Military update: Commissary closures leave mark

As House Republicans prepared to close down a large part of the government in their latest attempt to gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act, one of their own introduced the Pay Our Military Act (HR 3210) to allow military members to be paid through the shutdown.

Congress quickly passed the bill from Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a Marine Corps Reserve retiree, and President Obama signed it into law.

So military pay continues even as 400,000 defense civilian employees go on unpaid furlough.

The shutdown is stinging military communities in other ways, and the hurt is enhanced by the tough budget choices Defense officials must make entering a second year of sequestration.

The temporary closing of 175 stateside commissaries is a prime example.

“Commissary patrons across the United States reacted to the announced store closures in the same manner as customers descend on a grocery store to prepare for a hurricane,” said the Defense Commissary Agency in responding to our question about store traffic that last day.

Commissary sales Oct. 1, the day before base grocery stores were shuttered, totaled $30.6 million, or more than double normal sales.

About 85 percent of those dollars were spent in stores now closed.

“Those numbers underscore the impact of the closure on commissary patrons, who demonstrated with their transactions on Oct. 1 that they depend on their commissary benefit,” the agency said.

Commissaries overseas remain open, as do all military exchanges, or base department stores, which are self-funded.

When Republicans last shut down the government, for a few days in 1995 and several weeks in 1996, Defense officials allowed all base grocery stores to operate normally.

Why not this time?

“In each decision to keep commissaries open or closed, the Department of Defense based its rulings on the budget environment at the time,” the agency responded.

Closing all stateside commissaries, except for two in remote areas of California and one in Alaska, disappointed patrons but it has stunned food manufacturers, distributors and brokers who supply the goods.

Their representatives are upset and urging the administration to reverse course.

“This is uncharted territory for commissaries,” Patrick B. Nixon, president of American Logistics Association, and Thomas T. Gordy, president of Armed Forces Marketing Council, told Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a joint letter.

Nixon and Gordy warned of “pressure on in-store inventory and the working capital funds as products begin to spoil and reach their expiration dates.”

 

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

milupdate@aol.com

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