Military commissaries see spike in food stamp usage
BY GINNIE GRAHAM & GAVIN OFF World Staff Writers
Sunday, April 24, 2011
4/24/11 at 5:26 AM
Related Story: Food stamps equal big money
Oklahoma military base commissaries received nearly $1.8 million in food stamp purchases during a nearly two-year period of state data examined by the Tulsa World.
The World examined food stamp data provided by the Department of Human Services covering the period from July 2009 to March 2011.
During that time, the average monthly purchases in food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at the base commissaries grew by about 187 percent.
Commissaries are available on base to active and retired military personnel and their families and offer grocery items usually lower in cost than at retail stores.
The Fort Sill Army base in Lawton posted about $1.1 million in sales using food stamps, followed by about $625,000 at Tinker Air Force base in Midwest City, about $110,000 at Altus Air Force Base and about $5,000 at Vance Air Force Base in Enid.
The growth in the monthly averages spent on food stamps has skyrocketed.
At Fort Sill, the average monthly food stamp purchases in July 2009 was $30,968 and went up to $71,208 in March 2011. Similarly, at Tinker, the average monthly expenditure went from $14,650 to $41,741, for the same time.
A study conducted in 2003 by the Department of Defense on food stamp participation among its members found that fewer than 2,100 of the 1.4 million men and women in the armed forces used the subsidy, said Eileen Lainez, spokeswoman in the U.S. Defense Press Office.
That is a big drop from the 12,000 on food stamps in a 1995 study and 6,300 in 1999, according to news reports.
The Department of Defense is currently updating that study with assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lainez stated in an email.
"Overall, the study concluded that military SNAP usage is not widespread," the email said. "The fact that some enlisted members and even a few officers received SNAP was more a result of larger household sizes and living in government quarters than an indicator of inadequate military compensation."
Items at commissaries are sold at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones, the Defense Commissary Agency website reports.
Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent compared to commercial prices, which is a savings of about $4,400 annual for a family of four, according to the website.
When members of the military apply for food stamps, the value of government-provided housing is not considered as income when determining eligibility.
"The study indicated that the majority of military SNAP recipients lived on base," Lainez stated.
The military started a food assistance program - Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance - in 2001 to reduce the need for food stamps among service members.
The program targets families who qualify for food stamps and allows up to $500 monthly, depending on household income and family size. All service members may apply, and the program includes the value of military housing.
In 2009, 245 military families received the assistance, down from 295 in 2008, Lainez stated.
Original Print Headline: Commissaries see spike in food stamps
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376
Gavin Off 918-732-8106