PRESENTATION TO SOCIETY OF MILITARY WIDOWS
EFFORTS TO SAVE OUR COMMISSARY AND EXCHANGE BENEFITS
Candace Wheeler, Spokesperson, The Coalition to Save
Our Military Shopping Benefits
Background on what
threats we faced historically, why the American Logistics Association (ALA)
stood up the Save Our Benefit coalition, what the Coalition has been doing and
what messages we have been sharing, what challenges we have faced recently, and
where we are now.
the American Logistics Association, I worked as a Government Relations Deputy
Director for the National Military Family Association (NMFA) for five years.
commissary and exchange issues for NMFA.
Background: What Threats Did We Face?
to Consolidate the Commissary and Exchange are Nothing New
have been conducted over the years.
millions of dollars, these studies all concluded that consolidating the
commissary and exchanges, or the three exchanges wasn’t worth the squeeze.
findings from these studies have not precluded others from recommending or
including consolidation in legislation.
to Black Report
released a report in 2011 entitled Back
ways the federal government was wasting money.
consolidating the commissary and exchanges.
not acted upon.
for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011
provide hospital care, medical services, and nursing care for veterans and
family members exposed to contaminated water over a 30 year span from 1957-1987.
To pay for the
bill, Senator Burr included a provision that would have removed the
appropriations for the Defense Commissary Agency, and consolidated the
commissary and exchange systems.
community pushed back against the payer for this bill and consolidation.
veterans organizations firmly supported taking care of our veterans and their
families. But using the commissary
funding as a way to pay for the bill would have eliminated this critical benefit
for all service members and their families.
Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 passed the
following year, the funding mechanism did not come from the
commissary appropriation or through consolidation.
ALA Stood Up the Coalition
ALA sounded the
alarm five years ago on the perfect storm that was about to impact the Federal
these pressures were going to have an immediate impact on the funding provided
to operate the military resale system. They
ALA created the
Coalition to ensure service members, veterans, retirees, survivors, and their
families have a voice in shaping policies that impact our nation’s ability to
sustain healthy and vibrant commissary and exchanges systems, and to protect
these critical earned benefits.
almost 4 years ago, to gain support for the Coalition.
Reached out to
military and veterans service organizations, many of which were already
championing commissary and exchange benefits. Encouraged them to join the
Coalition is comprised of 22 organizations. Our
Valued Associate members represent some of the largest, oldest, and most
trusted military and veterans’ organizations in the country, and those
representing our newest veterans and family members.
Save Our Benefit provides outreach and access to over 2
million service members (active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retirees,
veterans), their families, survivors, people with disabilities, employees, and
SMW and TAPS are
both affiliated members of the National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS),
which has been instrumental in this fight.
Military Veterans Alliance (NMVA), co-chaired by NAUS and the American Military
Retirees Association (AMRA) has been a tremendous ally. ALA and the Armed Forces Marketing Council (AFMC)
are both members of NMVA.
The Coalition also
works with The Military Coalition, American Legion, American Federation of
Government Employees, the Teamsters Union, and grassroots organizations to help
protect these valuable earned benefits.
Has the Coalition Been Doing?
collectively, we have been educating legislators on the value and importance of
commissary and exchange benefits, and the military resale system.
We send letters
to Congress and policy makers.
Reach out to the
media with press releases, op eds, and quotes.
through our respective websites, Facebook, and Twitter.
Send out Call to
Action alerts to our members to reach out to their Members of Congress to urge their
continued support for these critical earned benefits.
The Coalition is standing
united to protect military resale benefits.
advocacy, consistent and unified message.
ALA, AFMC, National
Military Family Association (NMFA), and the Military Officers Association of
America (MOAA) – all Coalition members – testified before the Senate Armed
Services Subcommittee on Personnel in January 2016 to share our “Views on Commissary
Messages Are We Conveying?
We continue to message
that these benefits are earned through military service and sacrifice.
to the commissary and exchange systems will hurt those that need these benefits
the most, our junior enlisted troops and their families, and fixed income
retirees to include survivors.
Ninety percent of the military community uses these
benefits, which consistently rank as a top compensation benefit, yielding
returns that far outweigh taxpayer support.
Commissaries and exchanges provide critical jobs for
military families and veterans–over 60 percent of commissary employees are
military affiliated–and nearly 30 percent are military spouses.
Provide healthy living alternatives both stateside and
Service members and their families are partners with
taxpayers, having financed billions of dollars in facilities and quality of
benefit is more than a discount grocery store. The benefit is the savings they provide. If
you reduce the savings, you reduce the benefit.
Simply put, it’s a
pay cut for military families.
commissary funding will drive prices up. Military families will determine it is
no longer “Worth the Trip.”
commissary foot traffic, the Exchanges will see at least a 30 percent drop in
sales, which will impact critical Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR)
causes that receive funding through military resale will also be affected.
Study after study
recognizes the value of these benefits and believes they are too valuable to be
squandered at the budget table. Yet DoD
continues to target the annual commissary appropriation as a cost saving measure.
Any changes to
these critical benefits needs to be carefully considered, assessing a broad
range of direct and indirect consequences, and upholding the promise made to
our service members and their families.
balance the budget on the backs of military families.
Are Some of the Recent Challenges?
Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, tasked with modernizing
military pay, retirement, health care, and benefits, met for over two years. Gratified MCRMC final report firmly supported
the value of the commissary and determined commissaries were worth preserving. MCRMC recommended consolidating the Commissary
and Exchanges, which has not been supported by Congress.
Budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 put forward a three year plan to
drastically cut commissary funding by $1 billion, which is more than two-thirds
of the 1.4 billion annual commissary appropriations.
The proposal was
$200 million in FY15, $600 million in FY16, and $1 billion in FY17.
With support from
many in Congress, we successfully restored the $200 million in 2014.
instead of the $600 million cut, the FY16 Budget proposed a commissary funding cut
of $322 million. All but $30 million was
restored to the commissary appropriations.
The FY16 Budget
also includes language directing reports on:
commissary and exchange “budget neutral” by FY 2018, to be validated by the
Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Privatization of commissaries and exchanges in whole or in part.
Engagement of major commercial grocers or other private sector
entities to determine willingness to provide discount savings on grocery
products and household goods.
Closing commissaries in close proximity to other commissaries or
in locations where commercial alternatives are available.
on products and goods at commissaries and exchanges.
By obtaining the
authority to apply variable pricing, DeCA would be able to implement private
label within their stores. There are a
lot of up front costs with private label. The complex actions and competitiveness of the
private label business will require DeCA to invest significant resources
(appropriated dollars) without a test to validate its cost/benefit. Also,
industry currently stocks their own products, which DeCA would have to do for
Challenges Are We Facing Now?
Instead of the $1
billion cut to the commissary appropriations, the FY17 Budget includes a $221
million cut to the commissary funding.
We don’t know whether
it funds the DeCA requirement going forward, whether it includes excess
carry-over from prior years, planned store closures, etc., because we do not
know the components of the reductions.
Track record out
of the Pentagon over the past few years has been to cut the commissary funding
without regard to the benefit.
After years of
these cuts being rejected by Congress it now appears that DoD has
recognized that reforms and efficiencies need to be placed ahead of cuts.
concern is if reforms and efficiencies don't materialize as envisioned, military
families will be left holding the bag on higher prices or reduced quality if
and when these reform plans fall short.
Report on the
Defense plan for budget neutrality for commissaries and exchanges, the pilots,
etc. was due on March 1st. We
are now hearing the report will be delivered sometime this summer.
Price increases on products in different localities does not take into
consideration that military pay does not change based on where you are station.
If you regionalize prices, you have to regionalize
pay if you want to keep the benefit equitable.
than ever, we must continue to drive home the fact that the 30 percent savings
needs to be protected.
ALA, the Coalition, and our valued
associate partners will continue to educate policy makers on the value of these
earned “quality of life” benefits, and the need to protect the critical savings
relied on by our military community.
Legislative Chair, Society of Military Widows