What Does a
Mean to Military Paychecks?
Reports of a possible government shutdown if Congress fails to reach a compromise on government spending legislation is causing panic in many quarters, as military personnel and their families wonder:
Will the Military Get Paid
if there's a Government Shut Down?
The short answer is yes, you will get paid. The more difficult question is WHEN you will get paid.
We believe the Obama Administration is doing a great disservice to our military men and women, and their families, by allowing them to be pawns in the game of politics. It is causing panic in many families, and we feel very strongly that it is unnecessary panic and that it is unconscionable for this Administration to add this additional stress on military families who have already given so much.
Our nation has been engaged in the war on terror for more than twelve years. Service members are making multiple deployments to war zones, which is extremely difficult for military families. Reports of six or more combat tours by the same individual are not unusual.
This is an unprecedented time in our history. Never before have military members been asked to stay in a combat environment for twelve years and counting. The implications of the stress this creates on them and their families is far-reaching and still, to a degree, unknown.
And it is unthinkable for the Administration and Congress to place the additional stress of worrying about their paychecks on these families who have already been through so much.
Our troops deserve better treatment from the Administration, and from Congress. They deserve reassurance that they and their families will be taken care of with minimal disruptions as partisan politicians bicker over government spending programs, even if there is a short government shutdown.
Perhaps the reason that reassurance is not forthcoming is that it plays better to their political purposes. The more pressure YOU feel, the more pressure you can bring to bear on your Senators and Congressional representatives to reach a compromise on their budget impasse and avert a government shutdown.
So we encourage all of your to contact your Senators and Congressmen/women and urge them to solve their budget differences without showing such great disrespect for the sacrifices made by our military families. If anyone should go without pay during a government shutdown, it is the politicians responsible for it!
It’s Not the First Time
It may help you to understand that this will not be the first time we have experienced a government shut down. Far from it. There have historically been seventeen "government shutdowns," beginning in 1976, under President Gerald Ford.
As Andrew Taylor of the Associated Press reported:
". . . from a practical perspective, shutdowns usually aren't that big a deal. They happened every year when Jimmy Carter was president, averaging 11 days each. During President Reagan's two terms, there were six shutdowns, typically of just one or two days apiece. Deals got cut. Everybody moved on."
And so it is likely to be again. You are not the first military families to face a government shutdown, and sadly, you probably won’t be the last.
It is unconscionable that Congress would toy with the lives of our military men and women this way, but unfortunately, that’s the way the game of politics is played.
This is just one of the many reasons why America needs more veterans in the halls of Congress, men and women who understand what you are being asked to do, and are doing with honor, every day. Our Congressional leaders need to demonstrate more respect for your service.
Previous Government Shutdowns
The problem is that the most recent government shutdown (also the longest) due to federal budget negotiations occurred in 1995-96, during the Clinton Administration. So, to most of today’s military families, who weren’t on active duty at that time, it is an unprecedented situation. That creates fear.
As a young military spouse, I experienced one of those earlier government shutdowns that lasted long enough to delay military paychecks. I believe it was during 1979-80, which would have been during the Carter Administration. And I don’t recall any lasting negative effects from it, other than some stress and embarrassment.
You will likely come through unscathed, too, if you follow some simple common sense and don’t make a detrimental knee-jerk overreaction.
A Shutdown is Not Really a Shutdown
First, it will probably help you to understand that a government shut down doesn’t mean a complete government shutdown. Only non-essential functions will shut down.
Essential functions, like the military, FBI, Social Security, Medicare, air traffic control, Congress, etc., will continue. So military personnel will continue to report for duty as usual.
Agencies like the National Park Service are considered to perform non-essential functions. So National Parks may be closed temporarily, costing the government park admission fees for that length of time. In earlier government shutdowns, agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Education experienced widespread furloughs. The National Archives shut down completely.
By contrast, 69% of Defense Department civilian employees remained on duty, and 85% of Veterans Administration employees continued to work, along with 70% of Transportation Department workers.
So the Defense Department will face minimal disruptions in the event of a government shutdown.
And military members WILL get paid. It’s just that paychecks could be delayed for a few days or possibly a few weeks.
Remember that there’s still a good chance that Congress will reach an agreement that will avert the shutdown. So you may have nothing to worry about. But you need to have a contingency plan for your family.
So, how does your family weather the storm, if it happens?
Government Shutdown DO’s and DON’T’s
The first and most important step is:
DON’T PANIC. You will survive. And you will survive in better shape if you keep a level head and react with common sense.
DON’T make a knee-jerk reaction of any kind. Take a wait-and-see attitude (but have a contingency plan). Congress may still solve the problem without a shutdown. They usually do, or with only minimal disruption.
DON’T worry that you may be evicted, or have your car repossessed or your credit ruined if you make payments late one time (or even two). You won’t. Late payments aren’t even reported until they’re more than 30 days late. Evictions and repossessions don’t happen until you’ve missed several payments (generally 3 or more).
DON’T rush out to get a loan! Even if your paycheck will be delayed. There is no reason for you to take on additional debt.
Just a reminder, it is now illegal to grant or seek a payday loan or a car title loan for military servicemembers, per FY2011 Military Authorization Act. So beyond being a bad idea, a payday loan isn't an option at all for military members.
DO stay calm. Sit down with your spouse and create a plan to carry your family through this crisis, if it occurs. Examine your expenses carefully, and see what you can slash till your paycheck comes through.
Follow the government’s lead. If it’s not essential to survival, it has to wait. No new clothes, no eating out, no Starbucks, no McDonald's, no movies, no new video games, NO non-essentials till you get paid (and then, only if you can comfortably afford it). Less beer and/or fewer cigarettes won’t hurt you, either.
DO be prepared to talk with your creditors and explain the situation. Tell them that your family survives on your military paycheck, and until it arrives, you will be unable to pay them. Promise them that as soon as you receive your paycheck, you will pay them. Then be sure you DO IT.
When we experienced a delay in receiving our military paycheck, I wrote letters to the landlord and all our regular creditors, utilities, telephone, etc. A letter is better than a phone call, and will create a permanent record for you and them.
I explained that my husband was on active duty, and our pay was being delayed by actions of Congress. I said I was very sorry, but we would be unable to pay our bills until the government paid us. And I thanked them for their patience and understanding.
As I recall, the only problem the situation caused was some stress and embarrassment. The Congressional budget impasse was in the news, and they knew there was nothing we could do about it.
It was made easier because we had a history of paying our bills on time. The budget impasse was resolved before the second paycheck was due, and our pay was caught up and back on track. We made the late payments, and everything was back to normal.
Your Paycheck May Not be Affected
You have an advantage that we did not. In those days, military paychecks were physical checks, so people were required to "cut," print and distribute paper checks. Today, military paychecks are electronically deposited to your bank account. That automated distribution system means fewer people are required to process your pay.
And it could mean that even in the event of a government shutdown, your military paychecks may not be affected at all. Although given the history and attitude of this Administration toward the military ("They have to feel the pain"), I wouldn't count on it.
There have been reports that if there is a government shutdown, Social Security payments will go out as usual. Since they are on a similar automated deposit system, this supports the idea that military paychecks may not be affected by a shutdown.
A Few More Tips for a Government Shutdown:
- If your pay is delayed and you have automatic debits set up to pay various bills, it would be a good idea to notify those creditors NOT to take their automatic debits until you notify them, because otherwise they will bounce, and you'll incur overdraft fees when they do.
- If a payment does bounce, talk to your bank and ask them to waive any overdraft fees, since the overdraft is due to circumstances beyond your control.
- If creditors charge you, ask them to waive late payment fees, because the late payment was outside your control.
Both your bank and your creditors should be willing to waive overdraft or late payment fees in this situation, especially if you have a history of making your payments on time.
This is another time when it’s to your benefit to do your banking with a company that understands your military lifestyle, like If you’re not yet a member, join today!.
- Use this as an opportunity to sit down with your spouse and family (if appropriate), and create a plan to achieve financial freedom. Let it be just the first of a series of serious conversations about family finances.
- Create a plan that will keep your family living within your budget, and allow you to create an emergency fund to see you through unforeseen circumstances in the future. In every life, a little rain falls, and you don’t want your family to constantly be one paycheck away from total disaster.
Creating a secure financial future, which includes setting aside some savings and living within your budget, will pay big dividends for your family. Not only will you be better prepared to weather future financial firestorms, you will enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve taken care of your family.
And that, as the commercials say, is "priceless!"
How Do You Feel About a Possible Government Shutdown?
What are your thoughts about the possibility of a government shutdown? Share them!
What is your plan to get your family through this potential problem? Share your plans to help other military families figure out what to do.
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