Possible commissary budget cuts could affect HR families

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Potential cuts at commissaries could have huge impact on military families, which make up a significant percentage of the Hampton Roads population.

The Department of Defense is studying a plan to cut $1 billion from the commissary’s budget over the next three years, according to published reports. The Defense Commissary Agency (or DeCA) currently operates almost 250 stores worldwide.

The Pentagon’s top financial advisor has asked DeCA to submit a plan to close all but 24 rural stores stateside and stores located outside the continental United States.

Shoppers begin arriving early at the Oceana Commissary in Virginia Beach Monday. All of these stores … including those in Hampton Roads, are vital to military families trying to live on a modest budget.

“I mean, if they would close commissaries down, people couldn’t survive on the income,” said Patti Boldin, a commissary shopper.

Boldin’s point was one driven home during the government shutdown last year.

“I have a strict budget and we like to follow it, and then this was closed down so I had to pretty much double our budget anywhere else,” said another commissary shopper after the shutdown last year.

DeCA’s current budget is just under $1.5 billion a year. The Defense of Department is considering a plan that would reduce that budget to $400 million in the next few years.

“Not all of our commissaries make money. Many lose money …” said Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert.

CNO Greenert told Sailors at Little Creek recently that stores in remote locations often depend on subsidies from the larger stores, like some in Hampton Roads.

“There’s no intent to close commissaries. You follow what I mean? It’s to reduce and make them more efficient like the Navy Exchange does,” he said.

“People hear the word commissaries and efficiencies and they automatically assume it means cutting or getting rid of them. That’s not the case,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens.

WAVY.com asked Stevens if the Oceana Commissary is “safe.”

“Nobody has said anything to me about cutting the Oceana Commissary,” he said.

Stevens sits on the DeCA board and is aware of plans to examine the agency’s budget.

“They don’t really know. They’re going to make recommendations,” said retired Rear Admiral Fred Metz. “I’m sure they’ll make recommendations to what they’re going to do, and it’s not a Navy decision. It’s an army decision. It’s a Secretary of Defense decision.”

The plan does specify taking a closer look at rural stores, but if the published numbers are right, all but 24 of 247 stores across the country. And it’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t affect some local facilities.

Count on 10 On Your Side to keep following this story closely to keep you informed.

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