By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterMarch 6, 2014
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - A trimmer proposed fiscal 2015 Department of Defense budget could lead to higher grocery prices at some nearly 180 commissaries throughout the continental United States according to DoD officials.
Under the budget proposal, the yearly direct subsidy provided to commissaries would be reduced by $1 billion dollars over the next three fiscal years according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who briefed reporters about the proposed budget cuts in February. The lower subsidies could be supplemented a number of ways - one being higher commissary grocery prices.
"A reduced business subsidy may cause some marginal price increases at commissaries," DoD officials said March 5. "In those cases, a commissary's ability to compete will be determined by whether people shop there."
The proposed FY 2015 defense budget totals $496 billion.
While the proposed 2015 defense budget request was introduced at the Pentagon March 4, Fort Myer commissary patrons replenished milk, bread and canned goods after an early March winter storm. Before and after their shopping, servicemembers and retirees voiced opinions about the possible cuts which could add to their expenses, but many promised to remain loyal customers.
A military mom of two who wished to remain anonymous frequently shops the Fort Myer commissary. Whether price hikes occur or not, she recognized the advantage she receives from shopping on base compared to the big box grocery stores.
"I rarely shop anywhere else," she said. "I've found this to be a tremendous benefit to us as military personnel."
The commissary located on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is a prime destination for retirees. According to the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), 95% of the Fort Myer commissary's clientele are veterans or their family members. Arlington's Robert Stockho is a retired Sailor, and he shops the commissary daily. As the proposed DoD budget was forwarded to Congress, he is closely monitoring the fiscal proceedings.
"We're watching [the proposed DoD budget] very carefully," Stockho said. "Certainly, we're concerned that [higher prices] may happen. We hope it doesn't. I have frequently expressed my concerns to my congressmen and senators about cuts to military benefits. This is one of those areas which would affect us. This would probably cost us a couple thousand dollars a year in lost benefits."
According to DeCA, a family of four shopping regularly at a commissary can currently save more than $4,500 on their yearly grocery costs. A single Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman shopping regularly can cut more than $1,553 a year off their budgets.
Richard McKinney of Alexandria mentioned that his wife is a weekly commissary shopper. He understands that lower commissary subsidies could lead to higher grocery bills, but he noted that a little belt tightening is needed by all who live under the DoD umbrella.
"I haven't heard how much prices might be raised, but I think we all have to do our part," McKinney said. "People who blindly say that there should be no cuts to any benefits anywhere need to step back and say 'if not here, then where?' This is still a benefit. This is still a great convenience over what you see in the private market."
Commissary regular Army Lt. Trisha Lawrence of the National Guard Bureau believes that base shopping will always be the best deal, regardless of any subsidy decreases.
"I believe it will still be more affordable than shopping off post," she said.
The global commissary system operates 247 commissaries worldwide and employs close to 18,000 people. In late February, Defense secretary Hagel clearly noted that no commissaries are scheduled to close.