Military families face uncertainty during government shutdown

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 19:00
Tribes, seniors, poor also affected

Katherine Kosterman, a military wife and mother of four, doesn’t know whether her husband’s mid-month paycheck will arrive. On Monday, Oct. 7, she hung out with a friend at Jitters coffee shop in Eagle River, and the worry showed on her face.

“They have all these websites for military families that are supposed to have everything you need to know about the government shutdown,” she said. “They don’t have information you really want to know, like will our credit cards or mortgage companies accept late payment if we don’t get paid?”

Kosterman said she was supposed to visit her husband where he’s stationed in New Mexico before he left on his new deployment. But he hasn’t even received his orders, she said, and without knowing whether he’ll get paid or not, the family has decided to cancel the visit in case the money doesn’t come.

The timing of the government shutdown with the Permanent Fund Dividend disbursement is a blessing, she said, and she’s hanging on to it just in case.

Her friend, Shandi Bailey, lives in Peters Creek and works at Carrs in Palmer. She said the government shutdown has put the hurt on the grocery business. Women, Infants and Children (WIC) — a federally funded program for low-income women — is on hold and participants aren’t getting their checks.

“It means less sales for us,” Bailey said. “(Women, Infants and Children) is one of the things I think is a good program.”

Bailey said people coming in to buy groceries with their WIC checks are more likely to buy other things at Carrs while they’re there, so the store is also losing indirect sales because families who depend on WIC just aren’t coming in.

As of Monday, the government shutdown was on day seven and, according to national news reports, Congress was no closer to ending the shutdown than it was on day one. The shutdown is the result of the House and Senate’s failure to pass a bill funding the government, a spillover from a fight over the Affordable Health Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare.

In the interim, the Obama Administration has to decide what government services to keep operational.

According to an Oct. 2 memo to department employees from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, cited by an NBC news report, the Treasury “Department will be required to operate with only the minimal staffing level necessary to execute only certain legally exempted activities.” Legally exempted activities are those necessary “to protect life and property.”

But even access to Social Security services, which are supposedly unaffected by the shutdown, have been affected, said Rita Hatch, Medicare Director for the Older Person Action Group of Alaska.

“There’s been an effect on seniors,” she said. “The Social Security office is closed. Today, I was trying to help a senior who is having a problem with Social Security, but we can’t get into Social Security.”

The disbursement of Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, unemployment and Social Security checks are not expected to be disrupted by the shutdown; all these programs were either funded in earlier bills or are exempt.

Tribes are expected to see impacts from the shutdown, because nearly all Bureau of Indian Affairs services have been considered non-essential, according to the BIA website. But Native Village of Eklutna president Lee Stephan said he doesn’t think the tribe’s 270 members will be impacted, so long as the sequester ends in October. Eklutna does run a clinic and other basic services that tribal members rely on, he said. But funding for those services comes in a lump sum issued at the beginning of the month.

“If the sequester goes on a lot longer, depending on the funding type, it begins to have an effect,” he said. “And then we’d have to furlough staff and all that kind of thing.”

While the shutdown forced some Head Start programs across the country to temporarily close their doors, classes will continue as normal at Chugiak’s CCS Early Learning.

Because its fiscal year started Aug. 1, the program already received its federal grant for the whole year, executive director Mark Lackey said.

“CCS will continue to be in operation for the school year,” he said. “For us, it’s next school year that’s all up in the air.”

According to a Sept. 30 Anchorage Daily News report, approximately 1,300 civilian workers on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson have been furloughed. Calls to JBER public affairs officers were not returned.

Kosterman said she hopes Congress will get its act together and fund the government soon. The uncertainty that the shutdown has placed her family in has been difficult, she said.

“It makes me angry, and a little scared.”


Star editor Mike Nesper contributed to this report.


Reach the reporter at [email protected].

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