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Military won't lose pay if a shutdown is resolved quickly

By Chris Lawrence, Charley Keyes and Larry Shaughnessy, CNN
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Gates hopes 'the pay keeps flowing'
  • Troops and their families are scheduled to get paid April 15
  • Senior Defense official: "If we got a bill by April 12, we could make it by April 15"
  • If there's a shutdown, death benefits will not be paid out to families

Washington (CNN) -- If Congress and the White House reach an agreement relatively quickly, troops will not see a hit to their paycheck, a senior defense official said Friday.

But the shutdown will mean a cessation of a valuable benefit paid to families soon after a service member dies while serving.

The official, who briefed reporters at the Pentagon about the potential shutdown's effect on the condition of anonymity, said if an agreement is reached as late as Tuesday, the Pentagon could possibly work quickly enough to cut troops a full check on the next pay date, April 15.

"If we got a bill by April 12, we could make it by April 15. Our people will be working through the weekend, and it may only take them a few days to catch up," the official said.

Thousands of troops and their families have been worried that if the government shuts at midnight, they would receive half a check next week and not see another paycheck until May 1 -- if the government shutdown is resolved by then.

Live blog: Latest developments on a possible shutdown

However, if the shutdown lasts past Tuesday, the senior defense official said, the Pentagon is making plans to have an emergency payday and troops may not have to wait until May 1.

The official said, "We're already working to 'trick' the computer systems to come up with a special payday" that could come within a few days to a week of when the government goes back to work.

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The Pentagon also denied accusations the administration is playing politics by telling troops they will not get paid during a shutdown when in 1995 troops were paid.

Troops got paid in November 1995 because the first shutdown lasted only six days, and it came at a specific time of the month. The shutdown was resolved in time for the next paycheck to be issued in full, officials said. A second, longer shutdown in December of the same year would have meant troops were not paid, but Congress passed an appropriation for defense funding in advance of the second shutdown.

What would be shut down?

The senior defense official also said Friday that while the government is closed, the military will not be able to pay death gratuities to service members who die on active duty.

The payment is made in the event of a combat death, training death or a death by natural causes. The one-time lump sum of $100,000 is not taxable. The money is paid as soon as possible to the beneficiaries named by the service member.

Once the shutdown ends, the gratuities will be paid, but because the money is meant to be paid to the families quickly to help them pay expenses, the loss of the gratuity could be a hardship. The official said 100 to 150 payments are made a month.

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The service member's group life insurance payment of up to $400,000, which comes from the insurance company and not the federal budget, will be paid, the official said.

Meanwhile, organizations that provide emergency assistance to military personnel are preparing for a possible surge in requests if the government shutdown halts or reduces paychecks.

Army Emergency Relief said it will do everything it can to provide no-interest loans for living expenses.

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"We are reviewing our plans," retired Col. Andrew Cohen said. "We'll be there for them if they are having a hardship."

Last year, Army Emergency Relief helped 67,000 active duty and retired soldiers and their families with $77.4 million in aid.

The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society said on its website it will provide emergency interest-free loans as it would in a natural disaster. This help would include "rapid financial assistance" for essentials such as food and gasoline. Last year the organization had almost 100,000 requests for help and distributed almost $50 million.

Military aid organizations often are asked for emergency funds so a service member or relative can travel to a funeral, or for car repairs or assistance with food or rent.

Federal workers nervously eye clock

The Air Force Aid Society is preparing and waiting to see what needs arise, said Debbie Vosburg, director of marketing and communications.

"We will be prepared to help airmen and their families if there are emergencies because of loss of pay," Vosburg said.

Last year the Air Force Aid Society provided more than $18 million in loans and other assistance to more than 39,000 people.

Coast Guard Mutual Assistance also is standing by with a special reserve account.

"We will be there to help those who really need help," said Barry Boisvere, executive director. He added that Coast Guard Mutual Assistance will reassess the situation Monday morning. Last year the organization dispensed $4.8-million.

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