Much of the American public tends to keep the military and their families on a pedestal in gratitude for their service. But what they may not know is that behind the uniform and the videos of tear inducing-homecomings – they are struggling just to survive.
It’s an uncomfortable picture, thinking of military families unable to pay their bills. Unfortunately, it is a stark reality for many. The 2019 Blue Star Families Survey found that the biggest stressor for military members, spouses and veteran families is financial concerns. While junior enlisted families struggle to make ends meet due to low pay, an E6 family may still qualify for WIC and other government assistance benefits.
Often being stationed in high cost of living areas creates the first hurdle to stretching pay. Although those reading the statistics of life in poverty may suggest that the military spouse simply find employment, there are significant barriers to that. Military spouses also have record high rates of unemployment and underemployment compared to their civilian peers. Difficulties in finding reliable childcare also impact their ability to find gainful employment to support the family’s financial needs.
This leads to military families utilizing not only free food banks, but even qualifying at times for government assistance. The struggle has led to national news coverage, which has created shock for much of the American public.
Currently, the Department of Defense does not collect data on families utilizing food assistance programs. Studies that released in 2019 documenting concerning numbers have sense been removed from the internet. However, NBC was able to gather data which documented that a third of military children attending DOD run schools received free or reduced lunch for the 2018-2019 school year.
Provisions within legislation that would allow housing money to be removed when considering financial eligibility for programs such as SNAP have stalled in Congress.
The 2019 National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey found that roughly a third of service members are unable to pay their bills on time. As a matter of fact, that survey found that military families are more likely than the general population to be behind on their bills. With high debt and low income, it remains a recipe for disaster for military families.
So, what can be done to combat this growing issue? While increased pay for the hard and dedicated work military members do every day would create a huge and positive impact, that will take time. With financial concerns outweighing deployment stress, it’s a something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
From almost the moment that a service member graduates from boot camp they begin being inundated with offers from lenders for credit cards and loans. Having strong knowledge of the importance for financial security and budgeting at the start could have positive ripple effects throughout the members life. Avoiding creating debt that will become difficult to repay is the first step.
If you’ve entered into the service with concerning debt, utilize the Servicemember Civil Relief Act to bring it down. This piece of legislation put a cap on interest rates that can be charged to a service member and their qualifying dependents. Call your lenders today and ask for their SRCA representative.
Use the resources
With frequent moves, deployments and barriers to employment for spouses, knowing where to go for help is a key piece in combating financial stressors. There are nonprofit relief organizations for each branch of service just waiting to assist those in need. Other nonprofits dedicated to serving military families also remain eager to serve and support. All of these organizations are poised to offer grants and zero interest loans to support emergencies, childcare costs, education needs and so much more.
Scholarships also remain available to the military member and spouses to cover costs associated with certifications and degrees for higher education. New legislation passed in 2019 even covers the fees for transferring licensure when you PCS.
All of the options available for support can appear overwhelming. A great first step to tackling the resources is to utilize DOD’s Military One Source or CG SUPRT through the Coast Guard for confidential counseling. There are professionals available 24/7 to begin supporting you through this process. You’ll receive 12 sessions for every issue that comes up, this includes things like finances.
The military life comes with unique challenges and financial issues are one of them for many families. Although aspects regarding military pay and access to government assistance are not something the military family can control, there’s much they can take the lead in on addressing the very real problem of financial insecurity. Understanding that you aren’t alone and knowing where you can turn to for help is the important first step in tackling the issue.