Government Shutdowns Hurt Black Service Members and Families, Forcing Churches to Pick Up the Pieces
Updated: Oct 3
The U.S. government was on the brink of shut down leading into October 1, 2023 before Democrats aided Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in passing a Continuing Resolution to continue funding the government for 45 days. A shutdown would have had a significant impact on military families, particularly African American service members who make up approximately 17% of the active-duty military.
Implications for Military Families
Active-duty service members, regardless of the shutdown, are mandated to report for duty without pay. A significant number of these families are living from paycheck to paycheck, earning less than $30,000 annually, with no spare savings for essential needs such as food and rent.
According to the U.S. Army, a shutdown means the loss of essential support like food assistance programs, which a quarter of active-duty families rely on, leaving them in an even more precarious situation. The effects of loss of assistance provided by programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is compounded by the fact that on-base child care centers would also be shuttered, putting legally obligated service members in a critical bind.
Disproportionate Impact on African American Military Families and Churches
Given the substantial representation of African Americans in the armed services, black military families would disproportionally feel the impacts of this shut down. In times of need, churches, neighbors, and family members in black communities are often the ones to step up and provide vital support systems, offering food, child care, and financial assistance to families in need. When the government won't live up to its obligations to it's service members, it falls to these wider relational networks take care of those struggling, meaning the strain on limited resources is felt beyond the military families directly impacted.
Essential Services Cease
In addition to the severe financial strain, families are left exposed to medical debt as elective surgeries, dental, and vision insurance payments will be unavailable during the shutdown. For those who are already struggling financially, the culmination of loss of pay, food support, and childcare is devastating, potentially leading to increased debt, marital strain, and children going without necessities.
This crisis originated from the constitutional responsibility of Congress to set and approve annual government funding levels. The threat of shutdown was the result of a handful of GOP Congresspeople who blocked the fiscal 2024 Pentagon spending bill from reaching a vote. Despite bipartisan support and agreement with the White House, the obstruction by a handful of House members to passing the necessary spending bills put the livelihoods of military families and veterans in jeopardy. When Speaker McCarthy decided to move forward with a Continuing Resolution the weekend before October 1 in order to avoid a shutdown, a minority of members within his own caucus led an ouster that resulted in him being removed from the speakership.
A Call for Community Support
In trying times, it's crucial for communities, especially churches and local organizations, to rally around our military families, offering support and assistance to those affected by the shutdown, ensuring no family is left struggling alone during this critical period.
While a government shutdown's length can vary, with 20 shutdowns lasting at least one full day in the past 40 years, the recent one from Dec. 21, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, stretched for 34 full days. The extended duration of potential shutdowns can exacerbate the struggles and challenges that military families, and notably African American service members, face, reinforcing the urgent need for community solidarity and support.