CBS News: Military families brace for another government shutdown deadline


Besa Pinchotti was juggling tasks in her car, returning calls on her cellphone in between dentist visits for her children, when, after pausing for a moment, she said into her phone, “Military families are sick of feeling like political pawns.”

She waited a beat and then emphasized the word “sick.”

Pinchotti, the wife of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, operates an email list of hundreds of thousands of military families from her post with the National Military Family Association, based in Virginia. For a third time in less than six months, Pinchotti has been warning families about the potentially blistering impact of a government shutdown.

Congress is racing toward March 1 and March 8 deadlines to fund the federal government. If no deal is agreed upon this week, a series of key programs and services for military service members and their families will shutter. If a deal isn’t reached by March 8, the Pentagon itself is at risk of disruption.

Short-term continuing resolutions were agreed upon by Congress just hours before the prior two deadlines for federal government shutdowns, creating a disruptive rhythm for federal workers and servicemembers who worry their paychecks and services will be interrupted. The brinkmanship has returned again.

“With continuing resolution after continuing resolution after continuing resolution, our families keep feeling the uncertainty,” Pinchotti said. 

The first of the two deadlines, which arrives at 11:59 p.m. Friday, endangers the federal government’s WIC program, which provides food and nutritional assistance for women and children. The National Military Family Association estimates more than 200,000 military families rely upon WIC services.

A shutdown also risks disruptions in April to the SNAP program, which helps provide food for other low-income families, including those with connections to the military.

“Half of junior enlisted spouses say they have experienced food insecurity. Cuts or delays for food assistance programs would be devastating. It’s deeply unfair to our service members that Republicans are bringing us to the brink of another shutdown and are putting politics ahead of our national security and those protecting it,” said Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, of California.

Military paychecks are also at risk of delay or disruption by late March.

“The brave Marines who serve at Marine Corps Base Quantico in my district and the tens of thousands of service members and military families I represent should not be left wondering about the status of their next paycheck — or if they will be able to access the benefits that help these families make ends meet,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat who represents a heavy concentration of military communities in northern Virginia.

Members of Congress have also warned about potential disruptions on military posts and bases. In a November report, ahead of a prior government funding deadline, the Washington, D.C.,-based Partnership for Public Service warned, “Post and base services would also be curtailed or closed, elective medical procedures would be postponed, eroding morale, and critical training activities would be delayed, leading to postponed promotions.”

The American Legion has issued warnings about potential disruptions to its members as well. In a statement issued ahead of a prior government shutdown deadline in October, the organization emphasized the potential risk to military recruitment. 

“Hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Department of Defense (DoD) would be furloughed, affecting how the department manages its affairs globally,” the American Legion said at the time. “That includes recruiting new members, which has already been problematic for the service branches.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, the Republican vice-chair of the House Committee on Armed Services, said this uncertainty is “another reason why Congress must return to passing government funding bills by regular order. We cannot keep putting our military members and their families at risk of missing a paycheck or losing access to critical programs.”

Congress is lurching and limping from deadline to deadline, as it struggles to navigate divided control and historically small majorities. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and his predecessor, former Rep. Kevin McCarthy, have needed overwhelming support from Democrats to muster short-term spending deals. Republicans’ majority in the House has shrunk even further after Democrats won the special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District earlier this month, filling former Rep. George Santos’ seat.

Both parties have accused the other of prolonging or exacerbating the gridlock that continues to prevent the passage of longer-term spending deals that provide more certainty to military families.   

Congress has also failed to come to a consensus on larger-scale legislation or initiatives to help improve the overall quality of life of service members.  

“The fact that these families have to rely on programs like WIC is a reality that needs to be addressed immediately with pay increases for our service members,” said Rep. Jen Kiggans, a Republican who represents a large U.S. Navy community near Newport News, Virginia.   

Kiggans also introduced legislation in September that would ensure service members are paid in the event of a government shutdown.

Pinchotti said the latest round of brinkmanship comes at a particularly sensitive moment for her family and others who have relatives in the U.S. military.   

“It’s time to choose summer camps and plan vacations and prepare for moves for the next school year,” said Pinchotti. “There’s so much uncertainty.” 

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