NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07: A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps on October 7, 2010 in New York City. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing an initiative that would prohibit New York City's 1.7 million food stamp recipients from using the stamps, a subsidy for poor residents, to buy soda or other sugary drinks. Bloomberg has stressed that obesity among the poor has reached critical levels. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
By Karen Jowers, Air Force Times
Use of food stamps in commissaries continued to rise last year, although not as sharply as in previous years, while redemptions through the nutrition program for women, infants and children have declined, according to Defense Commissary Agency data.
In fiscal 2013, commissary patrons redeemed $103.6 million worth of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps. That's up 5 percent over fiscal 2012. The number of transactions rose by 2 percent, to 968,358.
SNAP redemptions in commissaries began climbing in 2009 when eligibility rules were expanded due to the national economic stimulus programs. But the growth appears to be leveling off.
Commissary officials track the number of transactions and the dollar amount, but they don't track the status of those using the benefit, so there is no way to compare usage among retirees with active-duty members, for example.
But other research indicates that troops who use SNAP "tend to be ... in junior pay grades with larger than average households," Pentagon spokeswoman Joy Crabaugh said. "Military members normally 'promote out' of the need for additional subsistence benefits, due to the corresponding raises in basic pay and other allowances as one moves to a higher pay grade."
SNAP eligibility is based on income and family size. For example, a family of four with gross monthly income of up to $2,552 would qualify under the guidelines as of Oct. 1.
The latest Agriculture Department data show 5,000 active-duty military families received SNAP benefits in 2011, about 0.01 percent of participants nationwide and about 0.36 percent of the active-duty military population.
In calendar year 2012, there were 421 military families who qualified for the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance program, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said.
FSSA is a voluntary program intended to boost a service member's income so they may stay off the SNAP program. The allowance is based on household income and household size, with a top payout of $1,100 per month. Information on that program is at www.dmdc.osd.mil/fssa.
Income guidelines for WIC recipients are higher, so more military families qualify. In the continental U.S., a household of four could have an income of up to $3,631 a month and qualify for WIC.
That program provides food and nutrition education for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children. It is not known how many military families are on WIC nationwide; military families also redeem their benefits in civilian stores.
The overseas WIC program, administered by DoD, counts about 16,000 beneficiaries.
In fiscal 2013, more than $29 million in WIC benefits was redeemed in commissaries; a drop of 6 percent from fiscal 2012. Transactions totaled about 1.7 million, a decrease of 8 percent
Those numbers don't track with the national trend; Agriculture Department data for the first nine months of the fiscal year show an increase of more than 6 percent over the previous year.