Florida Keys

Coast Guard members’ next paycheck at risk over government shutdown

What happens when the government shuts down?

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.
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The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

While most U.S. Coast Guard members managed to get their final 2018 paycheck after some maneuvering by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, their first check of the New Year is in doubt in the shadow of the partial government shutdown that is impacting more than a quarter of the federal workforce.

Funding for the service, which has a heavy presence in South Florida and the Keys, expired Dec. 21 with no appropriations bill passed to keep boats afloat, planes and helicopters in the air and men and women on patrol through 2019.

Unlike the rest of the military branches, which fall under the Department of Defense and are not affected by the shutdown, the Coast Guard is under Homeland Security, which is among the agencies caught up in the fight over President Donald Trump’s proposed multi-billion dollar wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump and congressional Democrats won’t blink in budget negotiations over funding for the controversial project. The partial government shutdown is affecting 800,000 federal employees, and having an impact on air travel, the National Parks Service, the federal courts and hurricane forecasting, among many other areas.

The nearly 42,000 active duty Coast Guard members are considered essential personnel and will have to work with or without pay.

“Whether they are performing rescues during a hurricane or stopping drug traffickers at sea, members of the Coast Guard regularly perform heroic and lifesaving tasks on our behalf. They should not have to worry about bills and living expenses just because Congress and the White House cannot agree on a budget,” Brett P. Reistad, national commander of the American Legion veterans advocacy group, said in a statement this week.

Reistad urged members of Congress to support a bill introduced Friday by Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, that would fund the Coast Guard through the Treasury Department throughout the shutdown. The bipartisan legislation, known as the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act,” is co-sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans.

The bill still needs a counterpart in the House, however, and that may not come before Jan. 15, the end of the next pay period.

In the meantime, the service members are organizing support networks in the event a solution is not found, said Casey Lawrence, national president of the Coast Guard Enlisted Association.

“Our national officers have been posting financial resources available to those who need it, in the event of a pay lapse, on our Coast Guard Enlisted Association national Facebook page,” Lawrence said in an email Tuesday.

He said resources include loans from the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance program, low-interest loans from other institutions, “as well as community resources available, such as free groceries and help with utility bills.”

“I have also asked that our branches with available funds to do so, assist members in immediate need through loans and grants, if the lapse occurs,” Lawrence said.

The Coast Guard Cutter Robert Yered responded to a vessel on fire to assist the survivors Dec. 7, 2018. The crew of the pleasure craft, Family Times managed to call for help on their VHF-FM radio and abandon ship after a fire broke out.

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