Episode 14: Poverty in LGBTQIA+ with Jocelyn Frye & Military Families Facing Hunger with Abby Leibman

August 9, 2023

This podcast originally aired on The Invisible Americans Podcast on August 9, 2023.

In today’s episode, Jeff and Carol talk with Jocelyn Frye, President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, about LGBTQI+ families living in poverty. Then they talk to Abby Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger about food insecurity, particularly in the military.

A Functioning Economy is Linked to Policies Around Caregiving

All types of families need caregivers, and all types of people are acting as caregivers these days. Families may not look like the stereotype of a mom, dad, 2.2 kids, and a dog. In fact, many of them don’t look like that at all, especially in the LGBTQI+ community.

Building on a base of decades of work, the National Partnership for Women and Families conducted a study on LGBTQ families and the poverty they’re facing. They used the Household Pulse Survey to conduct their research, as it specifically includes LGBT families in the questionnaire structure.

Expanding the Definition of Family

Many people think that families are only made through blood or marriage. However, in the LGBTQI+ community, many people form chosen families — people who are not related to each other in any legal sense but who make up a family unit nonetheless.

And when one of the members of that chosen family needs caregiving, it can be difficult for other members of that family to make arrangements for caregiving. NPWF is working on many pieces of legislation to help protect those families through bills like the Caring for All Families Act, which would entitle “an employee who is a domestic partner, next of kin of a member of the Armed Forces, or any individual whose close association is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship, to take leave to care for the service member.”

Poverty and LGBTQI+ Parenting

Widespread, systemic discrimination leads those in the LGBTQI+ community to experience economic uncertainty at a higher rate than their non-LGBTQI+ counterparts. This is especially true when issues of intersectionality are introduced — LGBTQI+ families of color or LGBTQI+ parents with disabilities face increased barriers.

There is also less access to government supports within the LGBTQI+ community. The data revealed that LGBTQI+ families received the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit at a much lower rate than the general population.

Jocelyn states this may be due to reluctance to apply for support. Many LGBTQI+ families may fear discrimination or that their families will be disrupted in some way, and thus they don’t seek out the help that is offered.

Working to Put an End to Discrimination

The National Partnership for Women and Families knows that the stereotypes and biases that undergird our current culture can be unwound through thoughtful policy. Check out these policies and offer your support for them:

  • The Childcare for Working Families Act, which would create affordable childcare and strengthen the childcare workforce
  • The Equality Act, aimed at dealing with discrimination in the workforce by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Do No Harm Act, designed to make sure discriminatory rules and policies aren’t enacted under the guise of religious freedom
  • Updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act to expand the definition of family members
  • The FAMILY Act, which would address America’s paid family and medical leave crisis
  • The Health Families Act, which would provide paid sick days to more employees
  • The LGBTQIA+ Data Inclusion Act, which would begin to really track what’s going on in this community so more policies can be written to help with those specific problems

Jocelyn knows this is a tall order, and it’s crucial that multiple organizations work together to end discriminatory policies and practices across many segments of the population.

“The reality is, if you look at those states with anti-LGBTQIA bills, they’re also the same states often that have anti-reproductive rights bills, anti-voting rights bills. They are the ones who are going after the so-called anti-woke agenda, this sort of effort to foster this narrative around exclusion cuts across many different communities.”

MAZON and Military Hunger

Abby Leibman, president of MAZON, discusses a legal glitch that she and the organization are working to undo. Check out their Take Action section to see how you can help end hunger in the United States.

Food Insecurity Among Active-Duty Military Families

You might be stunned to learn that those who serve in our armed forces face problems of food insecurity and hunger — Jeff certainly was.

So was Abby, who first learned of this issue in 2011 when she first began her work with MAZON. It boils down to this problem: Military families need SNAP benefits and can’t access them.


Military families get what’s known as the BAH, or Basic Allowance for Housing. SNAP considers this allowance to be part of a family’s income, even though it isn’t counted as income by other agencies, like the IRS.

One of the main issues is that the BAH doesn’t completely cover the kind of housing that military families need, so not only do these families still have costs associated with housing, they’re cut off from SNAP because it is counted as so-called income.

How big is this problem?

If the BAH was taken out of income calculation, tens of thousands of active duty members of the military would be eligible for SNAP.

Why do tens of thousands of active duty military members have a need for SNAP benefits?

Lower-level enlisted members work at what is essential poverty wages for families of four in the United States. In many ways, the military pay structure was designed for single men who would enlist at a very young age, but that’s not always the case these days.

When Abby learned of this problem and saw the language of the USDA Food Stamp Program, she thought it would be an easy fix. More than a decade later, they’re still working on getting the BAH excluded from the income calculation.

Single Moms and SNAP

Abby also tells us that since the state government determines how SNAP benefits are administered, there are some states where the burden is much higher on single mothers. For instance, in some states, single mothers are required to cooperate with Child Support Enforcement in order to get SNAP for their family.

This can create confrontation between the main caregiver and the non-paying parent in order to be able to afford food for the family. Some states make exceptions for domestic abuse — if it has been documented through the courts — but not all of them.

MAZON is working with the federal government to stop states from requiring this. But if that doesn’t work, MAZON will go state-by-state to get these requirements overturned.

MAZON’s Virtual Museum and Jewish Values

On their website, MAZON has a virtual museum that tells the story of hunger in America from the Civil War to today. Despite almost eliminating food insecurity in the 1960s and ‘70s, we’re backsliding.

One reason that Abby cites for this is the judgement and misinformation around who is poor in this country and why those people are struggling to put food on their tables.

Since MAZON was founded, it has upheld the idea of tselem Elohim, which means that we are all made in the image of the Divine, and there is no judgement or stigma.

Policies today are built on huge systemic biases that informed this country: racism, misogyny, homophobia, and more. Bad policies move forward because of racist and classist beliefs that those in poverty are base or corrupt.

“Using a false narrative leads you to policy solutions that are actually policy problems.”