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Report: Shutdown would hurt military families

Apr. 6, 2011 - 03:58PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 6, 2011 - 03:58PM  |  
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The pay freeze that would come with an extended government shutdown would severely hurt military families and require the military to organize financial help for those who don't have savings to cover bills, a nonpartisan arm of Congress is warning lawmakers.

A shutdown could come as early as midnight Friday. As a months-long dispute over federal spending continues, the White House's Office of Management and Budget warned Wednesday morning that military members would be expected to report to work without pay. The military will be fully paid once government funding is restored, Obama administration officials said.

Defense Department officials said the military would be paid April 15 if there is a government shutdown, but paychecks would cover only April 1 through April 8, meaning they would be half of the normal amount. There would be no pay April 29 if a shutdown extends for that long.

In a">report outlining what happens to the Defense Department during a budget shutdown, the Congressional Research Service says to expect some military families to be hurt.

"The hardships that a sudden stop in pay would impose on military and civilian personnel would, of course, vary depending on individual circumstances," said the report, prepared on April 1 and made public Wednesday. "Families with a second income and with substantial savings might be able to manage with few problems. Others, particularly deployed personnel with young families and limited savings, might be affected very badly."

Local military commanders would be faced with trying to help families with financial problems, working with credit unions, relief societies and other lenders to try to get emergency funds while also trying to encourage creditors to be understanding of the pay lapse, the report says.

While word has been circulating for weeks that military pay might be halted by a government shutdown, many career service members didn't believe the warning because service members were not affected by the last government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. But congressional researchers said this shutdown would be different.

In 1995, the military wasn't hurt by a five-day shutdown in November because no military pay date fell during that period. In 1996, when there was a longer, 21-day shutdown, the military wasn't hurt because the fiscal 1996 defense funding bill had become law by then, and only the rest of the government was hurt.

While service members will report to duty during a shutdown, a senior Obama administration official said a significant number of Defense Department civilian workers would be furloughed. Military personnel would continue to earn money during a shutdown, but they would not immediately be paid past Friday "until we have money again," the senior administration official said.

Military retired pay is not affected by a shutdown, according to the report for Congress, because retired pay and other retirement benefits are financed through trust funds that are independent of the annual appropriations process. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service would require some workers to administer the retirement benefits and would need some people to process regular payrolls at least through the early stage of a shutdown.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Tuesday that officials are preparing a detailed guidance memo to all top military leaders that will help address questions and concerns.

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said he doesn't think a government shutdown will happen at the end of the week because he believes lawmakers will agree on a budget.

"I think we are mature enough to get this fixed," McKeon said of the standoff on the 2011 budget that was supposed to have been approved by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

McKeon said he thinks an agreement will be reached by midnight Friday. "The only way we would get [a shutdown] is to stumble into it," he said.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said he hopes a compromise will be reached. "Government shutdown is the worst possible outcome. It would disproportionally burden our soldiers in uniform and those who are vulnerable and dependent on government services. It would also have a serious impact on our economy just as we're seeing positive signs that we're emerging out of this recession," he said.

If a shutdown occurs, McKeon said he believes Congress will work through the weekend to have a federal budget by Monday morning, which would avoid any serious disruption in government activities.

Even as the deadline for a shutdown moves closer, the threat that service members might not be paid has some lawmakers pushing for legislation to protect them.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced a bill Monday to guarantee military pay during a shutdown, then introduced a revised bill Tuesday that also promises essential civilian employees of the Defense Department would be paid.

Hutchison said Wednesday that cutting spending the issue holding up an agreement on a government budget is important, but a shutdown "will put people in peril in many areas."

Under her bill, the military would be paid in a shutdown, and so would defense civilian employees and contractors providing essential services.

"I don't want one more minute of stress on our military," she said.

Senate leaders have not scheduled a vote on Hutchison's newest bill, S 724, nor on the earlier bill, S 721.

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