In order to cope with crippling cuts to the current budget and a Department of Defense (DoD) hiring freeze, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) – which manages 252 commissaries worldwide – stopped hiring replacement workers, leaving gaps in commissary operations. As a result, some stores have been operating at less than 70 percent of the required workforce, threatening store hours and product availability.
Last week, Patrick Nixon, President of the American Logistics Association and The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits highlighted the hiring freeze issue in an interview with syndicated columnist Tom Philpott. Today, we learned that DeCA has received authority to hire at commissaries operating below 90 percent workforce capacity. Although this is a good step forward, commissaries must still operate with 10 percent less workforce for the foreseeable future, which is why we remain concerned with the ongoing effects of the hiring freeze.
In addition to the hiring freeze, the Secretary of Defense announced today that due to sequestration DoD will furlough about 680,000 civilian employees for up to 11 days – half of the 22 days originally planned. The Pentagon will allow the Navy to avoid furloughs for tens of thousands of workers at shipyards, where civilians make up the majority of the workforce. Furlough notices are expected to go out between May 28 and June 5 with furloughs beginning on July 8 – at the rate of one furlough day per week – through the end of the current fiscal year ending September 30, 2013.How will furloughs impact commissaries and military families?
Now that Sequestration has triggered the Department of Defense (DoD) must cut $46 billion. To help meet this requirement, DoD is planning to furlough nearly 800,000 civilian employees. Furlough notices were due to go out as soon as this week, with furloughs beginning in late April. However, the Department has delayed releasing furlough notices for two weeks, until on or around April 5, 2013.
This delay allows the Department of Defense time to analyze the impact of the Continuing Resolution legislation which passed both the House and the Senate last week. The new spending bill – which funds federal government agencies through September 30, 2013 – adds more than $10 billion to operations and maintenance accounts, which may allow DoD some flexibility in how they implement these budget cuts.
Originally, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) planned to furlough its employees on Wednesdays. After reaching an agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents the majority of the commissary workforce:
· DeCA plans to implement furloughs on Monday for all employees instead of Wednesday.
· DeCA headquarters and commissaries will be closed on Monday.
· For commissaries already closed on Monday, these stores will also close on Tuesday in order for all employees to meet the number of required hours for the furlough day.
· All DeCA employees may be furloughed for up to 22 days, which would equate to a 20% cut in pay, although this is still subject to change.
Many military and civilian families will be affected by these cuts. Although Save Our Benefit recognizes that all defense programs must share in the effort to reduce costs, budget cutters continue to overlook the fact that military resale is part of the solution to curbing defense spending, not part of the problem.· Reduced base operations and maintenance funding, which will impact transportation support to Exchanges and MWR programs.· Increased pressure on the Exchanges to provide more of their earnings for MWR programs, thus retaining less for investment in facilities and other capital programs.
Military communities across our country and overseas are gearing up for Military Saves Week (25 February – 2 March), which is the national campaign to motivate military families to save every month. Military Saves is part of the Department of Defense (DoD) Financial Readiness Campaign and has partnered with DoD since 2003. The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits would like to encourage all military families to “Take the Military Saves Pledge” by visiting www.militarysaves.org. We also want to take this opportunity to remind service members and their families that one of the best ways you can save money is by shopping regularly at your local commissary and exchange.
By using your earned benefits, military families can save an average of 31% by shopping in the commissary and over 20% by shopping in the exchange. Combined, these savings add up to nearly $7,000 a year for a family of four. If you are not already using your benefits, just think what you could do with that kind of savings! You could pay off your bills or college loans, build up your savings account, invest in your retirement, save for your children’s education or your own, or help take care of aging parents. The options are limitless but it must start with a plan to pay yourself first. By consistently shopping at your commissary and exchange, and keeping track of your overall savings, you will be able to put that money to work for you on a monthly basis. Now that is savings you can count on!
Millions of our troops and their families already count on commissaries and exchanges to help stretch their household budgets, deliver much needed supplies, and provide a “touch of home” wherever the military sends them. In remote and overseas locations, they are often the only affordable shopping opportunity available. In metropolitan areas, where prices are consistently higher, commissaries and exchanges help keep prices affordable. For some junior enlisted military families and fixed income retirees, savings are the difference between making ends meet and filing for public assistance. No wonder military families consistently rank commissaries and exchanges as one of their most important non-pay benefits.
Commissaries and exchanges save military patrons $4.5 billion annually. They also contribute billions more to Moral, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs, which save you and your family additional money each month and add to your quality of life. Commissaries and exchanges are also the largest employers of military families in the world and the leading employer of veterans in the nation. So, every time you shop at your local commissary or exchange, you are also helping other military families to make ends meet or save for tomorrow. Now that is savings our military community can count on!
Military families can also increase their savings by visiting the Save Our Benefit Patrons Savings Portal http://www.saveourbenefit.org/for_military_patrons.html. This one-stop location is designed to keep you current on the latest sales, deals, discounts, coupons, and promotions taking place at your local exchange and commissary. Our Coalition Partners also offer you further discounts through coupons, contests, promotions, and giveaways. We encourage you to visit our website weekly to take advantage of these additional savings.By shopping regularly at your local commissary and exchange, you and your family will not only save money but help protect your benefits from budget cutters in and outside of Congress who want to take your benefits away. Given this fact, it is important for you to know that the commissary and exchange systems actually save the government money the more service members and their families use their benefits. So, the more you shop at your local commissary and exchange, the greater the savings for you and the nation. Now that is savings we can all count on!
Although the “fiscal cliff’ was avoided for now, unless Congress works out a more permanent solution, sequestration will still go into effect on March 1, 2013. As a member of the military community and a commissary and exchange patron, you need to understand how this will affect your resale benefits. Commissaries would see taxpayer support cut by 9.4 percent or $130 million in operating funds, and by an additional $25 million in surcharge dollars. Sequestration would also reduce base operations and maintenance funding, which would impact transportation support to exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs.
The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits recognizes that all defense programs should share in the effort to reduce costs. We are proud that the military resale system has led the way by cutting billions of dollars in operating costs through efficiency initiatives while providing $4.5 billion in annual savings to military patrons. However, budget cutters continue to overlook the fact that military resale is part of the solution to curbing defense spending, not part of the problem. Repeated attacks on your resale benefits threaten to eliminate the taxpayer subsidy for commissaries, consolidate the commissary and exchange systems, and raise prices. Some members of Congress even propose giving active duty service members a $400 cash allowance in lieu of the benefit - retirees, Medal of Honor recipients, and survivors would get nothing.
Millions of service members and their families, like you, rely on commissaries and exchanges to stretch their household budgets. An average military family of four can save $7,000 a year. In remote and overseas locations, it is often the only affordable shopping opportunity available. In metropolitan areas, where prices are consistently higher, commissaries and exchanges help keep prices affordable. For some junior enlisted military families and fixed income retirees, savings are the difference between making ends meet and filing for public assistance.
The commissary and exchange benefit continues to rank as one of the most important benefits for military families and is stronger today than ever. While the cost of other federal defense programs have doubled or even tripled in the past five years, the cost of commissary programs have remained constant and are a bargain for the taxpayer. However, if the taxpayer subsidy for commissaries and exchanges is eliminated, to compensate for the loss of funding, commissaries and exchanges would have to raise prices and cut services which could lead to the collapse of the military resale system.
Military families and the Nation cannot afford for this to happen. The military resale system is too important of a benefit to lose. Last year it saved military families $5.6 billion and contributed billions of dollars to the military communities they support through vital MWR programs. The resale system also employs 100,000 working Americans, is the largest employer of military families in the world, and the leading employer of Veterans in the Nation.
Members of The Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits are working hard to ensure military families and Veterans have a voice in shaping polices that impact our nation’s ability to keep a healthy and vibrant commissary and exchange system. Through the Coalition website thousands of advocacy messages have already been sent to our leaders in Washington, D.C. - But they need to hear from more of us!
With all of us working together - service members and their families, military and Veteran's organizations, and concerned citizens - we can and will Save Our Benefit!
We Urge You To Join the Coalition Today
to Help Protect Your Commissary and Exchange Benefits!
As the nation kicked off its Holiday Shopping Season, with the Macy’s Annual Thanksgiving Parade, many Americans participated in Grey Thursday, Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, and Cyber Monday. I, however, did not feel compelled to join in this annual holiday ritual. Not because I don’t enjoy the perfect sale or the ultimate discount, especially during the holidays, but as a military family member I am secure in the knowledge that I can save everyday at my local commissary and exchange.
In addition to saving over 30% by using your commissary and exchange benefit, military families can also shop for additional bargains by checking out our Patrons Savings Portal. This one-stop location is designed to keep you current on the latest sales, deals, discounts, coupons, and promotions taking place at your local exchange and commissary. Our Coalition Partners also offer you additional discounts through coupons, contests, promotions, and giveaways.
If you have not checked out your Service’s exchange online or in person lately, I encourage you to do so. You will be amazed by all the bargains you will find on name brand items. If you are a regular exchange shopper, you already realize how much you save. However, don’t forget that by shopping at your local exchange you also contribute to many of the quality of life programs you and your family value. Now that’s a gift worth giving!
In addition to your local exchange, your commissary offers you everyday savings on groceries and essentials. It is also the best place to go to stock up on seasonal favorites, cater your holiday party, or find a taste of home.
As you prepare for the holidays, let us hear from you. Please share your favorite commissary or exchange holiday shopping experience with us. Let us know how your commissary and exchange benefit has helped to make your season bright!
As always, we pray for our service members and their families, especially those of you who must be apart this holiday season. Please know that your sacrifice does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. During the holidays and always, it is our honor to serve those of you who serve all of us!