How A Government Shutdown Could Affect Military Families


As we get closer to a possible government shutdown, I wanted to take this opportunity to make sure everyone understands the ways in which a government shutdown might affect military families.  It could affect many different aspects of life, including pay, medical, moving, the commissaries, and leave.

I’m going to put a brief summary here so that I don’t make this too long.  If you are looking for the long version, please see the never-ending coverage at The Paycheck Chronicles.  I’ve been eating and breathing government shutdown for the last few weeks and I think I finally have a pretty good handle on what is probably going to happen.  No guarantees, though – I’m just an amateur!

Pay: Military pay is in danger of being affected unless one of the following four things happen:

  1. A federal budget is passed.
  2. A Defense Appropriations Act is passed.
  3. Another continuing resolution is passed.
  4. Special legislation is passed to allow the military to be paid in spite of the other things not happening.

As it currently stands, if none of the above occurs, the 15 April 2011 pay would be for 1 April through 8 April.  Any pay earned after 8 April would not be paid until the budget is somehow resolved.

Leave: The Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance that no federal employees may be on leave during a government shutdown.  It does not state how this might affect military personnel.  Until we hear otherwise, we have to assume that this will be true for the military as well.  I have even heard rumor that personnel could be required to return from leave if a shutdown occurs.

Medical: Longtime SpouseBUZZ reader and commenter Damsel has provided the following information on medical services:

I work at an Army health clinic/hospital. Just to add what I know… Our civilian providers are considered mission-essential and will report to work during a furlough. Certain departments will be minimally staffed to support the providers (i.e. the laboratory and pharmacy), but others will be closed (i.e. radiology). In any case, these departments will not fulfill requests carried in by patients from outside providers.

The information on this is limited.  Most medical is predicted to remain the same.  I have heard that certain non-essential services may be postponed during a shutdown.  I would imagine that civilian care providers would not be at work.

Moves: No one seems to know if a shutdown would affect PCS moves.  On one hand, the government can not write new contracts while it is shutdown.  On the other hand, it seems that movers would be able to proceed with already contracted moves.   On the third hand, the civilians that oversee the moving won’t be at work.  In a nutshell, who knows?

Commissaries: Update:  DeCA EUROPE has stated that their commissaries will be shutdown.  It is unclear, at this time, if that is going to be true for all commissaries or just the ones within the Europe region.  Please ask at your local store, but also understand that this information just came out yesterday and accurate facts may not have made their way down the chain of command.

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), after weeks of giving out useless information, has finally admitted that they will be closed during a government shutdown.  Do your commissary shopping now, folks!

I apologize for giving the short version here, but I did not want this to turn into a twelve page post.  Please put your questions and thoughts in the comments and I’ll answer whatever I can.

Update – See the Links Below for More Specific Information:

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III Message to DOD Workforce on Potential Government Shutdown

Government Shutdown – What Military Families Need to Know

Childcare and DoD Schools

DFAS Speaks on Pay Issues

Finally, the DoD Speaks

NMCRS Publishes Aid Guidelines in Case of Delays in Military Pay

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Brittany

    My husband is due to return from Afghanistan any day now after a year long deployment. Do you think this will affect the leave he is supposed to receive post deployment?

  • I work at an Army health clinic/hospital. Just to add what I know… Our civilian providers are considered mission-essential and will report to work during a furlough. Certain departments will be minimally staffed to support the providers (i.e. the laboratory and pharmacy), but others will be closed (i.e. radiology). In any case, these departments will not fulfill requests carried in by patients from outside providers.

    • KateKashman

      Damsel, thanks for clarifying this with actual information. I’m going to go back to the original post and update it to include your information.

  • Jessica

    what are military members suppose to do about getting groceries? and paying for day care?

  • SemperSteen

    This whole thing just makes me so angry. You know who doesn’t have to worry about receiving their paychecks, accessing medical care or any other perks? Congress.

    • Just found that outlast night. Pissed is what I’ll be and I’ll be sure to e-mail and call them if this doesn’t get resolved.

  • Becky

    For those of us in housing, does our allotment to the housing company still go out in full or will that be postponed or cut in half, too? Paying their part will take most of our paycheck if we are only getting half to start with.

    • I have the same question!!

    • SemperSteen

      Oh god I haven’t even thought of that. We live on base in Hawaii where rent is over $2,000 a month. That would not be pretty.

  • allyL

    I agree with Sempersteen… Even if Congress DIDN’T get paid, I’m sure they have plenty of savings to cover their own butts until they get what they want. The rest of us “little folk” who are just protecting Congress so they can DO their freekin’ jobs get paid less an hour than a McDonald’s employee… How the heck are we supposed to save off that? Sheesh. I’m totally ticked at this whole thing

  • Navy Wife

    everything about this is crazy!! Im a Navy wife with 2 kids and I could care less about daycare and grocerys theres lots of places to get free food!! we live out in town and we will not be geting bah… my main worry is what will we do about a home?? one thing our family has always loved about the military is that we never lose our job and look at this its worse…

  • 3keiki

    Unfortunately, this is a good reason to have an emergency fund. I know its hard for most military folk but we cannot depend on Congress to look out for our best interest.

    Kind of happy my DH gets paid once a month so we are good this month. I went to the commissary this morning and it was empty. Since its not a payday weekend, hardly anyone is shopping.

    I hope all get resolved soon so military families don’t struggle or go further into debt.

  • KateKashman

    Allotments for housing are disbursed on the first of the month. DFAS didn’t state this clearly in their FAQs, but basically no more than 1/4 of the allotment would come out of that half paycheck on the 15th. It seems possible that they could take none of it out of that check.

    Once a budget is reached, and regular pay resumes, all allotments will be collected and disbursed as usual. With any luck, that would be before the 1st.

    I hope that helps!

  • Can we furlough Congress? I think we should make them stand in line at the DMV until they come up with a solution. I bet that would speed things along…

    • Evelyn

      The solution would be to vote all these congressmen and women and senators out of office. It might not help during a shut down, but maybe their replacements would think twice about doing this again.

  • Penny

    I was freaking out too. Until you guys directed me to the Paycheck Chronicles and I read this:

    Some GREAT advice there.

    I can’t believe congress is even considering not paying the military. Then I read they are getting paid but someone introduced a bill to prevent congress from getting paid and wouldn’t you know it’s just sitting there with no date to be voted on! Of course they aren’t going to vote on it, they would vote against it so they could keep they’re checks, so instead it just sits there…


  • John

    Word is that the commissaries here in Sasebo will be staying open through a shutdown. So people should probably continue to check with their local store…

  • How about unpaid leave? Isn’t that what block leave is for Soldiers returning from a deployment?

    • Carol Patricia Theran

      I believe the actual definition of “block leave” has it as “chargeable” (paid) leave, so for the most accurate information, consult with your particular unit as to how they’d handle it. I think the only two types that are non chargeable are Permissive TDY and recoup (after surgery etc) leave, but I’m an AF spouse so it is entirely possible that it works differently if you’re another branch.

  • MrsHooah

    It kills me to think that my husband’s R&R that is coming up will not happen. I don’t even know if he is aware of what’s happening as their internet has been down for a few weeks, I hope command over there is keeping them updated.

    I’m just so depressed about this.

    • 3keiki

      Damn, I didn’t even think about my DH’s R&R coming up. He better be coming home.

  • aangrymother

    Really this can not come at a worse time. My husband finally got orders on a controlled tour and now this. great! We have savings so I am not worried about food. I just want my husband home. If they cancel his orders he will be out the door June 5th for a deployment and leave behind a newborn baby girl.