An oft misunderstood aspect of shopping at your local commissary is the 5 percent surcharge added to your total when you check out. Many question this fee and think it adds to their cost making the commissary not as good a deal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) calculations include applicable taxes in commercial grocery store prices and surcharge in commissary prices. Average savings over off base grocery store vary on your location but in 2019 range from 20% or more in stateside commissaries to 35.1% in Alaska and Hawaii and 42.2% overseas. The average savings from all commissaries is 25.6%. So even with the surcharge you can save quite a bit shopping at the commissary.
According to a recent article in the Military Times by Karen Jowers, the commissary surcharge could be going away per a Pentagon proposal. It is a complicated because the commissary surcharge is mandated by law and is used to for construction and maintenance of facilities. A few surcharge facts from DeCA:
- The 5 percent surcharge added to every commissary customer’s receipt – goes directly back into the benefit, paying for the modernization and replacement of stores. It’s the funding source for maintenance and repairs, store equipment and store-level information technology systems, such as checkouts.
- It is not a tax. Surcharge dollars go back into stores, paying for the construction and modernization. In fiscal 2018, the surcharge budget is nearly $271 million.
- The surcharge has been set at 5 percent since 1983, and cannot be changed without congressional approval.
- The surcharge’s history traces back to 1879 and features various applications and rates through the years leading up to 1983. Through the years, thanks to the surcharge, patrons have a direct role in sustaining and enhancing their commissary benefit.
According to Jowers, the Pentagon proposal to do away with the surcharge is part of draft legislation to change the law. It appears the purpose is to allow the money currently raised by the surcharge to be used for the commissaries operating fund and to do away with the surcharge fund. This would take money for basically reserved for a building fund and move it into day to day operations of the commissary saving money on the Pentagon budget for commissaries.
She interviewed Kelly Hruska, Director of Government Relations for the National Military Family Association who voiced concerns. “I have a lot of questions. I still don’t understand how the variable pricing will be adjusted to make up for loss of surcharge.” I’d like to understand where the proposal came from, and the purpose of the proposal. I don’t know how this would help the customer. You’ll be raising shelf prices that won’t benefit customers. Since customers compare prices — if the commissary price is higher, they’ll shop elsewhere.”
My concern is what happens if money is moved out of the surcharge fund. What will pay for the maintenance and improvement of our commissaries? Also, if there is no surcharge will prices go up at the commissary?
Currently there is no information on this new proposal on the DeCA website. When information on changes to our benefits leak it is a good thing because it allows us to advocate for our benefits with Congress. The legislature has ruled against Pentagon requests in the past so if a benefit is important to you make sure to write your Congressional representatives to let them know.