Commissaries Get Unexpected $90 Million Boost from Congress

A federal spending bill, expected to be passed by lawmakers this week, will restore $100 million cut to the Defense Commissary Agency's (DeCA) budget made by lawmakers in separate legislation.

The cut was included in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act despite lawmakers' promises that they would hold off on benefit changes until after a commission on military pay and benefits releases its findings in February.

But lawmakers ignored that decision when writing the appropriations act, which approves the military's funding.  Instead of giving DeCA $1.2 billion called for in the authorization, the bill provides them an additional $90 million to match their current $1.3 billion operating budget.

A summary released by Senate appropriators notes that the plus-up is designed to "maintain operations at commissaries, pending the commission on compensation report due next year" from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC).

The Defense Department had requested Congress slash the commissary's budget by two-thirds over a series of years, starting with a $200 million cut for 2015. That move would have likely forced the agency to shut down stores or ask lawmakers for permission to raise prices. Congress, however, rejected that overall plan. Still, the authorization bill contained a $100 million cut.

Commissary supporters said the new plus-up is encouraging.

"We are very pleased to hear that service members will be able to continue to rely on this budgeting tool," said Rebekah Sanderlin, a spokesman for Keep Your Promise, a grassroots group that lobbies on behalf of military families. "All we at Keep Your Promise have ever asked is that service members receive the compensation package they were told they would receive, and making changes before the MCRMC commission is even released would be illogical on top of being immoral."

Officials with the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefit said the change demonstrates congressional support for the commissary.

"We appreciate the strong support of Congress," said Candace Wheeler, a spokesman for the coalition. "Our military families rely on the critical savings commissaries provide – especially with increasing uncertainty and stress, rising groceries prices, and particularly at a time when surveys are showing that more military families are accessing food banks."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at