Who Do We Value in America?

The following originally appeared in my townhall column: “In this election cycle, the liberal progressive socialist left is going to the ideological bank to tout the important issue of income inequality. We will hear the incessant calls for a $15 minimum wage, which one has to ask, why not $25? What is so magic about the $15 number? This reflects just another easy issue talking point that can be repeated by the masses but never articulated or defended well in a debate forum.

However, it does beg the question: In these times of the current conflagration against the global Islamic jihad and other defined nation-state adversaries, who is it that we value?

I believe that there are two very important groups of people necessary for the existence of a society. The first are those who teach, and notice I said teach, not indoctrinate. There is a very distinct difference. The second group are the ones who defend — the guardians who stand upon freedom’s rampart. And, when one considers the level of compensation for these two groups, well, it appears they are not exactly the ones who are valued.

I should know, having been both.

What concerns me greatly is the fact that here in America, we have our best — those guardians — having to sustain their quality of life on government food subsistence programs. Now, perhaps there are those of you who truly do not care about this issue — hence the titled question of this missive. How is it that we have devolved to a point in our beloved America, where the SEIU purple-shirted protesting union members, supported by leftist organizations and funding, get more attention than the camouflage-wearing defenders of the republic?

Perhaps it is because the defenders are too busy doing just that. Well, I would like to take the time and lend my voice to their plight.

A Marketplace.org report from May 2015 stated that, “In 2014 more than $84 million worth of food stamps were spent at military commissaries.” And, understand that there is a movement on Capitol Hill to end the existence of the military family provision institution known as the Commissary. Why is that service important? It provides a place where young military spouses can have quick access to ensure they can feed their families. That is key when their loved ones are spending so much time on deployments or training, since we are so heavily degrading and decimating our military capability. As well, the article states, “The USDA estimates that in 2012, more than 1.5 million veterans used food stamps, about 7 percent of all veterans.” That just should not be the case.

The qualifications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, state that “a single person has to be grossing less than $15,180 per year and a family of four income threshold is $31,008.” Just so you can make the comparison, a young, junior member of the U.S. Armed Forces coming on active duty has a base pay right at or less than $19,000. Now, with BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) and food allowances, that pay can go up to the high $30K mark. BAH is calculated based upon the zip code where a service member is stationed.

But consider the young troop with a larger-than-normal family. With a non-working spouse, it could be difficult. I remember when, during the Clinton administration, now-deceased Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Carl Mundy, suggested a policy of “no first term Marines with families” due to the high stress of deployments and low compensation. Gen. Mundy, whom I knew well, was publicly reprimanded and humiliated by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. Considering the stress on a Marine Corps (that is now the smallest since World War I), perhaps General Mundy was onto something.

In July 2015, Amy Bushatz of Military.com’s “Spouse Buzz” wrote, “If he [service member] lives in a privatized on-base housing, all of their BAH disappears with no extra pocket padding left over. But the food stamp program known as SNAP, includes the fluctuating and disappearing BAH pay in the calculation whether or not the service member qualifies. That means even though the troop has the same trouble affording staples at Ft. Polk, Louisiana that they do in Washington D.C., they can only receive SNAP at Ft. Polk, where their BAH pay and cost of living is lower.”

One of the policy changes recommended to rectify this horrible situation for our young men and women serving is to change the law to eliminate BAH from the food stamp calculation. This is a policy proposal we here at the NCPA will look for in the final FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This is a serious issue that may not be great in numbers, but it is great in reflecting our value system. Feeding America recently reported that 25 percent of military households receive food aid every month.

Another policy solution presented in a February 2015 article in the Military Times is “to scrap the DoD’s Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance (FSSA) program which is designed to keep lower-income military families off the government SNAP.” The article provides an example of the ineffectiveness of FSSA from a report submitted by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. “Take an E4 (enlisted service member) with two years of service, a spouse and four children living at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Under FSSA, that service member would receive an increase of $77.65/month. Under SNAP, the same E4 would get $178.58/month on their EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card — the account that is established for SNAP benefits recipients”.

Ending the FSSA program would eliminate approximately $1 million a year from the Department of Defense budget, the commission reported. Now, that may not sound like much, but a million here and a million there would significantly help streamline the DoD budget.

The bottom line is this, do we value the fast food worker more than the one who answers the call to serve our nation? We, at the National Center for Policy Analysis, have developed the “Provide for the Common Defense, Now!” petition and we advocate for better compensation for our men and women in uniform, especially those junior members. If you stand with us, please sign it.

You know, it took me 22 years to qualify for my military retirement at 55 percent of my base pay. It only takes a Member of Congress five years to qualify for a retirement at a percentage of base pay far exceeding that.

Whose service do we value in America?”

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