Pentagon wants to slash subsidies to base commissaries

WASHINGTON - American military families learned this week they may be taking on more of the burden of balancing the defense budget.

The Pentagon wants to slash the subsidies for base commissaries that make groceries cheaper.

That could make prices soar for millions of our troops and veterans.

Military families stock up on much-needed savings at base commissaries around the world, as much as 30 percent off name-brand, supermarket prices.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is recommending cuts to the commissary subsidies CBS News

But this week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that to maintain "force readiness," subsidies for nearly all 178 U.S. commissaries and other military benefits must be cut.

"It's a plan that allows our military to meet America's future challenges and threats," Hagel said.

The current subsidy stands at $1.4 billion. The new budget would slice that figure by two-thirds, down to $400 million.

"I just don't think it's responsible," Rheanna Bernard said.

Military families like the Bernards could be hit hard. They have three young kids to feed.

Rheanna Bernard plans every meal CBS News

"It would directly affect my household budget," she said. "It would cause stress because then you're trying to figure out where else you can cut."

Bernard plans every meal. Being frugal balances the budget for her and her airman husband, Chris, a tech sergeant. They are a single-income family living in northern Virginia on about $40,000 a year.

"The overall savings of a commissary, it's almost - I can't put it into words," she said.

At the Fort Belvoir Commissary, Bernard counts up the savings, about $200 every two weeks.

The Bernards save about $5,000 a year, much of that from cheaper products, free from glutens and lactose, that they need for their diet.

Rheanna Bernard says the cuts would hurt families like hers CBS News

A half gallon of Lactaid 2 percent milk at the commissary costs $3.39. At Giant stores it's 76 percent more expensive.

Eighteen Eggland eggs go for $2.89. Just 12 at the supermarket cost a dollar more.

"You can't cut out where you live, you can't cut out your food, you can't cut out your heat, so the niceties, the fun things in life would have to be cut out and that directly affects the moral and welfare of our troops," she said.

A treasured benefit that could soon carry a painful expiration date.