The holidays are over, but the pinch continues for military families. The Coast Guard’s 42,000 active members and some civilians have drawn their last paycheck until the partial government shutdown ends. They were to be paid on Monday, December 31, and their next payment is due on January 15. No income, no outgo. A simple rule of economics. So don’t be surprised that spending by military families through the end of the year yielded a little less Christmas joy than might have otherwise been expected.

The Military Holiday Spending Survey, an online poll conducted by Military Spouse Magazine and financial lender Pioneer Services, found that only one in 10 military families planned to spend more on the holidays and 42 percent reported they were spending less in 2018. Sixty-three percent said they had less money available for discretionary items due to increases in living expenses; last year’s military pay raise was 2.4 percent and the increase for this year is 2.6 percent.

The impact of their belt-tightening ripples throughout the economy. No travel, no hotels, no meals on the road. Even with gasoline prices down, six in 10 families planned to spend the holidays at home or within 100 miles of home.

The problem runs deeper. As of 2016, military families spent $67 million in SNAP benefits (food stamps) at commissaries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. The largest share was in California, where San Diego’s living costs challenge many budgets. “This suggests that people serving our country may be having difficulty making ends meet,” a GAO report said.

The worst of the problems occur at the lowest end of the pay scale and for the least-experienced service members. An enlisted service member starts out earning $1,449 per month. In a family with three children, pay of that level could make the family eligible to receive SNAP benefits.

Modest Needs Organization can help military families bridge short-term financial woes such as those they may face with the current shutdown. Its stated mission is “to responsibly provide short-term financial assistance to individuals and families in temporary crisis who, because they are working and live just above the poverty level, are ineligible for most types of conventional social assistance but who (like many of us) are living one or two lost paychecks away from the kind of financial catastrophe that eventually leads to homelessness.”

Operation Family Fund is similar. It offers financial grants for eligible service members and their families to meet personal short- and long-term living needs for food, rent, utilities, emergency transportation and vehicle repair, funeral expenses, legal expenses, medical/dental expenses, and various aspects of home ownership or rental.

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