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Commissary shoppers

(10/7 update: “U.S. Military Grocery Stores Are Back in Business”)

There are certainly perks to shopping at a government-run grocery store – you can get big discounts as compared to for-profit chains. The down side? When the government shuts down, so do its grocery stores.

You can’t get big discounts if your store’s doors are padlocked.

That’s the dilemma facing millions of U.S. military families today. The Defense Department-operated Commissary grocery stores have run out of funding, along with much of the rest of the government. So stateside stores will have to close their doors for the duration, since there will be no money to pay the civilian employees or for the stores’ upkeep. The shutdown is affecting 175 stores located on military installations in all 50 U.S. states. The 68 Commissaries located on U.S. military bases in Europe, the Pacific and Puerto Rico will remain open.

In addition, the Commissary’s social media sites have fallen silent, and its website remains operational, but will no longer be updated.

Technically, the stores should already be closed since the shutdown is already in effect. But that would cause a lot of fresh food to go to waste. So stateside Commissaries will be open for a full business day today, October 1st, “to reduce the amount of perishables on-hand before beginning a systematic closure process to account for unsold products and secure facilities,” the Defense Commissary Agency says. After today, all stateside stores will close until the government reopens.

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One thing that’s not clear, and that DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson was not able to verify to Coupons in the News, is whether the one-day closeout will mean big discounts on meat and produce, over and above the usual discounts. The store director at Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, last year’s winner of DeCA’s “Best Large Commissary in the United States” award, said that some seafood products were marked down this morning, but “that’s about it”. Others who’ve been through this before though, the last time the government shut down in the 1990’s, said they remember seeing reduced prices then – especially as the day went on and perishable products remained on the shelves. All the better to help the stores clear out their inventory and reduce the amount of unsold products they’ll have to dispose of at the end of the day.

The shutdown is the capper on what’s been a difficult year for the Commissaries – and for Commissary shoppers. A year ago at this time, the Commissary was celebrating the completed rollout of its new loyalty and digital coupon program. But a month later, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn released a scathing report on U.S. military spending, and suggested that the government could save billions by no longer subsidizing the Commissaries and letting them fend for themselves. That suggestion cheered non-miltary budget hawks, but inflamed the passions of military families who rely on the savings they get at their Commissaries.

Once that debate died down, the Commissaries were hit by sequestration (remember that?), the last big budget crisis that occurred this past summer. Most stores were forced to close one day a week, and/or operate with a reduced staff, as civilian employees were furloughed. Things only just got back to normal in August, and now, less than two months later, U.S.-based Commissaries will be forced to close again – this time, seven days a week.

The Commissary can’t seem to catch a break.

Some might argue that the sequestration, and the government shutdown that followed, is saving taxpayers a whole lot of money by defunding arguably nonessential services – government-run grocery stores among them. Military families won’t starve, after all, they’ll just have to do their shopping off base. As Coburn noted in his report, the Commissary at Virginia’s Fort Myer, closest to the Pentagon, is located “less than two miles from at least three major national grocery store chains: Safeway, Costco and Giant.” Those grocery chains may not offer the same taxpayer-funded subsidy that allows the Commissaries to sell products at lower prices, but then some military shoppers have found they can do better at the national chains if they shop smart, watch the sales and use coupons.

It may make fiscal and common sense, but the argument against funding Commissaries doesn’t take into account one intangible – the notion that military families should get a discount on their groceries simply because they deserve it. As one commenter on an earlier Coupons in the News story noted, “I’m pretty sure if you risk being sent overseas and never returning to your family you deserve to save a dollar on corn flakes.”

At any rate, if you’re a member of a military family, better plan a grocery outing now before the Commissary shelves are picked over. And if you’re lucky, you might even save two dollars on your corn flakes – today only.

Image source: Defense Commissary Agency

8 Comments

  1. When the government shutdown in 1995 and 1996, the commissaries were not affected. Why now? I hope this is not a test to see if the commissaries are essential or not essential to our military members and their families because I read that there is a politician that proposed its closure permanently. The commissary is ESSENTIAL. I think our policians are getting paid too much.

  2. How much you bet that there have been no cuts in the culinary staff @ the 5 star restaurant (aka: The White House) which serves the Royal Family 24/7?

    The President wants the peasants to suffer-and suffer we will. He owns us. He dictates all laws and we exist at his pleasure. Period.

    The mistake we made was naming Obamacare after him. Now He is the only one who can make changes, grant boons, gift exceptions, delays and free services under His legacy.

    I heard one politician say (on TV) that in 2011(?) he was elected by the people to support Obamacare. Strangely, in his mind, he was elected for that and NOTHING ELSE. Nothing else matters. Even if millions of people contact D.C., even if the Obamacare we got was not as promised…it’s the only thing that matters….

    …and he’s right. Nothing else matters. Every election from 2011 forward was/will be about Obamacare. Funding it, fixing it, expanding it, raising taxes for it…

    …so now it’s time for the people to sit down and shut up because we got what we voted for.

    (If this post gets deleted, I’ll understand. It’s off topic)

    • Barbee, you’ve earned the right to vent any time you please! 😉

      • Awww. That’s so sweet.
        I do get a bit passionate at times and you are very kind to allow me to vent on your blog.
        🙂

    • You’re actually incorrect. Sam Kass, the personal chef for the First Family, and all of his staff, are on furlough. They’re non-essential government employees. End of story. One chef stays on, but her job this week is actually trying to save as much of the harvestables in the White House Garden, because it’s maintained by Park Services employees, all of whom have also been sent home.

      However, the *Congress* which has a privately run cafeteria for members and staff, is going full on. Ironically this means that the Veep, who is also the President of the United States Senate, and therefore a member of Congress, but I doubt he’s getting to-go boxes for Obama.

      (and Obama can’t do *anything* about the ACA now. ‘Obamacare’ is a nickname that the Republicans used to try and tag Obama with what they thought was an unpopular program, and turned out really not to be. They have been seriously overfocusing on it and it’s brought us to this point. The problem is that, as Jon Stewart said, “it is the *bleeping* law”. While it was the President’s baby, it’s out of his hands now – he can’t change it either. His initial goal was for single-payer, and he *compromised* to a Republican designed health care system modeled on Massachusetts’s ‘Romneycare’.)

      • Oh the humanity! To suffer such privation!
        “Of the 90 people who maintain the president’s family living quarters, only 15 would remain to provide “minimum maintenance and support.” Source : Bloomberg Business 9/27/13

        Sorry about your dear friend, the chef, very sad. And I really do admire your sensitivity to the White House ‘vegetables’. Clearly this demonstrates that you have your priorities in focus.

        The Veep? Serving the President a ‘boxed lunch’? Well, he’ll have to really hustle because the Veeps’ private staff has been cut from 24 all the way down to a paltry 12.

        The tragedy of it all-I can almost hear the sobbing masses weep for the suffering and privations the 1st family must be enduring….

        Oh and those park service employees? They’ve been given weapons and orders to turn away US citizens from “Federal” property. I guess in this case “Federal” property means that it all belongs to Obama. (I don’t see any park rangers chasing the 1st family out of the White House. Federal Property-you know.)

        So this doesn’t become too rancorous-your last part about Obama being powerless-really. I love it. Obama is always the smartest most powerful man alive, except when he’s just some poor ignorant slob who has no REAL influence in Washington. As much as I love that argument, it’s getting old. Especially since He has dictated (upwards) of 15 changes &/or exemptions to the Affordable Care Act since its enactment. Were you one of his special friends who was granted an exemption?

        But wait a minnit. One more thing….Did you JUST try to pin Obamacare on the REPUBLICANS. WOW! That’s amazing…and ummmm… John Stewart is a comedian not a news man. You might want to look that up in Wikipedia.

        • Forgive me but I simply must take this opportunity to hammer a simple point home.

          Yesterday (10/22) it was announced that the “O” had no idea that there were problems with the Obamacare rollout, all of this comes as a complete surprise to him and he JUST learned of it TODAY. [Illustrates that he’s just some poor ignorant boob who has no real influence in DC].

          Today (10/23) it has been suggested that there must be a delay in the roll out of Obamacare because of it’s a website failure… everyone is in awe of the incredible genius displayed by great “O” in this remarkably inspired solution to the unexpected problem. [Illustrates that he is the smartest man that ever lived.]

          There you go. On even days The Great “O” is some poor ignorant, clueless slob and on odd days he’s the smartest man in the room.

          What I like MOST is the B.S. we’re getting from Liberal Media today that says the Obamacare rollout COULD have been delayed if it weren’t for the Republicans sabotaging the delay of Obamacare rollout….should I even wonder if this is your position little “thespian”?

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