Inhofe and Mikulski Praise Passage of Amendment Protecting Commissary Benefits

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), today praised the passage of the Inhofe-Mikulski amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016. The amendment requires an assessment to be conducted on the benefits and costs of privatizing commissaries prior to any pilot program on our military bases. The amendment garnered great bipartisan support of co-sponsors Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), David Vitter (R-La.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

“Today Congress stood in strong bipartisan support of protecting commissary benefits for our nation’s service members, their families and our veterans,” Inhofe said. “The support of more than 40 outside organizations made the passage of this amendment possible as they provided a face to the millions who depend on this benefit. This amendment puts all efforts to prioritize commissaries on hold, requiring instead an assessment on privatizing before we make significant changes to our service member’s commissary benefits. There are too many unknowns as to whether privatization could directly impact military members’ ability to provide for their families as well as the potential for it to affect retention. I applaud the Senate for working together and passing this legislation that directly benefits all our military and their families.”

“We took a step forward to protect America’s military families today,” Mikulski said. “I’m all for eliminating pentagon waste, but no money is wasted at a commissary. In fact, just the opposite happens. Commissaries feed our troops. They help military families stretch their budgets, and they provide jobs to military spouses, children old enough to work, and military retirees. And commissaries are the military’s most popular earned benefit. Of all the places that we can save money, let's not go after commissaries. Let’s keep their doors open to provide low-cost, healthy food to our service members and their families until we’re certain there’s a better alternative.”

Inhofe and Mikulski have received the following letters of support from outside organizations: 

Military Officers Association of America: This amendment requires a study in lieu of the Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) language that mandate a privatization pilot in at least five commissaries chosen from the commissary agency’s largest U.S. markets. MOAA commends this approach. To conduct a privatization pilot without proper assessment could result in unintended consequences, putting this highly valued benefit at risk. The commissary is a vital part of military compensation providing a significant benefit to military families. The average family of four who shops exclusively at the commissary sees a savings of up to 30 percent.” 

Armed Forces Marketing Council: What is at stake for military families: Loss of up to 30% savings on a market basket of products for military families. That equates to over $4000 per year for a family of four. Loss of jobs for military family members. Over 60 percent of DeCA employees are military related and their jobs are transferable, allowing them to retain their positions and seniority when the military provides permanent change of station orders. Families would be required to pay sales taxes on groceries. Loss of a cherished benefit that is enjoyed by 95% of the active force. Loss of traffic at commissaries will adversely impact sales in military exchanges by up to 40%. This will diminish the dividend that supports qualify of life programs for military families.” 

International Brotherhood of Teamsters: “The commissary system is a vital benefit to our nation’s active military, their families, and veterans across the country. The system provides thousands of jobs for American Teamsters in the warehouse, shipping, and food distribution industries. Commissaries also provide a needed benefit for military spouses and family members, who make up nearly 30 percent of Department of Commissary employees.” 

American Federation of Government Employees (AFL-CIO): “The Department of Defense’s (DoD) commissaries and exchanges (Army and Air Force Exchange Service, AAFES) are an earned benefit treasured by military families and an important contributor to their quality of life. The modest cost of providing military families with inexpensive but essential goods and services is almost invisible in the Department’s overall budget. Given that privatization of the commissaries has been repeatedly rejected by the executive and legislative branches and that this option was explicitly not recommended by a recent commission which looked comprehensively at the commissaries, it makes no sense to begin to privatize the commissaries before understanding the impact on costs and services as well as moral and recruitment. Senator Inhofe’s amendment would wisely direct DoD to study the impact of privatization, and the Government Accountability Office to review the DoD’s finding, before the Department is directed to privatize the commissaries.” 

American Military Retirees Association: “The American Military Retirees Association believes commissary and exchanges are a vital part of military pay and compensation. Ninety percent of the military community uses these benefits and consistently rank[s] them as a top compensation benefit, yielding returns that far outweigh taxpayer support. They also provide critical jobs for military families and veterans — over 60 percent of employees are military affiliated — and provide healthy living alternatives both stateside and overseas.”  

http://SaveOurBenefit.org: “The Inhofe-Mikulski amendment offers a sensible, pragmatic and thoughtful approach to examining private operation of military commissaries. Senators Inhofe and Mikulski are right. Study before deciding to implement. Nearly 40 organizations — representing tens of millions of active duty, Guard and Reserve, retirees, military families, veterans and survivors — agree. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) surveyed the private sector and found no interest among major retailers to operate on military bases. The Commission, chartered by the Senate, found that commissaries were worth preserving and recommended changes to the current structure — not privatization.”

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