Commissaries avoid cuts, but at cost to customers
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, center, tours the commissary at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., July 16, 2013.
WASHINGTON — The long-feared cuts to military commissaries appear to be real: The Defense Department subsidy would drop from $1.4 billion annually to $400 million under a defense budget proposal the Obama administration plans to deliver to Congress next week, Pentagon officials announced Monday.
The commissary cut will be accomplished not by eliminating any commissary locations, but by reducing the amount of savings over civilian markets that servicemembers enjoy. The cut will be phased in over several years.
A recent study by Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, found that using the commissary saves shoppers an average of 30.5 percent annually when compared to other stores off base.
The savings would drop to about 10 percent, defense officials said in a briefing that covered all aspects of the 2015 defense budget, including hardware and military pay.
“I want to make a point that nobody’s take-home pay is going to go down under this plan ,and we are not closing commissaries,” a senior military official said.
It was unclear Monday whether savings would be sought by raising prices on some good, or whether there might be an increase in the stores’ 5 percent surcharge, long presented as a way to pay for commissary construction, equipment and maintenance.
According to a media report out last month, one plan under consideration was closing all but 24 rural stores stateside, while overseas stores would remain open.
DeCA operates 247 stores worldwide, and was getting $1.4 billion annually in taxpayer funding.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chris Carroll contributed to this report.