If They Closed the Commissary and Gave You Cash Instead

A new report on the commissary system issued by the Defense Department this month is so packed with juicy tidbits of commissary factoid goodness, that I cannot even handle it.

One of the things tucked in there is a discussion on what it would look like if, instead of keeping commissaries open, they paid military members extra to offset the higher cost of groceries off base.

In short, what would happen if they closed the commissaries and gave you extra cash instead?

Before we get to that, here's a little background. Congress has long talked about alerting the commissary system to get rid of the $1.4 billion in funding it takes ever year. Right now, the commissary sells goods at cost, plus that 5 percent surcharge that feels like a tax. By law, money from the surcharge pays for things like store maintenance and construction. That means the commissary is selling you groceries at  the same price they pay for them, and they can't cover any of their operating costs and, in particular, employee expenses, through store income.

Lawmakers want to change the system so that's its paying for itself. But they also want to make sure that military families are still getting a benefit from the store through low-cost groceries. Commissary supporters say that this is like wanting two completely different things at the same time. And the Defense Department said in that report that the only to totally nix the government funding is to close the system altogether.

Back to the extra cash for you. In this report, the DoD estimates that, thanks to the way the system works, military families who use the commissary annually save about $1,501 in groceries.

That means, to make up for the loss of the commissary to the people who actually use it, the DoD would have to bump up everyone's paycheck by about $1,500 a year,  or $125 each month.

(I'd take it, wouldn't you?)

That figure, however, doesn't take into account any shoppers other than active duty folks. And one of the other new fun facts included in this report is that active duty shoppers make up only about half of commissary users. The rest are retirees (about 38 percent), Guard and Reserve (a surprisingly low 4ish percent), DoD civilian employees (about 5 percent -- and they are only entitled to the commissary if they are stationed as an employee OCONUS) and others (about 2 percent -- and includes people like 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans and Medal of Honor recipients).

That means that the $1,500 number would only reimburse active duty people, not any of the other people who see the commissary as part of their long-term benefits package, like retirees.

And here is the big downside to the bean counters who are trying to cut that $1.4 billion out of the equation to save Uncle Sam some coin: giving you $1,500 in cash instead of keeping the commissaries open would cost $2.37 billion.


In short? This option will probably never happen. But it's nice to think about, huh?


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