While Some Military Families Fight Hunger, Experts Propose Cutting Personnel Costs

While Some Military Families Fight Hunger, Experts Propose Cutting Personnel Costs
The Dover Food Pantry at Dover Air Force Base, Del., was created in an effort to alleviate financial burdens airmen and their families may face during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Cydney Lee/Air Force)

As some servicemembers and their families face crippling food insecurity, and as pandemic-related economic shockwaves continue their profound effects on those in uniform, some advocates remain convinced the solution to a stronger, better force involves cuts to personnel costs.


This flawed approach to readiness isn’t new – MOAA has battled similar proposals over the decades, especially during periods of flat budgets. One proposal highlighted recently by Military Times focuses primarily on retiree costs but also includes plans to “reexamine” the commissary benefit, which seems exceptionally tone deaf.



  • About 160,000 active duty servicemembers face food insecurity, according to a highly publicized Feeding America estimate. A Thanksgiving NPR piece put this issue in front of a national audience.
  • A Veterans Day piece by Roll Call offered even starker terms, describing the direct correlation between food insecurity and suicide. While DoD continues its suicide prevention efforts, 580 servicemembers died by suicide in 2020.
  • Systemic quality-of-life concerns continue to worsen thanks to economic struggles. Soaring housing costs, a lack of available housing, higher out-of-pocket costs during PCS moves, continued high spousal unemployment rate, and a lack of installation child care capacity have only made these ever-present challenges worse for military families. And if you think conditions are any better for those in the barracks, think again.


[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Help End Hunger in the Ranks]


Finding a Fix

There is help on the horizon in many of these areas. Although the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is still pending, the final version likely will include a MOAA-backed provision to provide a Basic Needs Allowance for junior enlisted families near the poverty line. And a recent DoD memorandum will provide much-needed immediate relief via housing allowance adjustments and extended temporary lodging reimbursement periods, as well as a change in personnel policy to reduce PCS disruptions by allowing some servicemembers to stay at their current station longer.


While Congress and DoD seek to provide this relief, and while servicemembers and their families struggle in the face of economic hardship and stigma, experts use narrow data to advocate for personnel cuts or to reject calls for improved benefits.


One example: Experts from the last Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation recommended no change to compensation due to a lack of data on food insecurity – data that’s hard to come by as servicemembers resist reporting their dilemmas on the assumption such a report would threaten a security clearance … or a career. 


Reforms and Readiness

While senior leaders have encouraged reform of the wasteful acquisition process for decades, targeting personnel costs will have negative effects on retention and talent management. Yet pundits and some former Armed Services Committee members recently made the case that personnel cost cuts must occur in order to preserve the size of the fighting force.


MOAA will continue to inform Congress of the importance of protecting and expanding benefits for those in service, of avoiding incomplete data when rushing to cut costs, and of preserving earned benefits such as COLA increases for retirees and survivors and the commissary benefit that frequently become targets for cost cutting. Follow further updates on legislative priorities, including the ongoing NDAA process, at MOAA’s Advocacy News page.


MOAA Looks Out For You

MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.


About the Author

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.