By: Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal
As the partial government shutdown dragged into its seventh day, the 42,000 members of the U.S. Coast Guard — including the more than 200 men and women stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola — continued to show up for work facing the potential of their paychecks not coming next week.
With no action from Congress on Friday, Coast Guard members were facing missing their first paycheck of January, but Friday evening, the Coast Guard announced it had found a way to make payroll, despite the government shutdown.
"The Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Coast Guard have identified a way to pay our military workforce on Dec. 31, 2018," the announcement said. "This one-time action applies to military members that served on active duty in the month of December and those reserve military members that drilled prior to the lapse in appropriation."
Military members are usually paid on the first and 15th of each month, but with Jan. 1 designated as a federal holiday, their paychecks are issued Dec. 31.
The announcement Friday said that the Dec. 31 action was allowed based on extensive research and legal analysis between the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
However, the announcement said if the shutdown lasts until Jan. 15, there is no guarantee that Coast Guard members would be paid.
The Coast Guard was the only branch of the U.S. military that faced not be paid during the shutdown.
The Department of Defense's budget was passed earlier this year, ensuring members of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy will continue to be paid for the duration of the shutdown. But the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security, which is one of the departments affected by the government shutdown over funding for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico.
Congress isn't expected to reconvene until Monday, but lawmakers are not expected to do much until after the new year.
Trump and congressional Republicans are demanding that funding for the border wall be included in the government spending bill, while Democrats oppose it.
Republicans still hold the majority in the House of Representatives, but new members of Congress elected in November are set to take their seats Thursday, flipping the House to Democratic control. Republicans will still control the Senate in the new Congress.
Both sides appeared far from settling negotiations Friday.
More than 800,000 federal workers have been affected since the shutdown started at midnight Dec. 22, with 420,000 workers continuing to work without pay.
For members of the Coast Guard, especially younger enlisted members and those with families, the potential loss of pay led to a stressful Christmas season, said Michael Little, executive director of Sea Service Family Consulting and Foundation, from his home in New Jersey.
"It's not a happy Christmas for these guys," Little said.
Sea Service Family Foundation is working with U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association, the Coast Guard Enlisted Association and other military associations to urge Congress to pass a law to ensure the Coast Guard is paid in the event of a government shutdown.
"Currently Coast Guard members are searching for a 20-year-old British cruise ship entertainer who went overboard from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship on Christmas Day with the added stress of not receiving any pay beyond tomorrow," said Jon Ostrowski, president of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association in a statement Thursday. "These men and women always put their country first and serve honorably. Congress and the Administration need to fix this now and prevent this from happening during any future political disagreements.”
In 2018, Pensacola saw an increase in the number of Coast Guard members who call the city home with two Coast Guard cutters, the Decisive and Dauntless, being based out of NAS Pensacola.
The Decisive and Dauntless each carry a crew of about 76, and the Cutter Cypress, which has been based at Pensacola since 2011, has a crew of about 48.
Representatives with the public affairs office for Coast Guard Sector Mobile, which commands Pensacola's Coast Guard station, did not return the News Journal's request for comment Friday.
Little said there is relief out there for members of the Coast Guard who need help, but also warned there are scams going around asking for donations to help.
He said if anyone needs help, they should look to existing organizations such as the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance group, which is awarding grants of $300 to $500 to enlisted members
"There's also the military banks," Little said. "Navy Federal Credit Union is offering interest-free loans. USAA is offering a loan at 0.01 percent up to $2,500. But what's important for people to know is that while these relief societies and these banks are offering these service for the Coast Guards and their families, it takes $150 million to cover the payroll for the Coast Guard every month. In an uncertain time, these institutions cannot be expected to carry the load of the United State government at a $150 million a month."
After previous government shutdowns have been resolved, federal workers whose paychecks were delayed have received back pay.
Little said his organization has helped send more than 100,000 emails to members of Congress urging them to pass funding for the Coast Guard, but he's been told meetings won't begin until after the new year.
"These men and women, they're still doing their job even though Congress can't be there," Little said. "So for Congress to come back and tell us, 'Hey, can we meet at the beginning of the year when we come back from our vacation?' It really kind of angers us."