The Coast Guard is about to go without pay because of the government shutdown, but its members are still out doing missions
by Christopher Woody
• The Coast Guard was able to secure enough money for payroll on December 31, despite the government shutdown.
• But officials say they won't be able to repeat that maneuver for the next payday, January 15, potentially making them the only uniformed military service to go without pay during the shutdown.
• There's a bill in the Senate to pay the Coast Guard, but their salaries are still at the mercy of political wrangling.
A surprise maneuver at the end of December ensured Coast Guardsmen got their final paychecks of 2018, despite the government shutdown that began on December 22.
But the shutdown has dragged on, and the income for some 50,000 personnel, including 42,000 deemed essential personnel and required to work during the shutdown, remains in doubt as the first payday of 2019 approaches.
Read more: The Coast Guard turned down a request for an Arctic exercise out of concern the US's only heavy icebreaker would break down and Russia would have to rescue it
Salaries for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are covered by the Defense Department, which got its full funding the for the fiscal year in the fall. But while the Coast Guard is a military branch, it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, funding for which had not been approved by the time the shutdown began.
Coast Guard operations have continued, however.
On December 23, Coast Guard crews on training exercises in Hawaii were diverted twice, first to medevac a snorkeler who was having a medical emergency and then to rescue passengers from a capsized vessel. This month, Coast Guard crews in the Pacific have been involved in searches for crew members from two different vessels.
Officials said on December 28 that the Homeland Security Department had found a way to supply about $75 million needed to cover pay for the December 31 pay period, but they said they would be unable to repeat it for the January 15 payday.
There is some money within the Homeland Security Department that has moved around to keep things going, but some activities, like issuing licenses, has been curtailed. Funding for other services, like child-care subsidies, is also running out, further complicating life for service members and their families.
During the first week of January, the Pay Our Coast Guard Act was introduced to the Senate by Republican Sen. John Thune, cosponsored by Republican Sens. Roger Wicker, Susan Collins, Cindy Hyde Smith, and Democratic Sens. Marla Cantwell, Richard Blumenthal, Doug Jones, and Brian Schatz.
The bill would pay active, retired, and civilian Coast Guard personnel despite the shutdown. It would also fund benefits for retired members, death gratuities, and other payouts.
Thune's measure was first introduced in 2015 but died after being referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. After a grassroots effort generated 141,015 letters to congressmembers asking for its reintroduced, the bill was resubmitted on January 3, the first day of the 116th Congress.
"All we know so far, is that if this isn't resolved by the 10th they will not get paid on the 15th," Coast Guard spouse Stephanie Lisle told ConnectingVets.com. "Hopefully the bill gets passed."
The bill garnered support from more than a dozen veterans groups, but it would also have to pass the House of Representatives, which is now controlled by Democrats, and be signed by President Donald Trump.
Last week, Trump said he was prepared to keep the government shut down for "months or even years" after he and Democratic leaders again failed to resolve his demand for billions in funding for a border wall.
"We won't be opening until it's solved," Trump said on January 4. "I don't call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country."