Food Stamps Down at Many Commissaries, Here’s What to Do

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A nationwide problem at some civilian stores and commissaries alike means food stamp and WIC users may not be able to use their benefits and debit card users won’t be able to get cash back.

Here’s what happened:

On Dec. 7 many stores reset their systems like they do every day. The problem? This time the pin pads didn’t come back on. A security certificate installed in the device in 2004 had expired, surprising everyone, including the company that absorbed the company that made them.

This was not a data breach. It was an tech support problem. And it had nothing to do with DeCA, other than it impacted them, too.

Some of the terminals could be fixed in stores. Some of them could not and had to be sent to the company. And since not all stores reset their terminals every day, those that had not been reset could be fixed before they went down.

The result? Commissaries nationwide could not process any food stamp payments, had to process WIC on paper and could only run debit cards as credit cards (so they couldn’t give  cash back).

Commissary officials told us that only 40 percent of their stores are still having issues, and those are expected to be fixed by Christmas.

You can read even more about this over in my Military.com news story. 

We know that in 2013, the latest year for which information is available, commissary shoppers used $130.6 million in food stamps in the store. And while we don’t know whether or not those people were Active Duty, retirees, medically retired veterans or Guard and Reservists, it doesn’t really matter for this discussion.

You can easily see how December could be the very worst time of year for a store to not be able to process food stamps. Many families budget carefully this season so they can give gifts to their families, and their budgets may include that food stamp help. And since there are commissaries in locations where other, similar stores are quite the haul (Fort Irwin, Calif. comes to mind), you could see how “just go to another store” would be a difficult solution. What if the family can’t afford the gas to get there?

Hunger support officials told us that if they need help to patch them over until their benefits can be used again at the commissary, families can visit local food banks. A list of those can be obtained from your chaplain, local service emergency relief office or by visiting Feed America’s food bank listings.

Another option could be applying for an emergency loan through your local emergency relief office. This is exactly the kind of thing those loans are meant to take care of. Now would be a great time to get one.

Does this issue impact you? If so, tell us your story in the comments. If you have other resources for those who may be having problems with this, share them too.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Some Dude

    I tried posting a comment earlier but it said it failed. Perhaps it was too long. Let me try again….

    If this affects you, please make taking out an emergency loan your absolute last resort. I would even say don’t apply for one under any circumstances in this instance because you will have to repay that loan with cash money. Cash money you don’t have this month and won’t have next month if you are qualified for food stamps.

    Instead of applying for the line, go through your CoC. This may even be a good time to go outside your CoC if you have established a rapport with someone not in your immediate chain. DeCA typically gives away boatloads of gift cards around the holidays and maybe your CoC has some, or knows a command that does.

    You can also try shopping at stores beyond the installation gates, like Walmart, if you aren’t in a completely desolate area. You may even be surprised how far you can stretch your dollar there.

    I implore you to consider going to a food bank or findother means than applying for a loan. A cash money loan wont help get you out of this life-rut you find yourself in.

  • Kate

    This also seems like a good time to remind active duty folks that there is a special allowance, the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance, that can be obtained in lieu of food stamps. The application is available online or you can ask your personnel folks for help.

    This won’t help anyone through this specific situation, just relevant info.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Kate — great point. I talk about that in the news and should’ve included it above, too. Silly Amy.

  • NRO

    Why should the “customer” have to jump through hoops to use a benefit? It’s up to DECA to fix this problem and fix it NOW!!!!! This is just another example of impudence. DECA works for its customers — it’s not the other around. DECA — ARE YOU LISTENING. FIX IT!!!!! FIX IT NOW!!!!!

    • Some Dude

      I’m all about throwing DeCA under the bus when it is deserved, but as the article states, this isn’t really their fault.

      I do hope your tirade was made in jest or that you were just trying to be funny, because this really isn’t DeCAs fault in the least.

      Besides, most places have a walmart where prices are comparable if not cheaper anyway. No reason to get upset.

  • 1SG Pross (Ret)

    why would military families need food stamps ? what makes this necessary ? who is to blame for this ? the families ? or under paid by uncle sam

    • Milwife

      I was going to ask the same thing, Why does our military have to use these benefits?

      • kariem87

        To answer the question on why some fills in the military need food stamps, here is a little background info, I am active duty E-5, I have 3 kids under 6 and my husband goes to school full time. Our monthly grocery bill is quite high with so many mouths to feed and if you take away the bah ( which is not supposed to count towards your total income for food stamps, but it does if you live off base, you will see we are well below the poverty line. Military members don’t make nearly as much as everyone thinks.

        • jenn

          When my husband was an E5, we had several mouths to feed ourselves, but we made it without food stamps. I stayed at home, took online classes, did not have a cell phone and only had one car. Sacrafices were made and we did it. Maybe if more people were willing to do that food stamps would not be needed.

          • kariem87

            Well I am very glad you made it without food stamps, unfortunately trades like welding cannot be learned online. My husband is going to school full time to learn a valuable skill so that we don’t have to rely on assistance. At the moment that is not a feasible option for us. Also because you stayed at home you did not have things like daycare to pay for, which I can assure you for 3 kids is quite high. Please don’t pass judgment on things you don’t understand.