Nearly 10 million federal checks -- for the military, indigent mothers, refugee "boat people" and crippled coal miners -- will be held up or cut in half unless Congress breaks its budget deadlock by next Wednesday.
Failure to approve budgets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 already has forced pay cutoffs to 4,000 VISTA volunteers, and it blocked mailing of first-time payments to 2,000 ex-coal miners just certified to receive black lung benefits.
The prospect of salary cutoffs, or half paychecks, for thousands of U.S. workers, the military and persons due certain Veterans Administration benefits becomes more real as check-mailing deadlines approach, and pass, without authority from Congress to make the payments.
The House is not due back from its 10-day Columbus Day "district work period" until next week.
Defense, Treasury, State, Agriculture and other departments have deadlines for preparing and mailing checks each month. In some cases individuals will be paid for services, or benefits, due through the end of September. But money for payments after Oct. 1 is frozen until the Senate and House resolve differences over budgets, or authorize agencies to continue spending at current levels until they finish their catfight.
Examples of the money pinch:
Paychecks for most Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force personnel are due Oct. 15. Defense mails them out several days before, but it must have authority from Congress or it cannot mail the checks out on time.
Checks to more than 600,000 Defense Department civilian workers -- from scientists to secretaries -- are due the middle of this month. But Defense does not know whether to pay employes half checks -- for service performed through Sept. 30 -- or full, two-week checks. It has written both kinds, but will not know whether to make full or half payments until Congress acts. That must be by mid-week.
Black lung benefit checks for 44,000 ex-coal miners must be certified by Oct. 12 if they are to be delivered on time -- or at all -- by mid-October. Already more than 2,000 miners due first-time payments have missed checks because they were supposed to be mailed out today, Oct. 5.
Federal payments to states for 1.4 million poor mothers and children cannot be made unless Congress authorizes it quickly. Already two states -- Virginia and Delaware -- have advised the Agriculture Department they cannot make payments unless they get money and authority from Uncle Sam.
Payments to volunteer agencies handling refugees -- including the influx of "boat people" from Southeast Asia either have been cut off or will be shortly by the State Department. It does not have authority to spend after Oct. 1.
Veterans Administration benefit checks for compensation (disability) and pensions for 4.7 million persons must be prepared and certified by mid-next week or those checks, due for Nov. 1 delivery, will be held up.
Members of Congress and high-level federal executives in the "super-grades" and the new Senior Executive Service do not know how much of a raise, if any, they will get until the Senate and House iron out differences in pay proposals before them. Regular federal employes are due a 7 percent raise. Most agency budgets have not been approved and those budgets contain not only funds for the raises, but also for regular salary.