Military Times

Coalition urges Congress to reject cuts to commissary budget

A coalition of organizations advocating to protect military shopping benefits has sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees urging them to reject the Pentagon's proposed cuts to commissary funding.

They also asked the committees to reject the legislative changes the Pentagon has requested, which would allow the commissaries to raise prices in order to pay for some operating costs.

"The Pentagon's budget cuts will destroy the commissary benefit," the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits wrote in an April 16 letter.

"Based on the high value placed on the benefit by service members, retirees, and their families, no commissary cuts or legislative changes should be approved by Congress that would reduce the benefit," the coalition wrote.

"The hours and days of operation at commissaries should not be decreased nor should the prices for groceries in commissaries be increased."

The Defense Department's fiscal 2016 budget proposal would cut $322 million in funding, reducing the commissary subsidy to about $1.15 billion. A cut of that thaty size would force reduced operating days and hours in most commissaries.

DoD officials also have asked for authority to allow "variable pricing" — markups — in commissaries. Items in commissaries now are sold at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge added at the register.

The House Armed Services Committee begins its markup of the annual defense authorization bill next week.

Among the coalition groups signing onto the letter are the National Military Family Association, Military Officers' Association of America, Association of the United States Army, and Military Partners and Families Coalition.

The American Logistics Association and Armed Forces Marketing Council, which represent members of industry doing business with the commissaries, exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation programs, also signed.

Although studies have recognized the value of the commissary benefits, "DoD continues to target the annual commissary appropriation as a cost saving measure," the coalition wrote.

Last year, Congress rejected DoD's proposed cut of $200 million in Defense Commissary Agency funding. DoD had floated a three-year plan to slash the DeCA budget by $1 billion.

The department's fiscal 2016 budget request proposes bigger plans for reducing the commissary budget and for raising prices, starting in fiscal 2017.

Accompanying the letter was a document from the National Military Family Association outlining some of the comments received from military families in the wake of the discussions on raising prices.

Repeatedly, families noted that they wouldn't shop at commissaries if prices rise, which would, in effect end the benefit.

A sampling:

"The reason I do shop there is because my overall bill is always cheaper compared to when I shop at other stores. I wouldn't shop there if they raised prices, there's no benefit to it."

"Our family needs the commissary. We have one option when it comes to shopping off post, and we wouldn't be able to afford a decent amount of groceries for our family if we had to shop off post. Too tight of a budget. The commissary prices allow us to feed our families without struggling."

"Raise prices and many will go elsewhere and jobs will be lost. ... Military families should be given kudos for managing to make ends meet — don't take away another benefit and put more families on welfare."

"There are way fewer options especially with healthier choices. It saves us hundreds every month and we don't live on post. There's no point in going out there if it's not saving us money."

"As we move from town to town the commissaries are always familiar, even in a new-to-me commissary. I always shop at the commissary, but if it is no longer the least expensive place to get groceries I would not shop there. We work hard for our $ so we try to spend it wisely."

"The REASON I shop there is because of the PRICES. It helps me stretch our dollar, enables us to use funds towards our children's needs & entertainment. I don't see me making the 8-mile trip anymore if the prices change to the same price as my grocer three blocks away."

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