As a nation, we ask a lot from our men and women in uniform, while they ask for little — if anything — in return.
We ask them to train day and night to the highest standards. We ask them to put our freedoms ahead of their lives. We ask them to go to war. And we ask their families to make similar, and sometimes even greater, sacrifices. Military families bestow the ultimate honor: They grant us their loved ones so that we may enjoy our liberty.
Even so, there are now some within the Defense Department who are asking these families to give more than they already do — by imposing higher costs for basic foods. Across the Asia-Pacific region, where our troops stand watch, the Defense Commissary Agency is forging ahead with plans that will increase the cost of the fresh fruits and vegetables they buy to feed themselves and their families.
DeCA proposes to stop paying to ship fresh fruits and vegetables to overseas commissaries, something it has done since 1951. When it first made this proposal in February 2014, DeCA publicly admitted that prices would go up under its new policy. Only after Congress started asking questions did DeCA begin touting its proposal as some sort of “win-win” situation that would save money for DoD while maintaining low prices on the shelves.
But an independent study indicates that military families could see the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables rise by 30 percent or more, with prices for some items skyrocketing by 500 percent. This only makes sense: The food still has to make its way across the Pacific Ocean, and if DeCA isn’t paying for that transportation, then the customer will.
This shift in shipping practices by DeCA is particularly egregious because Congress provided money in the budget to preserve existing commissary benefits. This was both to prevent commissary privatization and to provide continued support for overseas transportation. Both last year and this year, we directed DeCA to further study overseas transportation issues and seek efficiencies that would not increase costs for consumers. DeCA has consistently disregarded these instructions in order to pursue its own misguided policy preferences, and refuses to commission its own study to determine what will happen to prices if funding for overseas transportation is cut.
In other words, my colleagues and I have found the money to preserve the commissary benefit, but the very agency entrusted with managing commissaries is acting to undo that work without even knowing what the end effects will be.
I am committed to safeguarding military families from an undue hit to their wallet by a bureaucracy looking to trim costs on the backs of those who sacrifice so much. This year, my colleagues in the House joined me by supporting my amendment to the fiscal 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent DeCA from making these changes until it has thoroughly studied the issue and found savings that will not harm military families. I hope my colleagues, specifically those on the bill’s conference committee, will stand up for military families and stop DeCA from doing more harm.
We should not ask military families to choose between making nutritious meals for their children and saving for their future college expenses. We should not ask our troops to choose between making healthy food choices and providing for their aging parents. After all that our service members and their families have given up for us, the least we can do is ensure they do not have to give up any more at the grocery store.