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USA Cares to offer aid if soldier pay disrupted

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Government shutdown could halt military paychecks

By Marty Finley

With the potential for a federal government shutdown looming and the possible disruption of military pay, a local charity is urging military families to take precautions in advance.

Officials with Radcliff-based USA Cares said Thursday the organization is ready to help with unmet needs that arise for military families because of a shutdown. Executive Director Bill Nelson said the organization is open to starting an emergency fund for essentials such as food and transportation costs.

USA Cares offers financial assistance to post-9/11 military veterans and their families, directly paying bills and rescuing homes from foreclosure.

Talks of a shutdown have emerged because Congress is gridlocked on a national budget with Democrat and Republican lawmakers deeply divided on spending. President Barack Obama warned this week that a shutdown could derail any economic progress the nation has made since the recession and delay military pay in the midst of multiple wars.

Active military members would be required to continue working, but pay would be halted because of a lack of money to pay them, according to the Department of Defense. However, people forced to work through the government shutdown will continue to accrue earnings and be paid retroactively, according to the DoD.

Nelson said he foresees soldiers receiving only half of their pay April 15. If so, he urged families to contact their banks and make arrangements for automatic bill payments.

“Most of those serving in uniform have made arrangements for their bills to be paid directly via an auto debit from their account, especially those deployed far away from home,” Nelson said in a statement. “A government shutdown that results in cuts in military pay or benefits will create a huge headache for our serving personnel.”

For civil service and under government employees temporarily out of work because of a shutdown, it’s not clear if unemployment claims can offer relief.

Cathy Lindsey of the Kentucky Workforce Development Cabinet said her office is waiting to receive guidance from the federal level as to what unemployment insurance, if any, government workers left without paychecks would be entitled.

In an interview Thursday, Nelson said people “living near the edge” will be greatly affected by losing such a large chunk of income, and failure to contact banks and financial institutions could lead to overdrafts and related fees.

“Most banks don’t have a clue if someone is a military depositor,” he said.

Nelson also warned against making large purchases, encouraging a thrifty lifestyle and an eye toward savings while pay is disrupted. Families who do not have a savings cushion to fall back on especially need to monitor finances closely, Nelson said.

He said families affected by the shutdown should be aware of  fraudulent offers and payday loan lenders.

“Military folks have little opportunity to work an extra job to make up for unpaid compensation — they are truly stuck,” Nelson said. “USA Cares stands ready to assist with food and gas needs for those active duty personnel impacted directly by a pending shut down.”

Obama said the shutdown will directly affect the executive branch, leading to cuts at the White House and Defense Department, an expected 800,000 workers total, according to The Associated Press. Congress and the federal court system also could be affected. A shutdown also is expected to slow the processing of tax returns and limit loans and government-supported mortgages.

Tips for military families in case of a shutdown:

1. Notify your financial institutions immediately and make arrangements to pay your automatic bills.

2. Save. Now is a bad time to make a big purchase.

3. Taxes: You still have to pay Uncle Sam, even if he doesn’t pay you. Filing an extension is just one possibility. Don’t count on that refund check anytime soon.

4. Be careful of short-term loans and extremely high interest payday loans. Go to your existing financial institution for help first.

5. Seek local charities for food and basic needs, such as chaplains, churches, food banks or the American Red Cross.

Source: USA Cares

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com. Reporter Kelly Cantrall contributed to this story.