Military Personnel Eligible for Food Stamps

FPCD-81-27: Published: Dec 9, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 31, 1980.

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There have been reports that from 100,000 to as many as 275,000 military families are eligible to receive food stamps. This implies that the Federal Government is paying its military members a poverty wage, a fact that could adversely affect the service's ability to attract and retain personnel. GAO evaluated the validity of the most widely quoted estimates, prepared its own estimate, and examined whether military personnel would be eligible for other public assistance programs.

GAO found that, of 1.8 million enlisted military personnel, 19,700 members were potentially eligible for food stamps at the beginning of fiscal year 1980. The GAO estimate was based on a comparison of the cash elements of regular military compensation to the food stamp eligibility criteria. Other estimates were calculated using different methods. Some were based on a military member's basic pay and did not consider other sources of military income, such as allowances for quarters and subsistence and special and incentive pays. According to the food stamp income criteria, all cash income received by a household must be included in determining eligibility. For the fiscal year 1981, 21,000 military members are potentially eligible for food stamps, because the net monthly income eligibility standards increased in July 1980 and the number of enlisted personnel with a family size of three to six has increased. In addition to estimating food stamp eligibility, GAO reviewed eligibility criteria for some 60 welfare programs. These income eligibility levels are well below what military personnel receive in pay and bonuses. Only in extreme cases would the military household be eligible to receive benefits provided by these programs. The GAO reviewed annual military compensation calculated by pay grade, longevity step, and family size; food stamp eligibility regulations; and data on food stamps redeemed at military commissaries. GAO estimates of military participation in the food stamp program could vary, depending on the assumptions used.

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