On Tuesday, Members of the U.S. Coast Guard will miss their first paycheck since the partial federal shutdown began in December. Uniformed service members and essential civilains are still on duty performing missions vital to public safety and national security. But this isn't the first time the Coast Guard has been through this challenge.
In 2013 the Coast Guard was affected by a 16-day federal shutdown, but in that case only civilian workers were impacted. Those non-uniformed personnel often fill important logistical and adminsitrative roles, but are often not considered "essential."
The public safety and national security requirements on Coast Guard stations have not diminished during the shutdown. In addition to the normal caseload of search and rescue calls, port inspections, and environemental reviews, Hawaii-based Coast Guard units responded to a catastrophic cargo ship fire almost 2,000 miles from Hawaii on New Year's Eve.
Junior enlisted members of the Coast Guard earn less than $30,000 per year in basic salary. If nothing breaks the current politcal impasse in Washington, they and all other Coast Guard employees will miss their regualr paycheck scheduled for Tuesday, January 15th. Although a branch of the U.S. military, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, which is one of the nine unfunded cabinet departments.
Rear Admiral Cari Thomas was in command of the 14th District during that shutdown. She’s since retired and now runs the non-profit organization Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which helps Coast Guard members in financial stress. She told HPR that during the 16-day shutdown in 2013 maintenance of essential equipment became a challenge when the civilian workforce was furloughed. Thomas likened the deferred maintenance to a personal vehicle, saying that "when you put off [changing your oil and tires] it amy leads to you needing an alignment, and what might have been a $400 or $500 bill just became a $1000 bill."
In the meantime, Coast Guard crews will continue to respond to calls and do what critical maintenance they can. The budget freeze in Washington shows no signs of a thaw.
Admiral Thomas spoke with HPR’s Ryan Finnerty about her experience in command during a government shutdown for Hawaii Public Radio's The Conversation.
Donatations for Coast Guard members can be made through the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance website.