The United States Coast Guard may soon be working without pay.
As the government shutdown enters its 18th day today, more and more federal agencies are seeing whatever funds that had been tiding them over dry up. In late December, after some doubt as to whether 42,000 members of the Coast Guard were going to be paid for work done before the shutdown, a last-minute political maneuver ensured that the money came through. “But the shutdown has dragged on, and the income for some 50,000 [Coast Guard] personnel, including 42,000 deemed essential and required to work during the shutdown, remains in doubt as the first payday of 2019 approaches,” wrote Business Insider.
As of January 15, the Coast Guard could potentially be the only “uniformed military service to go without pay during the shutdown.”
Other branches of the military are part of the Department of Defense, which received its full funding in a budget deal crafted in the fall, according to Business Insider. But the Coast Guard falls under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, which had not yet allocated its budget when the shutdown began. In the early days of the federal shutdown at the end of 2018, “A Coast Guard spokesman said operations are being scaled back during the shutdown to focus on search and rescue,” the New York Times reported. “Active-duty Coast Guard personnel are considered essential and remain on duty while most civilian workers are furloughed.”
There is a bill working its way through Congress that would “pay active, retired, and civilian Coast Guard personnel despite the shutdown,” said Business Insider. The Pay Our Coast Guard Act “would also fund benefits for retired members, death gratuities, and other payouts.” Despite bipartisan sponsorship and support, as well as a nod from more than a dozen veterans’ groups, it’s not clear if the bill will be passed by next Tuesday, January 15.
The Trump administration’s prioritization of the Coast Guard’s budget has been in flux, with its border-security priorities taking precedent — at least in initial proposals — over funding the service. In March 2017, we reported that the administration’s first draft budget called for a 14% cut to the Coast Guard’s funding (and also included cuts to the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency). The reallocation of funds was “part of a broader plan to fund President Trump’s proposed border wall. The plan was scuttled after it was reported in the media and decried by a bipartisan group of lawmakers,” the Washington Post reported.
But since that draft proposal (of $7.8 billion), the administration and Congress have actually increased the Coast Guard’s budget. “The service ultimately received $10.5 billion in 2018, with $11.65 billion planned in 2019,” the Post said. The president has also repeatedly praised the Coast Guard’s life-saving efforts.
But in June 2018, the Post obtained an internal Coast Guard message saying that $77 million of its budget could be shifted to “other parts of the Department of Homeland Security . . . Most of the funding would go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also is part of Homeland Security. The department has the authority to move money around between its components and may also shift other funding to pay for ICE operations.” In June, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said that they’re “currently evaluating the need to reallocate funds, and will do so in a manner to minimize the impact on [Coast Guard] operations and mission execution to the maximum extent possible.”
But as the shutdown continues, larger budgetary concerns and allocations are moot.
The Post — as well as many of our readers — pointed out that the Coast Guard is the premier ‘border patrol agent’ of the sea, especially when it comes to drug enforcement. Last year, the USCG seized more than 455,000 pounds of cocaine — a record, according to another article by the Washington Post.
Drug enforcement is, of course, is just part of the Coast Guard’s mission. The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Stratton is scheduled to return to their homeport in Alameda tomorrow after they saved three lives during a 60-day, 15,000-nautical mile, multi-mission deployment — which included drug enforcement — throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea.
In late December, the Coast Guard was involved in several rescues in Hawaii. “This month, Coast Guard crews in the Pacific have been involved in searches for crew members from two different vessels,” said Business Insider.
We have been in contact with people looking to raise funds for Coast Guard families, and will keep you informed as details develop. If you have any thoughts, please comment below or email us here, and please be sure to include your Boat Name, Make, and Port of Call.