Coast Guard members are facing the possibility of no pay for the second time in a row since the beginning of the partial government shutdown last year.
A loophole was exposed at the 11th hour, allowing service members to be paid the last time their paychecks were at risk — but that way was shut when the New Year began.
Kelly Rue, the spouse of an active duty Coast Guard member stationed locally, said the continued endangerment of Coast Guard pay has been “very frustrating.”
“My husband can’t just not show up to work,” she said. “But you can sit here and keep crying, or take action to do whatever you need to do.”
While some balked at a Coast Guard memo suggesting members create additional income through other jobs, yard sales or house-sitting, Rue took no offense to the suggestion.
“I think it’s a great idea. I see it in a positive light,” she said. “But is it something we should have to do? Absolutely not.”
Rue said there’s no way a garage sale or a babysitting gig will replace the gap from the absence of a paycheck, but the method does help create supplemental income for small, day-to-day purchases. She’s sold a few items in this manner and cut back on a few expenses such as the swimming lessons her son has been asking for.
Rue also had to make another round of calls to various creditors, who she says have been “incredible,” to tell them for a second time that Coast Guard members are not being paid.
Rue, who is fighting Lyme disease, picked up a part-time job in the past month.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” she said. “It’s a lesson that the most important thing is that when it does get hard, it’s important to not dig your head in the sand and to stand up.”
Her son’s school has offered free lunches for him, and fellow Coast Guard families along with close neighbors have been helpful, Rue said.
But she is disappointed by the apparent the lack of a large scale community response. When asked if she has heard of any fundraisers or outreach efforts attempting to help Coast Guard families, Rue was unable to name one.
“It is disheartening, especially since it’s supposed to be a big Coast Guard area,” Rue said. “It would be nice if Humboldt or Eureka would reach out and say, ‘What can we do for families affected by the shutdown?’ “
Lt. Commander Matthew Kroll, the regional spokesman for the Coast Guard, said they are really starting to feel the decrease in support that the Coast Guard normally has. For example, the on-base dining facility where Kroll is stationed has closed down since he last spoke with the Times-Standard in December.
“What you don’t normally see, the support mechanisms (normally) in place are really starting to show their worth,” he said. “There are a lot of little things eroding readiness.”
Kroll doesn’t believe it would be possible for an active duty Coast Guard member to take on another full-time job. While a part-time job might be more viable, it would have to be approved by higher-ups.
“The Coast Guard is already demanding,” he said. “You’re limited on what you can do to get a second job.”
Cari Thomas, chief executive officer of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial aid to members, said the organization is ready to assist Coast Guard members across the country with up to $15 million. While the figure may seem large, Thomas was quick to provide some staggering context. In the entire history of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which was founded in 1924, the organization has provided about $187 million in assistance to Coast Guard members.
“On a typical payday, (it) takes $150 million to pay the entire workforce,” she said. “We don’t have $150 million dollars … that gives you an understanding of where we’re at.”
Thomas said the organization is prioritizing aid for its most junior members, as well as members who have dependents. Thomas said the Coast Guard’s most junior members can apply for up to $750 in assistance, and members with dependents can apply for up to $1000. People who fall outside of the criteria can still apply for assistance for case-by-case assessments.
“I wish we could do more, but we will do all we can do,” she said. “Shutdowns have occurred in the past, but typically they’ve never affected the military (like this).”
Gary Greene, a consumer loan manager at Coast Central Credit Union, said the organization is doing what it can to help Coast Guard members who are part of the credit union.
“We’re offering to our membership a short-term loan with 0 percent interest for up to 60 days to help them out,” he said. “There is some limited criteria for approval, but it is an option.”
Greene said the maximum amount offered by the loan is equivalent to one month’s pay, with a two-month payback period.
Greene said, however, due to the prolonged nature of the partial shutdown, the organization is open to “shifting the scenario.” He said he knows of several other credit unions offering similar accommodations but was unsure about other local financial institutions.
By Saturday, the shutdown will have entered its 22nd day, making it the longest in U.S. history.
Congressman Jared Huffman said the prevailing view he has heard is that President Donald Trump “wants to break the record.”
“He feels like he has to show his base he’s doing everything he can to pretend to build this wall,” he said. “We’ve passed the point where Trump realizes he’s not going to get a penny for the wall — he knows that.”
Huffman said at this point, it’s all about political optics. He expressed frustration over the reality that everyone knows the next step is the declaration of a national emergency, followed by legally invalid attempts to “grab funding,” which will then be stopped by the courts.
“When I saw this administration is advising (the Coast Guard) to have garage sales and things like that, I wanted to pull my hair out,” he said. “It’s absurd and completely unacceptable.”
Huffman said he’s disgusted and dismayed that Coast Guard members are being treated this way.
“I will make damn sure they get back pay when we get through this disastrous chapter, and I’ll make sure this never happens again,” he said.
Huffman is in support of the “Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act,” introduced as a companion bill earlier this week by Congressman Peter De Fazio. He said he’s been voting every single day to re-open the government.
Until then, Rue said she stands proud of her husband, who has donned his uniform every day, pay or not, without complaint. While Lyme disease prevents her from having a glass of wine to ease the stress, it doesn’t stop her from having a much-needed laugh here and there when she scrolls through the Coast Guard Memes page on Facebook, which she said humorously captures the realities of many in the Coast Guard.
“You gotta learn to laugh,” she said. “The sun always rises after it’s dark, and every day has the chance to be a better day.”
Readers who wish to donate to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance can donate online at https://cgmahq.networkforgood.com/projects/63225-lifeline-for-a-shipmate. Readers who are interested in hosting a fundraiser with the assistance of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance can call 800-881-2462.
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.