Under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2001, beginning in May 2001, qualifying servicemembers can receive up to $500 a month with the new family subsistence supplemental allowance (FSSA).
The program was designed to help families currently on food stamps. Although this allowance does target those families, all total force members may apply.
A survey conducted in 1999, showed that about 6,300 military families were on food stamps. That was a dramatic drop from the 12,000 who received aid in 1995 and represents less than 1 percent of the 1.4 million men and women in uniform. Eligibility is determined by household size and combined income.
Even those who are assigned to overseas installations where food stamps are not available can apply for FSSA, because the program is based upon household income and family size, not whether or not one is currently receiving food stamps.
Families on food stamps who qualify for FSSA receive a monthly cash allowance equal to their food stamp amount. Those not on food stamps receive the amount of money required to bring their income to 130 percent of the federal poverty line, not to exceed $500.
Qualification is based on the (U.S. Department of Agriculture's) gross monthly income eligibility limits based on household size. However, unlike qualifying for food stamps, the FSSA includes housing allowances in the equation.
Also included in determining income eligibility are basic allowance for subsistence or cash equivalents for those living in government housing, and all bonuses, special and incentive pays.
The overseas cost-of-living allowance, stateside COLA, family separation housing allowance, clothing allowances, and all travel- and transportation-related allowances and entitlements are not be included in gross income.
To apply for this nontaxable allowance, people must fill out an application and supply detailed information on household size and income to their commander. One can even complete the application online, and e-mail it from the site directly to their commanders; however, they must provide all other information in person.
If approved, people must recertify annually, when promoted, when household income increases, when household size changes and when making a permanent change-of-station move.
Once a commander approves someone for FSSA, the paperwork is forwarded to the local finance office and shows up in the member's pay. Because commanders are the approval authorities, the commander may require people to attend family support center financial management classes.
Although people are permitted to collect the FSSA and food stamps at the same time, many people who are approved for FSSA will no longer be eligible or may receive reduced amounts for food stamps, because the FSSA payments count as income.
The FSSA may also affect household participation in the subsidized school lunch program, the Women, Infant and Children program, income-based day care programs and earned income tax credit.