Multiple Coast Guard veterans groups are praising a bipartisan effort in the Senate to make sure Coasties get paid during the ongoing government shutdown.
A grassroots campaign initiated by the U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA), the Coast Guard Enlisted Association and the Sea Service Family Foundation generated 141,015 letters to every member of Congress, asking for the reintroduction of the Pay Our Coast Guard Act. The bill, which was initially introduced in 2015 by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), died after it was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and was reintroduced on Thursday, the first day of the 116th Congress. It ensures continued funding for the Coast Guard even if appropriations lapse due to congressional inaction.
“Our voice has been heard, and thanks to a bipartisan group of senators, the ‘Pay Our Coast Guard Act’ has been introduced to the Senate. This bill is the right thing to do for the men and women who excel every day at keeping the Coast Guard ready, relevant and responsive,” CPOA National President Jon Ostrowski said. “The passage of this bill will eliminate the effects of political posturing and its impact on our Coast Guard members who have volunteered to serve our nation.”
The Coast Guard has been hit hard by the shutdown because it’s within the Department of Homeland Security. As previously reported, approximately 42,000 active-duty, reservist and civilian personnel are currently not getting paid to ensure the maritime safety, security and stewardship of the nation. While the White House made a deal to provide the Coast Guard with paychecks for the month of December, Jan. 15 paychecks are not guaranteed.
Once funding is approved, all Coast Guard military and civilian employees will receive their back-pay within three-to-five days. Among the duties that can not be performed during the shutdown are training, recreational boardings and safety checks, issuing license renewals and other merchant documentation, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine equipment maintenance.
The bill was co-sponsored by Thune and Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
“Many of our Coast Guard Enlisted Association members have little tenure in the Coast Guard, which hasn’t allowed ample time for saving enough money to sustain the lapse in even one paycheck,” CGEA National President Casey Lawrence said. “Our Coast Guard sacrifices so much to serve our great nation, and many of our CGEA members feel that they have been overlooked, due to the potential pay lapse.”
The coalition also secured the support of 15 national military and veterans service organizations and six retired Master Chief Petty Officers of the Coast Guard.
“The speedy passage of Senate Bill 21 will quickly alleviate potential hardships that can be placed on our Coast Guard members as a result of holding back their pay. This would also bring parity with our DoD colleagues as well,” said Vince Patton, the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard.
Aditionally, the Non Commissioned Officers Association has drafted an online letter to lawmakers asking that they support the Pay Our Coast Guard Act.
Michael Little, executive director for the Sea Service Family Foundation, said that the Coast Guard has experienced a “whirlwind” over the past two weeks.
“We are grateful for the reintroduction of the ‘Pay Our Coast Guard Act,’ as well as for all of those organizations and associations who stood alongside ours to see that Coast Guard pay continues,” Little said. “I can’t think of a more perfect way to start off a congressional year than to ensure one of the first pieces of legislation is a common-sense, bipartisan bill that everyone can rally behind and support. … This shutdown has taken away from valuable time they should have been using to enjoy their families, but instead they spent it stressed beyond belief.”
(Ostrowski is also the chief operating officer of the nonprofit Government & Technology Services Coalition, which owns Homeland Security Today.)
This story was updated on Jan. 7, 2019, at 8:22 a.m.