WASHINGTON, DC — November 7, 2000 — “The grocery industry salutes the Senate and House Armed Services Committees for a funding decision that gives needy military families more flexibility to shop at stores other than commissaries,” said Food Marketing Institute (FMI) President and CEO Tim Hammonds today.

He made the statement after President Clinton signed the FY-2001 Defense Authorization Bill, including a provision that provides up to $500 per month to military personnel on food stamps. The money will be provided as a cash payment rather than the Pentagon’s original plan that it be provided as a credit that in most cases could be redeemed only at military commissaries with a special electronic debit card.

“We thank both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees for providing the most needy military families this flexibility,” Hammonds said. “And we thank especially the committee chairmen, Senator John Warner (R-VA) and Representative Floyd Spence (R-SC), along with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN).”

FMI first called for changes to the original plan in an August 25 letter from Hammonds to Defense Secretary William Cohen. “FMI applauds the Department of Defense for addressing the issue of [improving benefits for] our military families who qualify for food stamps,” Hammonds wrote. “However, the program that DoD outlined manages to . . . inconvenience them by limiting their shopping choices.”

When the Pentagon was not receptive to FMI’s concerns, the Armed Services Committees took action.

For many years, FMI has opposed efforts to expand shopping privileges at commissaries. The Institute is concerned that the stores present unfair competition and waste taxpayer money. Taxpayers subsidize the commissary system with an annual payment of about $1 billion. In 1999, the 191 U.S. commissaries reported total sales of more than $4.3 billion — making the military the nation’s 15th largest grocery distributor.