U.S. military pay in question, including thousands in Alaska, as government shutdown approaches

President Biden
President Joe Biden mingles with service members and others in the audience at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Sept. 11, 2023, after he delivered a speech commemorating the terror attack that occurred 22 years earlier. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are trying to ensure that members of the U.S. military, civilian Department of Defense workers and military contractors remain paid during a partial federal government shutdown that could begin as soon as Sunday.

In separate statements, Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola said they support stopgap legislation to preserve military pay.

According to figures provided by the White House, Alaska is home to 20,200 active-duty members of the military, plus thousands more civilians who work for the Department of Defense either directly or as contractors.

For context, that’s a bigger economic driver than the state’s construction industry, which employed 19,400 Alaskans in August. 

During a government shutdown, civilian Department of Defense workers would be temporarily furloughed, unless they’re associated with particular “excepted activities.”

Military personnel on active duty will continue to work without pay. Base services will be limited: Commissaries within the United States will close, elective medical procedures at military hospitals will be postponed, postal service on base will be disrupted, and changes of station will be paused, the Defense Department said.

Workers will be paid retroactively when the shutdown ends, but a shutdown is expected to affect the spending of thousands of Alaskans and millions of Americans nationwide.

In addition, military contracting — both within the state and outside — is a major industry for Alaska’s Native corporations, and payments could be disrupted by a shutdown.

“Servicemembers, of course, would continue to work to keep our country safe, but they wouldn’t receive their paychecks until funding was available,” said John Kirby, spokesperson for the Biden administration’s National Security Council, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“Hundreds of thousands of their civilian counterparts will also be furloughed, affecting the ways in which the Department of Defense is able to manage affairs globally. That includes some aspects of contract management, procurement,” Kirby said.

A senior government official on the call said that search and rescue missions by the Coast Guard and other branches of the military will still continue, even in a government shutdown. Veterans Administration facilities are also expected to remain open, the official said.

Sullivan and Murkowski voted on Tuesday to support a bill that would keep the federal government funded through Nov. 17 in order to allow further negotiations on a longer-term funding bill. 

The Senate is expected to pass the interim measurel before the end of the week, but its future isn’t certain in the House, where Republicans hold a divided majority and haven’t been able to muster enough votes to pass a budget bill.

With that in mind, various lawmakers are proposing stopgap bills that could keep portions of the government functioning during a shutdown. 

Sullivan is the lead sponsor of a Senate bill cosponsored by Murkowski and more than 13 other senators that would fund military paychecks. 

“All Americans count on our military members to be ready to respond to threats to the homeland, wherever and whenever they may arise. The last thing our brave men and women in uniform need to be worrying about is whether they will get a paycheck, and whether their families are taken care of back home,” he said in a prepared statement.

In the House, Peltola cosponsored legislation that would ensure pay for members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense.

Both the Senate legislation and legislation in the House remain pending. Congress is expected to continue meeting throughout the week.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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