Roughly $104 million worth of food stamps were redeemed at military commissaries in 2013, according to the latest data from the Defense Commissary Agency.
Military families used food stamps to purchase milk, cheese, meat and bread at the military grocers, CNN Money reported.
“I’m amazed, but there’s a very real need,” said Thomas Greer, spokesman for Operation Homefront, a group dedicated to assisting soldiers in financial straits.
Food stamp participation in the U.S. military saw a sharp increase in 2008, during the worldwide financial meltdown, and it has risen every year since.
The data for fiscal year 2013, which ended on Sept. 30, shows only a moderate increase over the past few years, but it’s still an increase. The latest data also suggests that the U.S. economy has yet to “recover” and that the job market continues to be tough on spouses looking for work.
In fact, in 2012, the unemployment rate among spouses off active-duty military who were 18 to 24 years old was a whopping was a 30 percent, CNN Money notes, citing the Military Officers Association of America.
Recognizing that things were particularly tough on military spouses, some states lowered their food stamp requirements during the recession so that more struggling families could qualify for the benefits.
This explains the sharp increase in food stamp participation by active-duty military, according to Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association.
“It was easier for some of those families right on the cusp to qualify,” she said.
Forty-four million people in the United States were on food stamps in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent figures, which it has yet to update.
And of those 44 million, only 5,000 were active-duty military members, meaning the U.S. military represented less than a tenth of 1 percent of the total number reported by the USDA.
Pentagon officials believe the “bottom ranks” (i.e. 18 to 20-something-year-olds who commonly have children) benefit most from the program.
Operation Homefront said it received 2,968 emergency requests for food assistance in 2013, adding that this was its most common request.
“When there are unexpected disruptions for a family with a junior (enlisted) member, it can become a challenge to put food on table,” Greer said. “Cost of food remains a very real challenge.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
This post has been updated.