Military Life

Everything You Need to Know about the Government Shutdown

Last Friday at midnight, barring an agreement between the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress, the United States government effectively shut down. People across the country, mostly federal employees and military families, sat all weekend, wondering what was in store for them in the coming week. 

As of Monday morning, no agreement between parties had been made. Bills to allow military service members were rejected by the House, despite pushes by many members to at least provide pay to those who serve. Military families around the world are feeling the sting of the government shutdown. Reactions have varied from disappointed in our government’s handling of pay for active duty service members while others have expressed learning from the government’s mistakes during the last shutdown in 2013.

When asked on Military Spouse Facebook page about how the government shutdown is affecting their families, one commenter said, “Not at all. Debt free and an emergency fund of six months living expenses makes all the difference.” Others countered back stating that, “How about some of us have had other emergencies in our lives and had to spend them… Comments like these are asinine and assume that we should all just have loads of money on us all the time and never have anything else go wrong in our lives.”

However, everyone seems to agree that Congress is not handling military pay in the way that it should. One commenter said, “I am shocked that more people are not up in arms about this. Military families should have a much louder voice in this conversation. We need to push for legislation to protect military pay on a permanent [basis]. We as the families need to come together a push to make this happen.”

Many programs and resources for military families have effectively closed or stopped during the government shutdown. Below we have compiled a list of the most common concerns military families face during this time:

(Disclaimer: Each military installation will have different closures. Please check your installation’s website for more information) 

Commissary– Most commissaries are set to close on Wednesday, January 24th. Overseas commissaries will remain open as they are considered essential.

PX/NEX/MCX– Most bases PX/NEX/MCX will remain open. Vendors within the store are subject to each installation’s procedures.

Training and Command– All previously funded trainings will continue. Deployments will continue as scheduled. Training facilities will continue normally scheduled actions unless otherwise noted by commanders. TAD/TDY orders are cancelled during a government shutdown. 

PCS– Packing and delivery of house hold goods will continue during the shutdown. House hunting leave and reimbursement, travel and lodging expenses during a PCS, and per diem during a PCS will not be reimbursed during the government shutdown. 

Essential Personnel– All essential personnel including fire, EMS, military police, and hospital staff will continue through the government shutdown. Installation clinics may close depending on personnel. Check with your installation’s clinic for more information. 

Tricare and United Concordia– Insurance coverage will continue through the government shutdown. 

Resources– MWR, Military OneSource, and behavioral health services will continue through the government shutdown. MWR services vary per installation but can include places like base theaters and bowling allies. 

Child Development Centers- As of the publication of this article, many primary Child Development Centers will remain open. This is subject to change as the shutdown continues. Please contact your installation’s CDC for more information.

Pay– At the time of publication of this article, pay has been suspended for all military service members. Back pay will be initiated once the government shutdown is lifted or if Congress agrees to lift suspension despite the shutdown. Some banks, including USAA, Navy Federal Credit Union, and Pentagon Federal Credit Union are offering no interest loans for military service members. However, this is not automatic. Many banks require for you to apply for these loans. No credit check is required, but many banks have a limit to how much they will loan. Check your bank’s information regarding Government Shutdown Loans. 

Death Benefits– Payment of death benefits are suspended during a government shutdown. Death benefits will be reinstated when the government is reinstated. Travel for family’s to meet their loved ones at Dover Air Force Base or travel to funeral services is suspended. At the publication of this article, Fischer House has agreed to temporarily pay death benefits to families who have lost service members during the government shutdown.

Retirement Benefits– Payment of all retirement benefits are suspended during the government shutdown.

Tips on Making it Through a Government Shutdown

  • Apply for no interest loans through your bank.
  • Notify creditors, banks, and other monthly billing companies. Many have agreed to freeze payment requirements during the government shutdown.
  • Cushion your savings- Dip into savings if need be but be sure to only spend what you will be receiving in back pay.
  • Only purchase necessities.
  • Contact resources like Marine Corps-Navy Relief society or Military OneSource for additional financial services like no interest loans.
  • Shop at local discount stores for groceries such as Wal-Mart or Aldi (big box stores like Sams and BJ’s allowed service members to shop in their stores without a membership during the last government shut down in 2013. Keep an eye out for these services).

It is estimated that only a small percentage of military families have over $5,000 in savings. With more than 80,000 active duty members requiring food services such as SNAP or WIC, it is apparent that a government shutdown and loss of paycheck can bring immeasurable pressures to families of service members. Between PCSing, hospital visits, and other necessary services that are being shutdown, families are beginning to hurt.

Another Military Spouse Facebook commenter said, “Our issue is medical. It’s hard enough to be restricted to the clinic on post. My family has special needs and make our appointments a month in advance. We showed up to our appointments this morning and no doctor. So we had to wait to see someone who was a temp. Now waiting at the the pharmacy that is way behind because there’s like 2 people working. We are going to be here for hours….. With sick kids….”

The last government shutdown in 2013 lasted 16 days, but military service members paychecks were guaranteed with the passing of a last-minute bill. This shutdown is effectively different in that service members are expecting their next paycheck in less than a week, and this payment is not currently guaranteed. Even if paychecks are reinstated, most government and base installation services will continue to be closed creating additional stressors for military families.

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