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Texas Military Families Experiencing Food Insecurity At Higher Rates Than Rest Of Country

REUTERS | Adrees Latif
Some hundreds of residents, affected by the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, line-up in their vehicles as they await their turn to collect groceries from the San Antonio Food Bank in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., April 1

A new report from the nonprofit Military Family Advisory Network sheds light on hunger among active duty service members, veterans and retirees.

Texas military families are struggling with food insecurity at a higher rate than military families in other parts of the country, according to a new report from the Military Family Advisory Network, a nonprofit focused on military family needs and services.

One in six military and veteran respondents in Texas were hungry or experiencing low food security before the coronavirus pandemic. Nationally, the rate was one in eight.

Most respondents were from the Army and Air Force. Nearly half of the families who reported food insecurity were active duty — followed by veterans and retirees.

MFAN’s survey incorporated questions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture food security scale. “Low security” means that an individual or family has had to reduce the quality of their food, whereas “very low security” means multiple instances of reduced food intake.

“It has questions like ‘I worried that I wouldn't have enough food to last the whole month,’ or ‘I cut back on meals so that I would have enough food.’ Those kinds of things,” explained Shelly Kimball, MFAN’s senior director for research and program evaluation. “It's six questions. But when respondents answer affirmatively to a certain number of them, that's how you know the designation of either low food insecurity or hunger.”

A large portion of families struggling with hunger were living in or near Killeen, Texas, where Fort Hood is located. Fort Hood has the highest number of service members and family members in the state, at just over 81,000 people in 2018, according to MFAN.

Junior enlisted active duty service members were most likely to say they were food insecure, with the largest group ranking E4 to E6, or corporal to staff sergeant. The vast majority of those families — about 80% — had minor children.

In a virtual event Friday, the survey’s principal authors expressed concerns that food insecurity had grown worse for military families during the pandemic, especially given one finding.

“They were more likely to limit food or not eat then to seek assistance or to seek financial solutions. So we found that kind of distressing. That, instead of seeking help, they were just remaining hungry,” said Kimball.

MFAN’s report also shed light on some of the financial challenges military-affiliated families face in the state. As compared to those living in other parts of the country, Texas active duty families were more likely to report having an emergency savings fund of $500 or less. Military move costs, low-income and spouse unemployment were reasons families cited for their lack of savings.

Data regarding food insecurity among military families is sparse. Food banks often don’t ask questions to their clients out of fear that they may not come back.

So, starting in January, the Military Family Advisory Network will conduct a follow-up study with help from University of Texas at Austin. The goal is to see what life events bring families closer to food insecurity.

“I think it's really going to be enlightening to see what we can learn from the military community in Texas, but then also elsewhere because it's going to really allow us to come up with solutions for discrete populations in the military and beyond,” said MFAN executive director Shannon Razsadin.

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Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.
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