It feels like every month the dollar is stretched a little farther for Jessica Alexander's family.
"We hardly ever have anything left over. It's the bare minimum to get gas. For food, with food prices, we're spending at least $400 every two weeks and that's barely getting anything and go into the commissary where you can get it the cheapest possible and it's still hard."
Her family of four lives on Fort Bragg where her husband serves as a parachute rigger. Rising childcare cost and long waitlists on the base means the family is living off just one income. For a while, Alexander and her husband regularly donated Plasma to try to get a few hundred extra dollars.
Based on their monthly income, Alexander said they should qualify for food stamps. However, because they live on base and receive Basic Housing Allowance (BHA), they are priced out of eligibility.
"If you live on post, they take the BHA as part of your income. So even if we're not seeing it, they still count it," Alexander explained. "So to them, we're making $3,500 a month, but in reality, we're not seeing that so it disqualifies us. I haven't seen anybody in the military get approved unless you have six children."
While the BHA pays for the Alexanders' monthly rent, it isn't money they see in their bank account so Alexander and others believe it shouldn't count towards federal food assistance.
"Even like the bare minimum of SNAP of like $300-$400 would even help... to put towards gas to go to therapy or gas to go to the doctor or prescription costs or an extra bill. It would help so much," Alexander said.
A bipartisan bill was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate in February to eliminate BHA when determining eligibility. A similar bill was introduced last year but died.
Close to a quarter of active-duty service members reported experiencing food insecurity in 2020, according to a Department of Defense report.
For years prior, the DoD was calculating food insecurity by the number of service members receiving SNAP benefits, which was only 0.1%
The USDA estimated in 2019, 22,000 active duty service members received food stamps, just
To reduce food insecurity, the DoD recommended increasing job opportunities for military spouses and raising financial resources.
As federal leaders consider widening who is eligible for food assistance, local resources are available to help Ft. Bragg families fill in the gaps.
The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) aims to help junior-enlisted service members. At Ft. Bragg, the YMCA has a food pantry and also regularly distributes food. So far this year, the ASYMCA served 300 families.
"There was a need, but then the pandemic certainly exacerbated that. And then it kind of grew from there from coming out of the pandemic into some inflation and other factors," said Jeremy Hester, the exec. director of ASYMCA at Ft. Bragg.
He said inflation is driving many families to utilize their services.
"We hear a lot of different stories and you know, our main our main goal is to not turn anybody away," Hester said.
ASYMCA is continuing to fill the need and expand by beginning to use a mobile unit to deliver food and expand awareness.
Brian Koyn, Ft. Bragg's Garrison Chaplain, helps runs another assistance program on base called 'Operation Helping Hands.' He and other chapel communities give out gift cards for the commissary to help get people by in the short term.
"We hear often that there are decisions about diapers or food or those hard decisions," Koyn said.
The program also assists families in better financial planning to prevent monthly financial struggles.
"We're not just throwing out gift cards and potentially feeding a problem and making it worse in the long term." He said. "Someone can walk our soldiers or family members through the process to get to a place of long-term stability."
Both Operation Helping Hands and ASYMCA said they are always in need of donations.
To donate to the ASYMCA: https://www.asymca.org/fort-bragg-home
To donate to Operation Helping Hands https://pushpay.com/g/fortbragggive