What will a Republican government shutdown do to our men and women in uniform?

September 29th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

The military ranks of E-4, E-5, and E-6, (Specialist [or Corporal], Sergeant, and Staff Sergeant, respectively), make up the backbone of the U.S. armed forces. The men and women of these three ranks, after accumulating four years experience, earn annual gross income ranging from $34,978 (E-4) to $42,786 (E-6).

If that E-4 is part of a family of four, he or she can earn all the way up to $42,018 after four years service, because of housing and subsistence allowances, which are determined by the cost of living in the area of assignment.  The higher ranked E-6 can increase annual pay to about $53,000 in a high cost area.

In the ten years, from January, 2013, through January, 2023, pay for these ranks has increased a meager 7.9%.

In 2019, in its National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to report on food insecurity among members of the armed forces and their dependents. The Department of Defense (DOD) contracted with the Rand Corporation to conduct a study to fulfill Congress’s directive. After an exhaustive analysis, Rand concluded the level of food insecurity was 25.8% in the armed forces, which is nearly double the level in the civilian population. The DOD then published a report citing Rand’s work and outlining steps it would begin taking to address such a high level of need.

Without Congress approving more money for pay, DOD is forced to limit its initiative to mostly education, and that is what its report focused on.

The  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, (WIC) are both available to members of the armed forces who qualify for them, but takeup of these programs is tiny (6%), compared to the civilian population, as the Rand study pointed out. No study has yet been done to learn why this is so, but Rand theorized the culture of the military with its “Can do” attitudes, as well as feared stigma—both social and career— attached to asking for aid have a lot to do with it. That’s probably true.

The Rand report segregated food insecurity in the armed forces into three areas: sometimes, often, and very often. It found that 11.4% fell into the “very often” category.

Why am I going on about this? Simple answer. Because in the middle of tomorrow night, at 12:01 AM to be precise, pay will stop for the armed forces if Republicans force a government shutdown, and lower and middle rank soldiers, who don’t have much money to begin with, which is shameful, will have none.¹ Of course, they’ll all still be on the job of defending America.

Most media is reporting that federal workers, whose pay is stopped, would receive retractive back pay following the shutdown, but this is not entirely correct for the armed forces. Under current law, only those deemed “essential” would receive backpay once a shutdown ends and new federal funding is approved.

In 2018, at the last possible minute, Congress approved legislation allowing DOD service members to be paid for the duration of what was to become a 35-day shutdown. The legislation excluded the Coast Guard, because it comes under the Department of Homeland Security, not the DOD.

Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., a former Navy helicopter pilot, introduced legislation in the House last week to pay military members if the nearly guaranteed shutdown happens. And more than a dozen Republican senators introduced a similar bill on Tuesday. But both bills are currently languishing in Political Limbo while all the self-serving theatrics go on.

I’m guessing (but I wouldn’t bet on it) that tomorrow night at about 11:59 PM Congress will do something to ensure our men and women in uniform, all of whom have volunteered to defend the country—and to die if necessary—continue to receive their paychecks. Failure to do so will bring even more ignominy on the fools driving the clown car over the cliff.

Maybe this time they’d include the 57,000 members of the U.S. Coast Guard.


¹ The Rand study found that middle and lower ranks had average savings of less than $3,000.