Grocery Shopping Shouldn’t be Stressful: Saving the Benefit for Military Families

Commissary Testimony

Commissaries are, once again, in the hot seat and NMFA took to the Hill January 13 to plead the case for military families. The Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to consider changes that would save money. The Department of Defense (DoD) has been struggling to make budget cuts, and the commissary continuously comes up as an option for reform.

Some ideas being considered include increasing prices, private label products, and cutting store hours. NMFA Government Relations Deputy Director Eileen Huck testified that families who regularly shop at the commissary save 30% over civilian grocery stores. She pleaded with Congress to proceed carefully before making any changes.

“The commissary provides all military families with the assurance they can put food on the table at a reasonable cost regardless of their location,” said Huck.

Tom Gordy, from the Armed Forces Marketing Council, presented evidence showing even a 5% increase in price would mean a 20% decrease in commissary traffic. This is a problem because if fewer people shop at commissaries in highly populated areas, there’s less money to fund those in remote locations—where they are critical, and are often home to single-income, junior enlisted families. Reducing foot traffic would also reduce funding for Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs, which are vital in these areas.

Brooke Goldberg, from the Military Officers Association of America, testified, “Any time you mess with the savings level, any time families perceive a threat to the savings they receive when they go through the door, you risk their loyalty.”

Rep. Tim Walz (D-1st/MN) made a statement echoed multiple times throughout today’s hearing: “With all the stress in military life, grocery shopping shouldn’t be one of them.” He talked about the psychological benefit of the commissary, and that unintended consequences of the proposed changes have not been studied. He shared his concern for military families, who often face unimaginable stress saying, “Consistency is absolutely critical.” Commissaries provide an earned benefit that isn’t just monetary. They are an important part of military culture and a gathering place for families to connect.

Are we opposed to changes to the commissary? Not necessarily.

“We are focused on transparency when we are talking about changes to the commissary system,” said Huck. She went on to say changes should be made with extreme caution and should minimize any impact on our service members and the families who stand behind them, “All changes need to be clear to families.”

Click here to read our full testimony.

 

Posted January 13, 2016

Comments

From: milspouse on: January 19, 2016
Thank you for looking out for military families.
From: Anonymous on: January 19, 2016
Commissaries are necessary for our family survival. Please don't let them go away.
From: Jeff on: January 14, 2016
I'm a civilian. My brother served in the USAF for 25 years and is now retired. I know that his budget was tight and didn't go far on a military salary. From my prospective taking away the benefits that the commissary offers is a mistake. It help my brother knowing that he could provide food for his family everyday and not go into debt for establishing a normal family life. The commissary provide more than just low cost food. It provides stability and that is priceless. The upper management should try to go on a budget and see how it really is to be without basic necessities. Look beyond the dollars and look at people lives that it will affect.
From: Mary on: January 14, 2016
I loved the commissary I have had only Good Experiences The prices are good and the quality is superior I like the selection. Thank you for watching out for Military Families.
From: CAM on: January 14, 2016
Basically if the commissary benefit is less-then basic pay is required to be more to make up the difference of what is being taken away. Simple math!
From: Teresa on: January 14, 2016
Commissaries know our likes and need no matter where we call home, no matter our cuisine tastes - American, Asian, or Tex-Mex.
From: Tracy on: January 14, 2016
I agree wholeheartedly that the commissary benefits our military family both financially and emotionally. No matter where we have been they feel familiar. I have also lived in places where food costs are so high I am not sure how we would have managed without the commissary. Part of military life is moving to places with high and low costs of living. The commissary plays a huge role in balancing the stress of those moves. When we live in expensive locations my kids already have less activities because they cost so much more. (For example, all had to give up gymnastics with this last move because the cost quadrupled.)
From: Anonymous on: January 14, 2016
Great job! Thank you for looking out for us families.
From: Tawana on: January 14, 2016
Every time we move we have to find new everything; schools, doctors, sports organizations, friends, houses. It is always comforting to walk into the commissary and know exactly what you are getting. It is familiar, we know what prices to expect, that the brands are family is familiar with will be on the shelves. We get to feel like part of a community engaging in conversation with peers who live a similar lifestyle that our civilian counterparts don't understand. The comfort of shopping somewhere familiar is a bonus on top of the savings. If the commissary benefit is cut the effects will not just hurt my wallet.
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