Inflation Deepens Food Insecurity for Military Families
SecDef Austin rolls out tools for leaders, orders up plan to fix the problem.
Once again, the Pentagon is flying 175 tons of holiday food to troops deployed around the world. But that doesn't help the military families who are seeing the cost of Thanksgiving dinner rise at their local commissaries and grocery stores.
“The pandemic and tight housing markets across the country have made financial struggles even tougher,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said of military families during a Pentagon briefing on Nov. 17. “With the holidays approaching, I know that this is on the minds of our military communities. And it’s certainly top of mind for me.”
Overall, the Farm Bureau’s calculations show that a Thanksgiving meal for ten costs around 14 percent more than it did in 2020. The cost of turkey alone increased around 24 percent per pound. The increase has put significant strain on military families.
“Our men and women in uniform and their families have enough to worry about. Basic necessities, like food and housing, shouldn’t be among them,” Austin said last week.
Around 160,000 active-duty military members face food insecurity, a recent Feeding America report said. To address food security across the force, Austin shared a new toolkit that will “help leaders identify service members who are struggling” and connect them to resources and support programs. The defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness has also been given 90 days to to develop a roadmap to strengthen the military’s food security.
To address housing-related financial challenges, Austin also announced during the briefing that DoD would increase the Basic Allowance for Housing in areas that have had a 10 percent increase in rental costs this year, and Temporary Lodging Expenses would be reimbursed for families facing housing shortages.
“This is a readiness issue,” Austin said. “That’s why I’m focused on making sure that our service members and their families have what they need to thrive—so that they can focus on the hard work of defending our nation.”
The Pentagon has been hit by similar increases for turkeys and other holiday food. The Defense Logistics Agency sends more than 150,000 pounds of turkey around the globe at holiday time. Last year, that much turkey cost around $170,000. This year, it costs roughly $226,000, up $56,000 for just the main attraction of a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
The DLA started planning for this year’s turkey deployment back in March, knowing that COVID-19’s impact on supply chains would complicate its mission. All told, DLA will be sending out:
- 5,706 whole turkeys
- 59,666 pounds of roasted turkeys
- 99,187 pounds of beef
- 51,994 pounds of ham
- 43,767 pounds of shrimp
- 38,400 pounds of sweet potatoes
- 68,465 pounds of pies and cakes
- 23,461 gallons of eggnog
Even with all troops out of Afghanistan, the amount of food sent out to the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Korea, Japan, Qatar, Philippines, Guam, and Singapore was comparable to previous years.