorized food stores. Studies, reviews and reports show that the WIC program is cost effective in protecting or improving the health and nutritional status of women, infants and children.
Despite a precedent for honoring combat pay in other important programs, WIC and other nutrition programs currently include the additional pay in a family's income level when determining eligibility for the program. For instance, combat pay has been exempted from eligibility determinations for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/food stamp program on an ad-hoc basis through various appropriations measures. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 made permanent the combat pay exemption for SNAP applicants-a change proposed by then-Secretary Johanns.
The Military Family Nutrition Protection Act of 2009 brings consistency to the treatment of combat pay across SNAP, WIC and all child nutrition programs. The bill ensures that families of military personnel serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones do not suffer a penalty in child nutrition or WIC assistance by specifying that combat pay is excluded from eligibility determinations for all child nutrition programs including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, as well as day care, summer and outside-of-school programs.