Bennet Announces Senate Passage of Bill to Protect Military Families From Being Cut Out of Critical Child Nutrition Programs

Currently, Combat Pay Can Make Dependents of Service Members Ineligible for Child Nutrition Programs When Family Members Go Overseas

Bipartisan Legislation Would Permanently Exempt Combat Pay from Income Requirements, Ensure Families Have Access to Nutritional Programs

Washington, DC - Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, today announced Senate passage of legislation to protect military families from being cut out of child and maternal nutrition programs. Currently, military families can be removed from critical nutritional programs-such as free and reduced price school lunches-because combat pay increases their income above eligibility thresholds for the programs.

In an effort to ensure military families have access to critical nutritional programs, the Military Family Protection Act will permanently exempt combat pay from being counted as income for federal child nutrition programs and WIC. The bill, which Bennet introduced in March, passed the Senate today as part of the Appropriations Committee's Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010.

"Taking away these nutritional benefits to kids and families when a loved one is being deployed doesn't make any sense. Our military families are already struggling in these tough economic times and the challenges only increase when a family member is deployed," Bennet said. "This bill is a common-sense fix that will make sure our kids aren't denied access to healthy foods when their family members are bravely serving our nation in combat overseas."

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for mothers and children. The program, one of the most successful federally-funded nutrition programs in the country, provides vouchers that can be use at authorized food stores. Studies, reviews and reports show that the WIC program is cost effective in protecting or improving the health and nutritional status of women, infants and children.

But despite precedent for honoring combat pay in other important programs, the WIC program currently includes additional, temporary combat pay for military personnel in a family's income level when determining eligibility for the program. Combat pay has been exempted from eligibility determinations for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on an ad-hoc basis through various appropriations measures. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 made permanent the combat pay exemption for SNAP applicants.

To provide consistency and in an effort to ensure military families are not excluded from critical nutrition programs like WIC, the bipartisan bill, introduced by Bennet in March, requires state agencies to permanently exclude combat pay from income when determining eligibility for child nutritional programs, including WIC.

In Colorado, nearly 99,000 families participate in WIC, and over 358,000 kids participate in the National School Lunch Program, with over 92,000 kids participating in the National School Breakfast Program. (Note: these programs do not keep statistics on how many of these kids have a family member serving in the military).

"The National WIC Association - the voice of the over 9 million WIC mothers and young children and 12,200 WIC service providers - applauds Sen. Bennet and his colleagues for doing the right thing to protect military families' nutritional needs," said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, Executive Director, National WIC Association. "WIC helps military families when they most need that help with quality, preventative nutrition services and supplemental foods including milk, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Military personnel in combat zones can now feel secure in the knowledge that their families will be well served by WIC."

The Military Officers Association of America voiced their support for the legislation in a letter to Bennet's office, saying: "Servicemembers may be getting combat pay, but that shouldn't keep their children from the nutritional meals they normally receive. These children already deal with the instability and insecurity that a deployment brings to their lives; it's just not right to take away the security of a solid meal, or snacks. We see this legislation as being not about combat, but about children; not about pay, but about people. It's also about providing the proper nutrition for our children today, so that they can lead tomorrow."

The bill will now go to conference for inclusion in the final Fiscal Year 2010 Agricultural Appropriations Conference Report, which will be voted on by the Senate.

Below are several of the programs the bill would affect:

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC)
WIC provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/

School Meals
National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Lunch/default.htm
National School Breakfast Program Fact Sheet: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Breakfast/AboutBFast/SBPFactSheet.pdf

Summer Food Service Program
SFSP is the single largest Federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/summer/

Child and Adult Care Feeding Program
CACFP plays a vital role in improving the quality of day care for children and elderly adults by making care more affordable for many low-income families. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/care/