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Food or rent? Soldier's wife fears gov't shutdown

By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN
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Military families fear shutdown
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Government shutdown would mean military paychecks delayed indefinitely
  • Many military spouses say they won't be able to pay bills
  • May outraged that soldiers won't be able to support their families
  • Could the government shutdown affect you?

(CNN) -- Military mom Emily O'Donnell has a solution for the government to avoid a shutdown: "Go to your room and do not come out until your job is done."

The 27-year-old mother of four is "furious" that parts of the federal government could shut down tomorrow if Congress cannot agree on a budget. If that happens, paychecks for military workers could be delayed indefinitely. Troops are guaranteed back-pay, but not knowing when they'll receive a check could put some military families in financial crisis.

"If a 27-year-old can make a budget for her family on one income, there's no reason that (the government) can't," said O'Donnell, who says she'll have money for food but little else if her husband doesn't get paid. He's stationed in Italy and is due to go to Afghanistan. "I would love to see some common sense, and some acknowledgment that they're ruining lives."

The O'Donnells just bought a house in LeRoy, New York, and Emily fears she won't be able to pay the mortgage if there's a shutdown. She won't be able to afford medication or specialists for her daughter, who has chronic ear infections. And if she uses up the $1,000 in her bank account, "my plan is a food kitchen."

"I really don't think they understand the scope," she said.

"And we're not the worst-case scenario, either. We have a little money in the bank."

If the government actually shuts down, many public services, from passport processing to national parks, could close. Only services critical for the protection of life and property -- like national security -- would continue. Nonessential federal workers would be furloughed. Essential workers, like military personnel, would continue working, but their pay would be delayed until the shutdown is over.

Lena Bourrillion is one of those who would feel the lost paycheck immediately. She works at a dialysis center, and her husband is an army sergeant. The couple relies on both paychecks to pay the bills. With two kids and three dogs, Bourrillion says they will have to ask family to borrow money or get a high-interest loan from a bank.

"Immediately we will have to borrow money," Bourrillion said. "There will be late fees and our credit report could be affected."

She says her husband was just notified yesterday by a supervisor that he may not be receiving his next paycheck.

"You should start relying on old money, not new money, his first sergeant told them," Bourrillion said. "I thought that was the real kicker."

"Living a military life it doesn't really give you the option to put away money," agrees Amy Tersigni, whose husband is currently serving in Iraq. "You don't get to put reserve because you live paycheck to paycheck. You pay your rent, you pay your bills, you feed your kids and that's it. You don't have extra," she said.

All troops and certain civilian workers would not be paid during a shutdown, but would still be required to work because of national security operations. Many military families say they weren't even aware that this was a possibility.

"Military jobs are stable," said Erin Disseler, whose husband is a veteran and now works for the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. "You don't think about furlough in government. I didn't even know it was possible."

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Disseler is a stay-at-home mom to her two boys and takes courses online through a Pell Grant. But if worse comes to worse, she'll try to get a job.

"I am willing to work at McDonalds, even, to help out," she said. And she can't count on her tax refund, which she expects to be substantial, for additional income. That will be delayed by the government shutdown, too.

"Right now it's 6:00 a.m., I have been awake since midnight," said O'Donnell. "I've been wondering how I'm going to feed the four little people that are asleep right now, not aware of how soon their whole lives could be ruined. My husband is deployed. The last thing he needs is to be wondering how his family is going to put food on the table."

"We sacrifice enough already," said Erica Roach, whose husband serves in the Navy. She says that if his paycheck is delayed, she'll have to choose between paying the bills and putting food on the table for her two children.

"I am not only speaking my voice for my family, but military families as a whole," she said. "Our loved ones are out there facing war and death. They don't need to be worrying about if their family is starving at home."

CNN's Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this story.

 
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