The nation’s 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members missed their scheduled paycheck Tuesday, as the only military branch to work without pay during the government shutdown.
Because the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security, it is getting no funding during the shutdown. All other parts of the military are under the still-funded Department of Defense.
Coast Guard members, reservists and retirees received checks on Dec. 31 as part of a short-term solution that gave them the remainder of their pay and allowances for December.
But that quick fix did not extend to the Jan. 15 pay period.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz released a statement to active-duty members addressing the loss of pay.
“To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our Nation’s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations,” his statement said.
He also announced a $15 million donation by USAA Bank to the service’s nonprofit relief organization, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which the American Red Cross will aid in distributing to military and civilians employees of the service who need assistance.
Active-duty Coast Guard members continue to work without pay on essential operations “that provide for national security or that protect life and property during partial government shutdowns,” such as search-and-rescue, securing the nation’s ports and coastlines, other law enforcement duties and environmental response.
A bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress on Jan. 4, the Pay Our Coast Guard Act, which would allow members of the Coast Guard, civilian employees, and contractors to be paid throughout the remainder of the shutdown.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement that “hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families are being harmed by the partial government shutdown.”
“This situation is especially unfair for those who must work without pay, including members of the Coast Guard who continue to perform critical national security and lifesaving duties without knowing when they will receive their next paycheck,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security is working on another solution, “a narrow legislative fix,” to pay active-duty Coast Guard so there is parity between them and other military branches, a Homeland Security official told NBC News Monday night.
In the interim, families of active-duty members as well as of civilian Coast Guard workers who have been furloughed have looked toward other forms of support. The shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history with no end in sight.
The East Bay Coast Guard Spouses Club held a food drive Sunday in Alameda, California, for Coast Guard members, dependents, and civilian workers who have been furloughed. Club member Nicole Lauer told NBC News about 186 families came.
Lauer said the event was uplifting and families were grateful to not have to spend what little money they may have on grocery items.
Donations were made from businesses across Alameda, which has a base and is considered a Coast Guard city. In addition to essentials such as food, baby formula and diapers, items such as laundry detergent and razors were also popular at the drive, as members must maintain regulation standards for their uniforms and appearance, Lauer said.
“We actually have another food bank happening on Wednesday,” Lauer told NBC News. “Our mission as a club is that we will do this however long we need to do this, and we’ve received the support from Alameda that they will have our back as long as we have to.”
Emily Garris, the wife of an active-duty member stationed in Alameda, told NBC News she worries about about her own family’s financial situation and all the other families in the Coast Guard as well. Her family is fine for the time being, but has been careful about spending since the shutdown began.
“My daughter’s 16th birthday is next week and we just had Christmas,” Garris told NBC News. “We want to make it special for her, but we also don’t want to spend a lot of money either.”
Garris said that while many Coast Guard families are feeling discouraged by the ongoing shutdown, the local community’s response has in contrast inspired appreciation and gratitude.
“I’ve had several moms of my kid’s friends call and say, ‘We’re here for you. What can we do, anything that you guys need we’ll do it,'” Garris told NBC News. “The Congress can’t get their act together. The president can’t get their act together, but your community will take care of you.”
She never thought the situation would go on for this long, Garris said, but she also feels there’s a limit to what people can handle. Some people may eventually begin to wonder if they should try to leave and find new jobs, Garris said.
“It’s really up to the leaders, Congress and the president, to really hammer this out and get something done,” Garris told NBC News. “I feel like we’ve done all we can and it’s totally in their hands now.”
Congress passed a bill Friday to retroactively pay federal workers and Coast Guard members, but it would not go into affect until after the shutdown ends.