In a Government Shutdown, Military Families Will Suffer

military familiesNo paycheck, no work.

That may be true in the civilian world, but it certainly isn’t true in the military community.  In the civilian world, if your boss runs out of money to pay you, it isn’t likely you are going to head to work the next morning!  But if you wear a military uniform, you turn up to your duty station regardless of whether Uncle Sam is out of money.  Thanks to the dysfunctional Congress, the reality for military members could well be having to work without pay.

You see, while the members of the House of Representatives will be sitting comfortably, with their own pay checks carefully deposited, members of the military may not see their mid-month pay.  This has caused, yet again, more stress on our military community, and the outrage is tempered, this time, because this is not the first time.  We’ve lived with this before, and the panic online became difficult to read.  We are dealing with young men and women, many with children, who are often living from payday to payday.  For example, a married E4 (Corporal in the Marines, Specialist in the Army etc) makes approximately $44,800 per year including housing allowance (without “combat” pay).  If you are living in the Washington, D.C. area or in San Diego, that’s hard to live on at the best of times because of the high cost of living. If paychecks stop coming, military families will be hit even harder as they try to make ends meet.

But not just about finances. Imagine you are deployed in Afghanistan or at sea,  you call your spouse and  hear that the electric company is going to shut off the power because there isn’t any money in the account.  Now, where is your mind going to be?  On your mission or on your family sitting in the dark? With the imminent threat of being called on to defend the country without compensation, a main topic of discussion for the online military community has been, “You are supposed to put your butt on the line  for your country, but your country can’t pay you, can’t make sure your family is being taken care of while you put that butt on the line?”

If a service member banks with one of the credit unions that deal with military only, they may be lucky.  Most of them offer zero interest payroll advance loans if service members (including those from the National Guard and Reserve) bank with them using an existing direct deposit. But there are thousands of service members who don’t bank with these military-friendly institutions, and the very real possibility of not receiving mid-month pay in October is becoming a real worry for these families.  Consider that along with the fact that the commissaries (the tax free grocery stores on post or base) are closing if there is a shutdown, and the bite that will be taken out of military family budgets will be huge. The closing of these commissaries is also going to mean no pay for the cashiers, the stockers, the butchers, the baggers, many of whom are military family members themselves.

Other effects that a government shutdown will have on our nation’s military community will include non-payment of death benefits to the families of service members who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The monstrous backlog of VA benefit claims and any new claims will continue to climb.  Social security benefits will continue to be paid, but new claims will take much longer to be decided.  Civilian federal workers will be furloughed and the trickle down effects in some areas will be a continuing drain on the economy. National Parks are also scheduled to close. It isn’t just the federal worker who will lose, the small businesses in the area who depend on them will also continue to suffer.  The last time the parks closed, small businesses in those area lost millions of dollars.  Don’t forget, these small businesses are the same group that have been feeling the effects of the recent furloughs/sequestration.

According to NBC Politics, this imminent shutdown would cost the government millions, if not billions, of dollars. But the cost to my community — the families who are again feeling the brunt of whatever foolishness their elected officials have chosen to promulgate —  is more than money.

My husband, in his recent retirement ceremony speech, remembered that he first entered the military in the mid-1970’s when we were shrinking our military after the Vietnam War — the “hollow force”  was the term used.  Hollow? “We weren’t then, we aren’t now,” he said.

We all understand that maybe there is a time when we must make do with less, and that we must continue to do well with less, even in the military.  But my question is this – how do we do it with nothing at all?

Karen Francis is a writer and military spouse in the Washington, D.C. area and is the Military Families Editor for The Broad Side.
  • Ruth

    For families overseas, this creates panic. With the closing of posts in Germany, many other posts still located there are flooded with a population they already cannot support. This includes jobs available. The chance of a military spouse getting a job overseas is slim to nothing. Imagine, one paycheck for a family of three, living in a country where the US dollar is weak. It’s no wonder most families go paycheck to paycheck and that’s why it would be detrimental to families if they do not receive payment. i can guarantee families will starve if they’re not paid.

  • Thanks Karen, for so clearly outlining what this shutdown would mean. So now, spouses already living in fear daily while their spouse is in a war zone, have to live in fear of huge financial challenges at home. And even worse, their military member’s attention in that war zone is split and distracted, worrying about their spouse and children back home. It’s unconscionable!

  • Tina

    What an unholy mess. Thanks for writing so clearly about the challenges to military families.

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