By MOAA Staff
While President Donald Trump's recent budget proposal pledges to enhance the “readiness and lethality” of the force - and would add billions to the bottom line of the VA and DoD - it includes a proposed cut that, if implemented improperly, could prove damaging to the bottom lines of military families and retirees worldwide.
The budget proposes $995 million in taxpayer funding to operate the 236 commissary stores, down from $1.27 billion in fiscal 2019. This 21 percent cut comes as sales reportedly have fallen by 25 percent since a 2012 peak. Combined, these figures could mean bad news for military and veteran families, especially those who rely on their earned benefit of commissary access to help balance the family budget:
- A DoD official explained to MOAA that the planned cut came thanks to an “unobligated balance” of approximately $250 million from last year's commissary budget. Regardless of the rationale - and putting aside questions of how a quarter-billion dollars went unobligated - erosion of taxpayer support for the commissary's bottom line means limited buying power and more of a cost burden for customers.
- Fewer sales also means limited buying power. The more products sold, the easier commissaries can negotiate lower prices with vendors. If sales drop, so do discounts.
- Cuts to commissary budgets could speed merger discussions with the exchange system. MOAA already has requested DoD move deliberately with such talks, with an eye toward protecting the shoppers' benefit as well as the funds from these stores that help boost morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) efforts. Such a merger shouldn't be seen as a quick fix.
“We are concerned with the proposed cut to the commissaries - especially in light of ongoing efforts across the enterprise to improve operations and restore sales,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret). “While we understand DoD's intent to reduce reliance on the government's subsidy, reductions of this magnitude, that precede improvements, will only steepen the decline and likely have unintended consequences on readiness and morale.”
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One key part of MOAA's mission throughout this process is to remind legislators how critical the commissary benefit remains to servicemembers both in and out of uniform, and their families. MOAA will monitor the budget debate and push legislators to ensure final budget figures will allow DoD to maintain the benefit and continue efforts to increase the health of the commissary system. Check in with MOAA.org for updates throughout the process.