Lawmakers want to boost efforts to fight food insecurity among veterans by connecting them to the help they need through a new proposal unveiled Thursday.

The “End Veteran Hunger Act,” would authorize a five-year pilot program offering $50 million in grants to increase outreach and education for veterans; to connect them to federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); and to reduce the stigma associated with using such programs.

The grants, issued from 2023 through 2027, would also be used to provide direct food assistance to veterans. That provision is flexible so that community organizations with proven track records of helping address hunger can do what they need to do to feed hungry people. The program would be administered through the National Nutrition and Food Services Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The grants would help drill down to the community level to reach veterans in need. Community-based organizations, veterans service organizations, tribal organizations, and local, state or federal government agencies would be among those eligible to apply for grants. In addition to increasing access to federal nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP, the grants could be used to increase access to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The proposal was introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs health subcommittee, and Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., who is a representative of San Diego’s military community.

According to Department of Agriculture statistics, about one in 10 working-age veterans lived in food-insecure households between 2015 and 2019, including 5% in households with the most severe level of hunger.

The lawmakers also cited a study published in 2020, conducted in part by researchers in the Department of Veterans Affairs, which noted that fewer than 40% of veterans who are eligible for SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — were enrolled in the program. A goal of the proposed legislation is to increase participation in federal food and nutrition programs.

Part of the reluctance for some to participate is perceived stigma about using the programs, and the lawmakers want the grants to help reduce that.

“It’s an embarrassment that the wealthiest nation in the world — with the most powerful military force — is also home to over a million veterans who struggle to put food on the table,” said Jacobs, in an announcement of the proposal.

Lawmakers and others have mounted efforts over the past few years to combat food insecurity in the military and veteran communities. The pandemic and inflation have exacerbated the problems for both groups.

Brownley said veterans often face challenges navigating the confusing system of nutritional support services. “The End Veteran Hunger Act takes a collective approach to ending veterans’ food insecurity by authorizing VA to provide community-based organizations with additional resources to help connect veterans with existing nutritional support programs,” she said, in the announcement.

“Creating partnerships between VA, community-based organizations, and other government agencies focused on combatting hunger in our country is the most impactful way to ensure veterans and their families can access the critical services to meet their food and nutritional needs.”

The legislation would also require the VA, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to submit interim and final reports on the effectiveness of the grants.

“We can end veteran hunger if we just muster the political will,” said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “This bill is a helpful step toward that goal.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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