Unhappy Holidays: Coast Guard Only Military Branch Facing No Pay During Shutdown

Over the Christmas holiday, a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater HC-130 Hercules airplane crew and the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute diligently worked without pay as they combed the waters for a 20-year-old man who went overboard on a Royal Caribbean Cruise 267 miles northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The search lasted from Christmas Eve until Dec. 27, and while the man was not recovered the mission emphasizes the responsibility under which these service members operate.

The Coast Guard is the only branch of the U.S. military not getting paychecks during the partial government shutdown. That means that while approximately 42,000 active-duty, reservist and civilian personnel continue to work to ensure the maritime safety, security and stewardship of the nation, they are not getting paid for it.  

“While all Coast Guard military members continue to report for duty in service of our country during this partial shutdown, they do so without pay until an appropriation is passed by Congress,” USCG Acting Assistant Commandant for Human Resources Rear Adm. Matthew Sibley wrote Thursday. “Because Coast Guard members will not receive pay during the lapse in appropriations, our members may have difficulty in timely meeting their financial obligations. This lapse in appropriations is beyond our members’ control and is expected to be a temporary situation.”  

SEE: Federal Employees, Contractors Tweet Worries with #ShutdownStories

Coast Guard operations fall within the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, which is vastly affected by the shutdown. 

Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray said in message to service members this afternoon that “the Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard have identified a way to pay our military workforce on 31 December.”

“I recognize that this changes course from previously provided guidance on military pay, however, this is outstanding news for our military workforce,” Ray said of the one-time action that will include normal pay for active-duty personnel and reservists who served on active duty during December, and reservists who trained before Dec. 21.

Jan. 15 paychecks are not guaranteed, and the Coast Guard is preparing for the eventuality that the shutdown could be lengthy.

“Retirees will get paid 31 December. However if this lapse in appropriations continues into February, they may not get paid their future installments. VA payments should not be affected by this lapse in appropriations,” notes a USCG advisory. “It is your responsibility to take all steps necessary to ensure you meet your civil obligations (insurance, rent/mortgage, child-care, child support, etc) at all times regardless of the government’s ability to process payroll. CG-1 has provided a letter, however, that you can send to your creditors that could help explain your debt situation and could aid with encouraging your creditors to apply relief. Please remember that your creditors are under no obligation to provide relief.”

Read: These DHS-Related Websites Have Gone Quiet with Government Shutdown

Other military branches are not affected by the government shutdown since the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 was passed and signed by the president in August. Consequently, a number of organizations, including the United States Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA), the Coast Guard Enlisted Association and the Sea Service Family Foundation are now urging Congress to reintroduce Senate Bill 545, the Pay Our Coast Guard Act, which would ensure continuous appropriations for Coast Guard pay in the event of a government shutdown. 

South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune introduced the legislation in 2015. It went nowhere and wasn’t reintroduced in the 115th Congress.

“Today we have tens of thousands of men and women serving in the Coast Guard — active, reserve and civilian — protecting the citizens of this great country. We have a responsibility to them as we do to all branches of the military service,” CPOA National President Jon Ostrowski said. “These men and women always put their country first and serve honorably. Congress and the administration need to fix this now and prevent this from happening during any future political disagreements.”

Coast Guard groups are focused on taking care of their own.

“Our CG Leadership (past and present), the CGEA, CPOA, CGMA, and so many other nonprofit organizations/associations from all branches, are fighting for you. Door-to-door and conference calls, meetings, letters and emails to/with law makers are all happening for you,” Coast Guard Enlisted Association National President Casey Lawrence said. “I have been asked by several branches about providing assistance to our members. My guidance to our branches is this: If your branch has funds to assist our most financially vulnerable Team Coast Guard members in need, through grants or loans, please do so. I would advise a vetting procedure to ensure that allocations are fair and necessary. If you need assistance in developing these procedures, please contact me at cbf14822@yahoo.com.”

The Sea Service Family Foundation has sent letters to Thune and the Congressional Coast Guard Caucus, and has drafted a form letter for the public to contact their member of Congress.

“It is irresponsible of the United States Government to put the burden of stress on our men and women of the United States Coast Guard during the Holiday Season. Being deployed away from their families is hard enough, worrying about the hardships that will be faced by the lack of a paycheck is unacceptable,” the letter states. “Our members of the Coast Guard have a mission to do. They serve in the military the same way their brothers and sisters of the DoD do, so they should be exempt from a government shutdown. The impact this will have on our Coasties is ridiculous and needs to end now.”

(Ostrowski is also the chief operating officer of the nonprofit Government & Technology Services Coalition, which owns Homeland Security Today.) 

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Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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