Pandemic causes surge in military families facing hunger

Since the pandemic hit, one study found that nearly 40% of active-duty service members are facing food insecurity, forcing them to rely on food banks to feed their families. Mark Strassmann has more on their struggles.

Video Transcript

NORAH O'DONNELL: Now on our investigation into military families who are having trouble getting enough to eat during the pandemic.

Nearly 40% have had trouble putting food on the table. CBS's Mark Strassmann continues his reporting tonight, including the military's response.

- Beggars can't be choosers.

MARK STRASSMANN: Kay is on her way to a food bank again, to feed her Army family of six.

- For us, it last a couple of days maybe, just because there's so many of us in the house.

MARK STRASSMANN: Her husband, an E-5 Sergeant, works at JBLM-- Joint Base Lewis-McChord-- near Tacoma, Washington. His take-home pay? Roughly $3,000 a month. It's not enough.

- I cannot feed my kids. You know, I cannot make this vehicle payment because I had to feed my kids. It's just unacceptable, really.

MARK STRASSMANN: Since the pandemic hit, one study reports nearly 40% of active duty service members have food insecurity.

Is there a food bank on post?

TREY RUTHERFORD: There is not.

MARK STRASSMANN: Do you track food insecurity at JBLM?

TREY RUTHERFORD: We don't track that.

MARK STRASSMANN: At JBLM, Colonel Trey Rutherford, Chief of Staff for the 87th Infantry Division.

The Army Emergency Relief Program offers struggling families help with budgeting and loans for food.

TREY RUTHERFORD: We challenge families to have the courage to trust in us, to trust in their leaders, to help them solve the challenges. And they need to feel comfortable saying, "Hey, family, I need some assistance."

MARK STRASSMANN: But military culture prizes resilience. Asking for help can feel taboo.

- So in kind of talking to other spouses, it was kind of like, no, that's kind of hush-hush.

MARK STRASSMANN: In this pandemic, many military spouses lost jobs. JBLM has tracked 350 families down from two incomes to one.

TREY RUTHERFORD: They are challenged, they are squeezed. And we must get better, and we will get better.

MARK STRASSMANN: Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland's district includes JBLM.

MARILYN STRICKLAND: The people who are serving our country should not have to worry about food on the table.

MARK STRASSMANN: But last December, Congress failed to approve a military family basic needs allowance.

- There it is, that's it.

MARK STRASSMANN: Kay has cut family meals to two a day.

- It was hardest for the little one, just because she doesn't understand I'm hungry and I always eat when I'm hungry.

- Have a good one!

MARK STRASSMANN: Serving their country, but struggling to serve their own family.

Mark Strassmann, CBS News, Atlanta.

NORAH O'DONNELL: And so many of you have reached out, wanting to help. You can go to combatmilitaryhunger.org.