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Military Families Caught In Coronavirus Travel Ban Struggle To Make Ends Meet

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Groups that help military families are quickly retooling to aid people caught up by the restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Many families are struggling financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. But military families face some unique challenges. KPBS military reporter Steve Walsh says the virus has placed extra burdens on younger military families who were already struggling to make ends meet.

Speaker 2: 00:16 No,

Speaker 3: 00:18 for a while is working in the back room of a storefront office in San Diego. Our information, all the sleeves, the diapers, so when they get in, they know where they came from and if we can help whites, group step councils, members of the military in financial trouble. The reason weeks, a lot of their effort has gone into providing care packages with basic necessities to families caught off guard by Corona virus.

Speaker 2: 00:41 What we're seeing is definitely a little bit of panic as we all are kind of feeling these days. Um, but another level with our military families, because they have some stricter stay at home rules. You know, when your spouse is deployed and you're still a parent, we don't want that parent here to get sick.

Speaker 3: 00:58 So they're delivering to single parents who are often living far from their own extended families. In late March, secretary of defense, Mark Esper impose the 60 days stop movement order throughout the world. At least 90,000 service members were caught up in the restriction. People were frozen in place. Kathleen Martinez, his husband is a Marine officer at camp Pendleton North of San Diego. He was supposed to deploy overseas for the first time. Now that's on hold.

Speaker 2: 01:25 We were planning to have me go live back in the Midwest while he's deployed to be near family because it is the first deployment. I'm a little nervous about it. Um, we don't have any family or a support system out here, so we thought that would be a smart idea

Speaker 3: 01:40 in San Diego where vacancy rates remain low, they're at least full run out at the end of the month. They can continue to lease month to month, but their landlord has already told her it will be significantly more expensive.

Speaker 2: 01:52 Feel stuck, uncertain. Uh, everything is up in the air. I'm a planner and I can't plan right now. That's a little nerve wracking, just not knowing what's next.

Speaker 3: 02:04 The secretary's order came down so quickly. Some families were stuck mid move, some arrived in San Diego before their furniture, other sailors and Marines had set up their new places and were ready to move when the order came down. Blue star families, a military support group is asking families about the disruption caused by COBIT 19 in the militaries response, Jessica Strong is the senior researcher for the survey because the stop movement order people are not able to move from one place to another. If you were caught in the middle of that right now, 21% of our respondents in our week one said that they will be paying two rents or mortgages in the next 60 days after they've just lost a position or lost half their income. That that's not easy to do. By the second week of the survey, 37% of respondents said their spouse had become unemployed. About a third say they plan to dip into savings. There's a lot of financial repercussions. People are without housing or to make rent or unable to afford food even or a white with the group that helps. Military family says denial plays a big role in compounding financial problems. She seen people's stack, unopened bills when they know they can't pay.

Speaker 2: 03:12 We want you to take a deep breath and realize that the a big part of the world is just come to a halt so you're not in any different situation than a lot of other people. Get them in order and start making phone calls to each one of those people and talk about your situation. You're going to be able to put something on hold. You're going to be able to come up with some payment plans

Speaker 3: 03:30 if a creditor won't work with you. The next step is to contact state or federal consumer protection offices. New laws have put temporary holds on some evictions. People in the military should also reach out to their command. Above all else, white says, try to stay calm. There are solutions. Steve Walsh, KPBS news [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 03:50 we have with us now. Steve Walsh. Steve, thanks for joining us. Hi Alison. So tell us about this stop movement order. Who does it affect and what exactly does it mean?

Speaker 4: 04:00 Well, it affects really everyone in the U S military. On March 25th, secretary of defense, Mark Esper put this stop movement order in place. Uh, it meant that people who were in Europe could not trans port to the United States. People who are in Afghanistan, uh, in most cases could not come back to the States. Uh, people who were in the middle of moving from one side of the country to the other were basically frozen where they are.

Speaker 1: 04:26 So for those who are here in San Diego, frozen here in San Diego, would you say that, uh, the military families have a particularly challenging situation to deal with because they're often living far from home then and in very unfamiliar communities?

Speaker 4: 04:41 Right. Well, San Diego is still an expensive place to live. We talked with one military spouse. She was expecting to give up her apartment here at the end of may. She was going to go live with family in the Midwest while her husband deployed overseas. Now they're, they're stuck with the idea that they might have to go month to month, which is a, an expensive proposition here in San Diego. We have people who were caught on one side of the country, they may have moved their furniture to San Diego, but they're stuck on the, on the East coast. You have people here who have got to San Diego and then there was a stop moving order. And so they're stuck paying rents in two different households in two different parts of the country.

Speaker 1: 05:22 In the case of the young wife that you interviewed, she, she couldn't be evicted at this point while the pandemic is on, but perhaps the rent might ruin her credit if the rent goes up unexpectedly,

Speaker 4: 05:35 depending on which program you're talking about. She cannot be evicted right now, but the bills still keep piling up. And we actually talked with some folks at blue star families. A lot of these groups that normally help military families and service people who are deployed overseas have kind of switched years in the last month or so to try to help people who are caught up in a pandemic. So, um, they, blue star families now has a survey out and in the third week just came out where they look at some of the costs. We know that almost half of military families are already dipping into savings. We've seen, uh, obviously a number of military spouses lose their job in the private sector. Um, there are all sorts of problems as you can imagine with childcare. People can't get onto base and get access to the childcare that they once had. You've got a spouse that's now deploying who's who may be stuck and let's say on a ship like the U S as Truman, much longer than they were expecting. Uh, it's, it creates some very special circumstances that really, even though everyone is kind of in this together, there some very special circumstances for military families.

Speaker 1: 06:43 So is it true to say that a lot of the families affected here are perhaps young families who are just getting started with their financial lives and are really not equipped to deal with this kind of a financial uncertainty and shock?

Speaker 4: 06:56 Some of these families were having a hard time making it in San Diego before all of this happened. San Diego is a very pretty place. It's, it's sought after, but it's a very, as we all know, it's also a very expensive place to live in and people who come from different parts of the country are actually quite shocked at how much it costs to live here. And on the flip side, we've already seen a number of spouses here just reported through a BlueStar who have lost their, their civilian job. Now this is already a problem for us. Military spouses, they end up moving from different, different parts of the country and so they have a hard time finding jobs. So that puts a lot of stress financially on, I'm not especially a younger family in the lower pay grades.

Speaker 1: 07:41 We, we know that young members in the military are notoriously vulnerable to payday loan stores. They tend to proliferate right around the Gates of the basis. Could it mean that some of them are getting deeper and deeper in debt when they just cannot manage these financial challenges? Do they risk being taken advantage of by unscrupulous loan companies? Do you think?

Speaker 4: 08:00 They certainly do. And there are some already we're starting to see that some a scams are circulating that are targeting members in the military offering uh, different programs to help you know, mitigate some of the issues with COBIT 19, the department of defense has as put out some alerts warning troops that uh, um, they may be taken advantage of.

Speaker 1: 08:22 Do you know about the Marines who are still in the barracks on base and how they are quarantining?

Speaker 4: 08:27 Certainly if you're still coming from, let's say Afghanistan, you do have to quarantine for 14 days. Um, these are often very cramped conditions. You, you see a lot of things leaking out on social media where, um, people feel that they're, they're kind of isolated and they don't really know very much about what's going on. There are groups, uh, that, uh, normally help military when they're overseas in Afghanistan and now some of them are switching gears like the, to providing care packages to troops who were quarantining right here in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 09:01 What other resources do young military families have to pull on right now while they tell people,

Speaker 4: 09:06 well, that you should do what everyone else is doing. You should contact state or, or federal organizations that are geared toward helping all of us get through the pandemic. In the case of military, you should also go to your command and then there's groups like step here in San Diego that will counsel military families to try to give them a leg up with different methods that they can use to sort of keep predators at Bay right now because there are solutions available to people.

Speaker 1: 09:34 Well, Steve, thanks so much for keeping an eye on all this. Thanks, Alison. This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.