Food insecurity growing among military families
KINGSTON >> Food insecurity is a growing problem among active-duty military families as well as veterans, according to Susan Zimet, executive director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State.
Zimet first became involved in military personnel issues when, as an Ulster County legislator, she spearheaded the effort to create an Ulster County veterans’ cemetery.
Now, in her current post, she is shining a spotlight on military families and veterans who are faced with the inability to put food on the table.
“We actually have our soldiers, active-duty military soldiers, who are going overseas, putting their life on the line, and their families are left back here, in New York state, back in America, having to use food stamps to go shopping in the military commissaries where the food is already relatively cheap, or going someplace else so nobody sees them because they are so embarrassed that their families are literally on food stamps because our soldiers aren’t getting paid enough for their families to be able to pay for food,” said Zimet, who also is a former town of New Paltz supervisor.
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein’s administration took up the issue of veterans’ homelessness and food insecurity when it created the Patriots’
Project, a short-term facility in Kingston to address those needs for veterans.
“There is a huge spectrum when it comes to our veterans population, and we owe them a debt that we couldn’t possibly repay, so the Patriots’ Project is just one way of helping a portion of our veterans, but it is really a way of saying that we care and it matters and we have enormous respect for those who have fought for the freedoms we all enjoy,” Hein said.
Josh Protas, vice president of public policy with the national hunger organization Mazon, said his group has been addressing the effort to end hunger among military and veteran families, which he said is exacerbated by a “quirk” in federal law.
“That quirk has to do with a basic allowance for housing benefits, Protas said. “It’s a housing allowance that is given to those in the military who live offbase or in privatized housing, and it is not counted as income tax, and for many federal programs it is not considered as income. However, for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) ... it is considered as income, and because of that it bumps up their household income high enough that they would not qualify for SNAP.”
Protas said the main impact is om “lower-ranking enlisted members” of the military.