Published: February 15, 2022
Reducing Financial Pressure: Financial Resources and WIC Information for Military Families
Various factors influence food insecurity, and one of the most frustrating excuses for the presence of food insecurity is financial mismanagement. Financial literacy is not the end-all-be-all factor in ending food insecurity in the military. What will help? Spouse employment. Affordable child care. Higher income. Robust and inclusive support systems. All too often, the blame falls onto the military member for mismanaging their finances, which upholds the stigma and shame so many food insecure families feel. Reducing all of the fault down to financial mismanagement on military members is insulting.
Food insecurity is heavily related to financial hardship. According to Blue Star Families’ 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, one of the top stressors for active-duty military families includes financial issues (Blue Star Families, 2021). Increased living expenses affect the amount of money available for food. When adults with limited income must decide between food and other necessities, food becomes a more flexible expense. Eviction or foreclosure, having utilities cut off, and repossessed vehicles are obvious signs of financial hardship. It’s easier to hide that there is not enough food.
Blue Star Families’ JPMorgan Chase Financial Wellness DEPLOY Fellow, Brittney Aladetohun focuses her efforts on sharing resources and tips to lighten the stress military families face due to financial issues. Here are some tips for helping to alleviate some stress around financial issues.
Brittney’s focus during her DEPLOY Fellowship has been on financial resources, entrepreneurship, tax support, and so much more. Her first suggestion is to create a bi-monthly family budget and stick to it.
“My family and I have bi-monthly family meetings to discuss our finances since we get paid on the 1st and 15th. That way, everyone is on the same page,” shares Brittney. “Along with the bi-monthly budget, I recommend using a bill calendar to track when each bill is due so families can avoid missing payments and/or incurring late fees. Late fees can truly add up, which eats away at your set budget.”
A specific bi-monthly budget is helpful, and Brittney also recommends using your bank’s app to track every purchase made. This track spending habits sheet will calculate how much is spent on everything.
“Using your bank’s app will give you a visual representation of where your money is going each month. Some apps even have pie charts. Visually seeing where our money is going each month helps me a great deal since I am a visual learner,” states Brittney.
Sometimes, the money runs out, but the month isn’t over yet. It’s important to know about available resources and that families should not be afraid to ask for help. Here are some of Brittney’s suggestions:
- Locate the nearest branch-specific Military Aid Society and schedule a meeting with a financial counselor to get a grant or interest-free loan. Military Aid Societies are there to help, so do not be ashamed or afraid of judgment from them.
- Contact the American Red Cross, available 24/7 for emergency food assistance and other emergency needs.
- Visit the Blue Star Families Financial Resources Page.
- If you need food, visit the Blue Star Families Nourish the Service website for food resources.
- Local area churches often organize food pantries and recurring food drives. Google “church food drives near me.”
Military life can be stressful and financial stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and behavioral changes. Thanks to people like Brittney, who are working hard to destigmatize the issue of financial stress, our hope is that military families will reach out for help rather than carry the burden quietly. For families struggling with financial stress and food insecurity, resources are available, and trained professionals are ready to help.
Could WIC be helpful to your family?
One resource that is often underutilized is the 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 (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) | Food and Nutrition Service). WIC is important because it reduces poverty, reduces food insecurity, improves dietary quality, protects against obesity, and improves health and well-being. WIC is available in all 50 states, 34 tribal organizations, the District of Columbia, and the five outlying territories through local clinics.
Many military families worry that they might not qualify for WIC, but working families are often eligible with a moderate income. Regarding military pay, WIC does not count BAH as income, and families up to E-6 with dependents are often qualified. Answer a few questions on this prescreening tool to determine if you are eligible for WIC benefits.
Unfortunately, WIC is used by only about 50% of eligible households because of some common misconceptions, such as
- “We make too much income to be eligible for WIC.” The income guidelines are moderate, and BAH does not count as income. Even some O1 and O2 service members qualify for benefits with multiple young children.
- “It will take too much time to go to my WIC appointments.” You may be able to attend most, if not all, of your appointments virtually.
- When the pandemic started, many of the required appointments moved to a virtual option. “It’s only for pregnant women/breastfeeding women/babies.” Nutrition benefits are available for children one-four years of age. Many families stop using WIC after the child turns one year old but could be missing out on benefits.
- “I can’t get baby formula.” If a parent chooses not to breastfeed or cannot breastfeed, WIC offers a variety of options for baby formula.
- “If I need special baby formula, I can’t get it.” If a special formula is needed, may obtain it by filling out a modified benefits request form. A prescription or referral may be required.
- “My child is over a year old, so we aren’t eligible anymore.” Children ages one-four are eligible for WIC benefits, so after your child has turned one year old, ask your WIC representative about continued eligibility.
- “If I enroll to receive benefits, I’m taking it away from someone who needs it more.” This is untrue, as only about 50% of eligible people utilize WIC. If you need benefits and you are eligible, please use them.
- “I have to deal with vouchers in the grocery store, and it’s embarrassing.” Most states now use eWIC cards and can electronically process benefits automatically. These cards work similarly to debit cards. Also, many grocery stores accept eWIC cards with their online ordering and pick-up options.
- “If someone in my household is an immigrant, they could get deported if I use WIC.” WIC does not release personal information to government agencies. WIC has also expanded food options to be more inclusive of cultural foods and allergy considerations and offers multilingual services.
In response to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 14% of enlisted active-duty families report facing food insecurity. While among junior enlisted the number jumps to nearly 30%, food insecurity is present across both enlisted and officer ranks. (Blue Star Families, 2021). Food insecurity is linked to nutrient deficiencies, leading to poor educational outcomes in children. WIC is one tool that can help many military families have better access to nutritious foods, leading to positive outcomes in health and a healthier force. If you are interested in learning more about WIC benefits, visit the WIC website and learn more.
Don’t be afraid to get help.
Nourish the Service is here to remind you that reaching out for help when you need it is an act of bravery. Military families are resilient and strong, and there is no shame or weakness in asking for and accepting help. Reach out to Blue Star Families, and we will do our best to connect you to the resources in your community.
Thank you to Amazon and the Craig Newmark Foundation for sponsoring Blue Star Families’ Food Insecurity DEPLOY Fellowship!
About WIC: How WIC Helps | Food and Nutrition Service. (2013, October 10). USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/about-wic-how-wic-helps
Blue Star Families. (2021, March 29). 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Report. 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey Comprehensive Report. Retrieved November 3, 2021, from chrome-extension://cefhlgghdlbobdpihfdadojifnpghbji/https://bluestarfam.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/BSF_MFLS_CompReport_FULL.pdf
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) | Food and Nutrition Service. (n.d.). USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic