Here’s what a government shutdown could mean for your military family

By J.G. Noll

Government shutdown. It’s all over the news. If Congress cannot decide on a budget that takes them into next week, funding for government agencies, employees, and programs will pause. The budget has become an increasingly partisan fight that seems to loom over every budget discussion. And it’s not an empty threat; military families remember the shutdown of 2013. This time around, the reasons for a possible shutdown are different, but the effects will most likely be similar, if not the same.

Here’s what could happen if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement by April 28, based on precedent and current policy:

Paychecks could temporarily stop

In all likelihood, military paychecks would not stop–although Congress would need to act to continue the flow of cash to troops’ bank accounts. CNBC reports that without a separate appropriations bill making funding for active duty paychecks available, service members could find themselves still working but not receiving pay until the end of the shutdown (or the passage of a special appropriations bill for them). In 2013, Congress passed bills to continue paying active duty, National Guard, and Reserve members on time.

Veterans and retirees who work for the government could see their paychecks interrupted until the shutdown is lifted. Military-connected workers make up nearly a third of federal employees, meaning that a furlough could impact some in the military community for the time being.  (In 2013, the government furloughed roughly 800,000 of its two million employees.) Those whose jobs are deemed “essential”–like air traffic controllers and food inspectors–will most likely continue working.

Contractors could go on standby

Defense contractors could also see a freeze on their work as government money stops temporarily. It’s unlikely that big projects already in production would stop, but others–even those that are approved–might have to wait for the green light from Congress. In 2013, contractors who had manufacturing affected by the shutdown actually sought payment for losses from the federal government– which means that the projects cost taxpayers extra. (That’s not the only extra cost in a government shutdown– Newsweek estimates that the 2013 shutdown cost the nation “$24 billion in economic output.”)

Financial institutions could offer help

While it’s highly unlikely that service members would be furloughed during a shutdown, Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) is preparing for that possibility. Starting today, NFCU members can apply for a 0% interest, no-fee loan to help offset the financial pain of a possible shutdown. Read more about that here.

During the last shutdown, NFCU, Marine Credit Union, and USAA all provided financial assistance to affected members. At the time of publishing, Marine Credit Union and USAA had not yet officially released plans for a possible shutdown.

Updated 10:46 AM, April 26: USAA confirmed to MilitaryOneClick that they will offer assistance to members affected by a government shutdown. Read more about it here.

You might have to wait on that house

Applying for a VA Loan? Your application could be delayed, according to USA Today.

Military kids, families, and veterans might miss out on food

Because they are both funded by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP (colloquially known as “food stamps”) and WIC will most likely see employee furloughs and crippled abilities to fully administer the program. While the federal government provides funding, states are in charge of its application, which means that each state has different protocols and strategies for dealing with budget crises and government shutdowns. There are no public numbers on how many military families use SNAP and/or WIC, but the USDA has estimated that between 2,000 and 22,000 active duty members and 1.5 million veterans are SNAP beneficiaries. SNAP statistics show that 190 military commissaries logged more than $66 million in voucher redemptions in 2016 alone.

WIC and SNAP are also currently facing proposed budget cuts that may affect active duty and veteran populations.

Many military families are also eligible for free or reduced lunch and free breakfast benefits for their children who attend public school. These programs are also funded by the USDA. A short-term shutdown would probably not affect them; however, it would be contingent upon the school district, their budget, and the length of the shutdown.

Mail service will continue

Care packages, prescriptions, and–unfortunately–bills will all continue on their merry ways since the US Post Office is not funded by taxes of the federal budget. They derive their operating costs from the sale of their stamps, products, and services.

Promises have been made about the VA

During the 2013 shutdown, the VA closed 56 officers and furloughed employees. Some benefits were not immediately disbursed to the families of deceased military members–like burial costs and travel reimbursements. Family members of wounded service members were not immediately able to access funds to help them travel to their loved one’s bedside. The 2013 shutdown ended before the November 1 deadline for VA benefits checks, so nearly 4 million veterans received their compensation checks on time.

This time around, Secretary of the VA David Shulkin has been direct about the effects of possible shutdown, saying to CBS This Morning:

“The VA is in a fortunate situation in that we have what’s called an advanced appropriations so we get our money a year ahead of time because I think Congress understands that the VA can’t shut down, that we are there for the safety of our veterans.”

The Exchange will most likely stay open

In 2013, Exchanges stayed open around the world–and even online. AAFES, which runs the Exchange, is a nonappropriated fund activity of the DoD. 98 percent of it’s budget is funded by its own sales, not taxpayer money. Other services operated by AAFES also kept their doors open, which included “131 main stores, 174 military clothing stores, 72 movie theaters, 850 specialty stores (Express convenience stores, gas stations, troops stores, Class Six outlets and bookstores) and 1,590 quick-service restaurants.”

The commissary will most likely close

In 2011, the DoD announced that, in case of a government shutdown, it would close commissaries; however, it reversed its decision. The 2011 shudown didn’t happen. In 2013, the Defense Commissary Agency decided to close all US commissaries–including those in Alaska and Hawaii– a day after the government shutdown took effect. They used the extra day to try to reduce the amount of perishable foods in the stores. OCONUS commissaries stayed open.

What about other programs?

During the 2013 shutdown, DoDEA schools stayed open. MyCAA applications were temporarily suspended, but those whose applications had already been approved were able to go to school with uninterrupted MyCAA funding. Military websites updated only essential information. Child development centers operated on a base-by-base case, similar to how they handled the recent federal hiring free.