AUSTIN, Texas — All 42,000 active-duty members of the Coast Guard are working without pay through the partial government shutdown, which is heading toward its second week with no resolution in sight.
“We know we signed up to do this and it’s a mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard. “We’re protectors of life and property. If that alarm bell goes off, you know you’re going out and doing your job.”
If an agreement to reopen the entire federal government is not reached by Friday, Coast Guard members will not get their paychecks on Jan. 1, Saylor said.
In addition, about 7,400 civilian Coast Guard employees are on furlough and another 1,300 are continuing to work without pay. All servicemembers and civilians will be paid once the government reopens.
Though the other military service branches – Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines – are part of the Department of Defense, which has been unaffected by the shutdown, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, one of several federal agencies whose budget was not approved beyond Dec. 21, when the shutdown began.
An agreement to end the shutdown hangs on a standoff between the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill over funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. President Donald Trump has said he will not sign a spending resolution without border wall funding. Congressional Democrats are refusing to relent to the president on this issue.
Saylor said the Coast Guard is providing servicemembers with financial counseling and employee assistance programs. An internal messaging network is keeping servicemembers informed of the shutdown and its impact to pay and operations.
“They’re reminded to take account of what bills they’ll have and what their financial obligations are and to meet them,” he said.
Leadership within Sector Houston-Galveston of the Coast Guard is keeping lines of communication open among its 350 servicemembers, said Petty officer 3rd class Johanna Strickland, a spokeswoman with the Coast Guard’s Public Affairs Detachment Texas.
“All supervisors in departments have been in touch with their members,” she said, including information about Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which offers assistance for everyday essentials to servicemembers during financial hardship.
A welcome message on the program’s website addresses concerns caused by the shutdown and asks servicemembers to reach out to their banks, landlords and creditors who “can often help keep the ship afloat while the emergency situation recedes.”
During any single pay cycle, about $150 million is required to pay all Coast Guard military and civilian employees, the program’s welcome message stated. But the program does not have the resources to help everyone and the goal is to assist at least the 21,000 servicemembers ranked E-5 and below, said retired Rear Adm. Cari B. Thomas, chief executive officer for Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.
“Our mission is to care for our own,” she said. “It is hard when the Coast Guard that you love doesn’t have the ability to pay you. It impacts you, your family, and your home. I have lived through earlier government shutdowns, and know first-hand how much life at home impacts your life at work. That is why we help those who help the public.”
Many day-to-day operations continue at Coast Guard facilities, with some exceptions.
At the Washington, D.C. public affairs headquarters, the civilian employee tasked with social media is furloughed, Saylor said. So the Facebook page isn’t getting updated as frequently. Furloughed civilians also handle purchasing for the office, so supply orders have to wait.
Outside of offices, Saylor said maintenance to navigation aids, such as buoys, is on hold, as is credentialing and merchant documentation. Some routine maintenance and training will also hold until the shutdown ends.
In Houston, where about 15 civilians are furloughed, another impacted operation is fishing enforcement patrols, Strickland said.
Security, though, remains mission essential, she said.