By Shannon Razsadin, President and Executive Director, Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) and Joseph Kopser, Board Member, MFAN; Special Advisor for Military Leadership and Strategy Policy, University of Texas at Austin
On Saturday morning I woke up to a message from a military family distraught about the delay in early pay, which was announced on Friday. It’s this small shift that can lead to a series of difficulties among military families.
Due to the late approval of the Department of Defense budget extension, pay is being delayed for military families who use early pay—an option offered to servicemembers by many banks and credit unions. Every year—but especially this year—an unexpected delay in pay creates a cascade of other issues that cause problems for families, especially those existing on the margins of financial security.
Military families who use early pay must now stretch their typically bimonthly pay to almost three weeks. MFAN’s research pre-COVID-19 found that many military families do not have any emergency savings. On top of that, one in eight of our survey respondents was food insecure. In Texas and Norfolk, Virginia, those numbers were as high as one in six. These findings are alarming, especially when we know that COVID-19 is likely to have exacerbated financial stressors for many families.
Despite pandemic-related shutdowns and changes to nearly everything we know, military families continue to move, which can be a stressor and financial drain in itself. Service members still deploy, train, and are required to maintain mission readiness. For military spouses, who have faced perennial unemployment challenges, employment struggles have worsened with decreased availability of military childcare. This year has been tough for all of us, but particularly challenging for military families that are expected to continue business as usual under unusual circumstances.
Saturday’s message was from a Marine Corps family with six children — several of whom have complex medical needs and their youngest was recently diagnosed. Like most families in 2020, this family requires a dual income to meet basic needs. The mom had been working an overnight job making minimum wage to get by; but, with the new diagnosis, she had to leave her job to manage her son’s new feeding schedule. This family had been traveling back and forth to the hospital for three weeks while their son was admitted, which also led to unexpected expenses for gas and food that they could little afford. They are barely scraping by. This delay in pay will have serious consequences for them. When they saw the update announcing it, they immediately thought: “Will we have enough to cover added expenses if one of our other children has to be admitted again? Will we be able to cover groceries and our regular bills?”
This is just one story of many. There are others that demonstrate the unintended effects of a delay in budget approval.
Earlier this year, MFAN announced a statewide initiative focused on combatting military family hunger. On December 22, MFAN is hosting a food distribution event near Fort Hood, which our research tells us is one of the geographic locations with the highest frequency of food insecurity among military and veteran families in the country. Amazing partners like Tyson Foods, H-E-B, The Moody Foundation, the Food Care Center of Killeen, and University of Texas at Austin have stepped up, and we will be providing high quality food for 500 military families. More than 300 families signed up in less than 48 hours to wait in a car line for food on the Monday before Christmas. We’re thrilled that our partners made this possible, but we’re sobered by the need.
Many wouldn’t think military families are at risk of food insecurity or that a change in the routine schedule for pay makes a difference, but they are, and it does.
We need your help. To learn more and get involved, visit combatmilitaryhunger.org.