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Families feel far-reaching effects from shutdown

Oct. 10, 2013 - 06:59PM   |  
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Defense Department civilians are back at work and active-duty military members will keep getting paid, but shutdown issues affecting military families keep cropping up.

One problem is getting home from overseas on emergency leave. Generally the military will pay to get the families back to the nearest airport in the continental U.S., but now that’s not being funded, according to the relief societies, who are assisting families with these expenses.

The aid societies are helping with a variety of needs related to the shutdown. In the first 10 days of October, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society provided emergency financial assistance totaling $76,000 to 54 clients for issues directly related to the shutdown, said spokeswoman Shelley Marshall.

Funding for financial assistance for military spouses under the My Career Advancement Accounts program is still suspended. Spouses who had already been approved for assistance before Oct. 1 will have their requests honored so that their schools will be paid and they can attend class.

After an uproar over the lack of death gratuity payments to survivors of the fallen in the wake of the shutdown, Congress passed legislation to address that specifically, as they have addressed other issues like military pay.

“None of this would have been necessary if our nation’s leaders could have agreed on a plan to keep the government open,” said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association. “To keep piecemealing solutions is going to guarantee someone is going to fall through the cracks.”

Some military families are feeling the same ripple effects as civilians. For example, food benefits for stateside families under the federally funded Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) may be uncertain, depending on the state. WIC provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children.

Statistics are not available about the number of military families on WIC in the U.S., but in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, $29 million in WIC benefits was redeemed at commissaries worldwide in nearly 1.7 million transactions, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

In some of the states with large populations of young military families:

■ In North Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services discontinued issuing food benefits for WIC on Oct. 8. The office has issued benefits through the end of October to most of its clients, but there aren’t enough federal WIC funds to issue more vouchers, according to an announcement from the state.

■ Texas is a different story. “As far as we know, everything is up and going. Most have their benefits through October, and we’re loading on [Electronic Benefit Transfer cards] now for November, December and January,” said Jennifer Ranspot, assistant WIC director for the Bell County Public Health District, where Fort Hood is located.

Bell County officials issued benefits for 6,678 military individuals in September, she said. That doesn’t represent the number of families, since mothers and children are counted as separate individuals. Military individuals represent 39 percent of the total population receiving WIC benefits in Bell County, she said.

■ The California WIC program has enough funding to continue to operate normally through October, said spokesman Corey Egel. “All efforts will be made to ensure that the women and children enrolled in WIC will continue to receive food instruments to purchase food and baby formula through October.”

■ Georgia WIC is operating, and issuing vouchers, according to spokeswoman Nancy Nydam. Officials aim to keep the program operating for as long as possible during the shutdown.

For families living overseas, there is no impact from the shutdown on the Overseas WIC program, which is operated by defense health officials, according to DoD spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. There are 16,000 beneficiaries in that program, he said.

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