Commissary benefit helps military community manage financial challenges

Defense Commissary Agency

The commissary benefit is a valuable asset for the Department of Defense as it looks to help support service members and their families who are challenged by the financial impacts of COVID-19, a disrupted supply chain and inflation, said the director and CEO of the Defense Commissary Agency.

Bill Moore said that despite all these ongoing global challenges, the commissary is in a perfect position to be a food security resource in DOD’s plan to strengthen economic security for the military community.

“We are a food security resource for our customers, and as such, we are doing everything we can, and more, to get the products they need – at the lowest price possible,” Moore said. “We offer our patrons healthy food cheaper, and that assists them with learning how to eat on a budget.”

DOD’s plan for economic security was front and center in November 2021 when the Department unveiled its “Military Leader’s Economic Security Toolkit” on Military OneSource. The webpage is a central landing spot to help leaders connect service members and their families with resources they need to help boost their economic readiness.

The commissary benefit portion of the economic toolkit is spotlighted on the DeCA website, specifically on its “We’re Stronger Together” page that links military members to the following patron savings and nutritious options:

· Timely sales promotions as well as specific items highlighted on the biweekly sales flyer

· Your Everyday Savings program items that feature low prices on popular, core item

· Commissary Store Brands offering private label pricing on quality products

· Rewards Cards offering digital coupons

· Healthy and economic recipes and meal plans

DeCA is also expanding its efforts to improve access to the commissary benefit. This past spring the agency began to offer bulk military unit pickup or delivery of groceries from commissaries directly to barracks locations to assist troops who cannot make it to dining facilities.

Commissaries are also adjusting hours of operation and using technology to expand access in more convenient ways than ever before – like online shopping and curbside pickup with online payment (available now at all stores). DeCA is also in the middle of an at-home grocery delivery pilot at eight CONUS locations, with agency-wide expansion planned soon thereafter.

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“If we can’t get the patron to the store, then we’ve got to get the benefit to the patron – that’s what CLICK2GO delivery is really about at our eight pilot locations,” Moore said.

DeCA also wants military members who qualify for special assistance to know their commissary allows them to use those programs in the store. This includes the following benefits:

· Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Basic food items are SNAP-eligible. These items do not include alcohol, tobacco, foods that can be eaten in the store, vitamins or medicines, pet foods and nonfood items such as tissue, soap, cosmetics or other household goods

· Temporary Assistance to Needy Families

· Women, Infants, and Children. Each state provides a product list of the items that commissaries can sell as eWIC. For active duty troops and family members stationed abroad, the WIC recipients Overseas or WICO, is a DOD-funded program that provides a WIC food list and food checks called drafts redeemable in overseas commissaries and NEXMARTs.

Commissaries have also ramped up support of local food banks as the rate of food bank usage has increased. Over an eight-year period, DeCA has donated more than 25 million pounds of edible but unsellable food to local food banks.

Currently, 174 stateside commissaries support 198 food banks designated by DOD to receive donated items certified by food inspectors as being edible but unsellable.

“We are aware the pandemic has put a tremendous strain on food banks that are already pressed to help those who need assistance,” Moore said. “I’m proud that we are connecting with food banks to help where we can.”

DeCA’s support to food banks is also linked to the annual USDA-sponsored Feds Feed Families campaign that runs June through September this year. Through Feds Feed Families, commissaries serve as collection points for food and personal hygiene items, with DeCA collecting about 12.2 million pounds over the past 12 years. In 2021 alone, DeCA patrons and employees led DOD contributions by collecting nearly 2.4 million pounds – 66 percent of the department’s total.

“We want young servicemembers to know that if they are not shopping their commissary, then they are missing out on tremendous savings and spending more on food than they should,” Moore said.

“We have a single purpose to deliver the commissary benefit, improving our military family quality of life, and we are doing all we can, within our resource constraints, to successfully achieve that objective,” he added. “And we are confident that we are significantly saving money for our patrons as they deal with these higher costs of living.”

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