Last weekend marked Memorial Day and the end of Military Appreciation Month. But here in Tennessee, showing our gratitude to our service members and their families isn’t something we do just once a year. It’s part of our way of life.
Two weeks ago, President Joe Biden unveiled his 2022 budget request, which is a stark shift away from his usual taxpayer-funded spending sprees. While he’s willing to dole out trillions for energy-efficient cars and blue-state bailouts, his priorities sideline much needed defense spending.
The president’s Department of Defense budget fails to keep up with inflation and does not come close to the 3%-5% real growth required to compete and win against China, functionally decreasing resources for the military. Rather than providing adequate funding for both readiness and modernization, Biden is pushing military leaders to make the tough choices for him. Without the ability to maintain our defense capabilities, our troops will be at a clear disadvantage.
In short, the Democrat-run White House is happy to leave our troops to deal with the consequences of an insufficient defense budget. Such funding disparities are unconscionable, considering the heroic work our Tennessee service members and their families perform every single day.
Last year, our Tennessee National Guard members bravely joined the fight against COVID-19, deploying to the most severely affected cities across the country to aid frontline health care workers. In the Volunteer State, Guard members set up almost double the number of static vaccination sites than any other state. Their efforts directly helped more than 1 million Tennesseans stay healthy.
But we know that the pandemic wasn’t the only natural disaster to which our troops responded. When tornadoes devastated much of our state, the National Guard was there to help. When blizzards shut down half of Tennessee, the Guard kept the water flowing in Memphis and found shelter for families in Lynchburg and Manchester.
Across the nation and in our communities, our National Guard troops made tremendous sacrifices to serve their country.
This level of commitment should be more than enough to earn more than a passing glance from the Biden administration. Sadly, Biden’s budget decrease represents a larger attitude of ambivalence towards our military. Not only does it weaken our ability to deter and compete against our adversaries, but it also ignores the shocking reality that many of our military families struggle to put food on the table.
Last month, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, R-Illinois, called the Military Hunger Prevention Act. This is an incredibly important piece of legislation that creates a basic needs allowance for low-income military families. Existing benefits programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and free school lunches leave military families behind as they include housing allowances and other military benefits in revenue calculations. The calculations create the appearance of higher income, excluding families that would otherwise qualify for assistance. Once we pass this bill, families will be able to use their basic needs allowance to buy groceries instead of relying on picked-over community pantries.
Although Military Appreciation Month has come to an end, we still have opportunities to give back to our service members who have gone above and beyond to give back to their communities. Supporting the Military Hunger Prevention Act is just one step toward recognizing their sacrifice and service and that of their families. But there is much more work to be done.
While Biden’s defense budget is a shameful denial of our military’s value, I will continue to advocate for the funding our heroes deserve.
Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.