- The Coast Guard is the only military branch to work without pay during the government shutdown.
- If the shutdown continues, the service’s 50,000 retirees will miss their February 1 pay as well.
- Around the country, communities are trying to support Coast Guard families that are going without pay.
January 15 is the first missed payday for the US Coast Guard, the only military branch who’s working without pay during the government shutdown that started on December 21.
A work-around secured money for December 31 paychecks, but no such manoeuvre was possible for Tuesday, and communities around the country have stepped in to support Coast Guard families amid protracted uncertainty.
The strain at home comes after a busy year at sea.
In 2018, the Coast Guard apprehended five times as many migrants at sea off the coast of Southern California as it did in 2017,according to records seen by The Washington Post.
The 1,022 migrants picked up off Southern California through the end of the 2018 fiscal year on September 30 exceeded the 213 and 142 intercepted in fiscal years 2017 and 2016, respectively.
But across the entire US, the number of migrants caught at sea between 2017 and 2018 decreased from 2,512 to 1,668, according to The Post.
Most of the Coast Guard’s apprehensions at sea were for a long time off the coast of Florida; many of those caught were Cubans, who were allowed to pursue citizenship once reaching the US under the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.
The Obama administration rescinded that policy in January 2017, and most migrants intercepted there now come from Haiti or other islands in the Caribbean.
While the number of people picked up in the area has fallen, the route remains active. The service said on January 11 that 66 migrants were picked up around Puerto Rico in a 72-hour period and that 708 had been intercepted there since October 1.
Migrants picked up off the California coast come from throughout the region, from Mexico to Bolivia. High-value migrant smuggling – which involves people who’ve paid large sums to come to the US from countries as far afield as China and Sri Lanka – has also increased, including in the waters around Florida, Coast Guard officers told Business Insider during a patrol over Miami in November 2018.
Out in the Pacific, Coast Guard crews were busy with a more nefarious activity in 2018.
During that period, the service seized 458,000 pounds of cocaine – less than the record 493,000 pounds seized in 2017 but more than the 443,000 pounds seized in 2016, which was itself a record.
Having faced those challenges at sea in 2018, the Coast Guard begins 2019 with a government shutdown that at 25 days is the longest in US history.
Unlike the other four branches of the military, which are part of the Defence Department, funding for the Coast Guard, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, has yet to be approved.
Some 41,000 active-duty Coast Guard members remain on duty without pay. The majority of the service’s 8,500 civilian employees have been furloughed, though about 1,300 remain at work.
Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray said in a January 10 letter that Coast Guard “leadership continues to do everything possible … to ensure we can process your pay as soon as we receive an appropriation,” but “I do not know when that will occur.”
In a letter two days later, Ray cautioned that “there is a distinct possibility that Retiree Pay and Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP) payments may be delayed if this lapse continues into late January.”
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, who has missed his own paycheck, told Military.com that without a budget appropriation for fiscal year 2019, which began October 1, a continuing resolution, or some other funding measure, the service won’t be able pay its 50,000 retirees on February 1.
Measures have been introduced to Congress to pay the Coast Guard amid the government closure.
The Pay Our Coast Guard Act was reintroduced to the Senate on January 4 and assigned to the Senate legislative calendar. The Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 9 and is with the Appropriations and Transportation and Infrastructure committees.
Those measures would have be approved by the other house of Congress and by the president in order to go into effect. On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she was working with the White House and Congress on legislation to fund the service.
“Like the other branches of the U.S. military, active duty @USCG should be paid for their service and sacrifice to this nation,” Nielsen said on Twitter.
Despite support from each other and their communities, Coast Guard families around the country are feeling the strain.
“This is talking an emotional toll on us and all the families here at Fort Wadsworth,” Rebeca Hinger, a Coast Guard spouse and mother of three, told Staten Island Live this week. “Many of us here … live paycheck-to-paycheck, and without money we can’t pay our bills.”