The U.S. Coast Guard, the oldest of the nation’s armed military service branches, has not always gotten the respect it has earned and deserves. Historically it has not always been grouped with the other branches. Today it is the only military service housed in the Department of Homeland Security instead of the Pentagon.
Coast Guard members were last paid December 31 but have been working without pay since January 15, due to the ongoing partial shutdown of federal services, the longest in our nation’s history. About 90 percent of the Coast Guard budget is non-defense discretionary funding. The other military branches were funded by an appropriation passed last year.
The shutdown affects about 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members and 1,300 civilians, according to a Coast Guard spokesman. An additional 7,400 Coast Guard civilians are on indefinite furlough.
The “non-mission-critical” functions affected include commercial vessel documentation. The Coast Guard’s National Vessel Documentation Center is closed to the public until further notice. Phone service and customer walk-in service is suspended. While applications may continue to be emailed, faxed or mailed to the facility, they will only be processed when operations resume. The same is true for the National Maritime Center in West Virginia, which handles merchant mariners’ documentation.
The shutdown is also affecting travel plans. The Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association (GNOBFA) has canceled a panel in its upcoming meeting April 3–5 because Coast Guard participants cannot plan to be there.
Stories are appearing in the media about Coast Guard families turning to food banks as they deplete their savings. In Seattle, a food bank staffed by retired Coast Guard workers is distributing food and household necessities to Coast Guard members. In New London, Conn., home of the Coast Guard Academy, a “pop-up food pantry” organized by the southeastern Connecticut chapter of the Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association and the Coast Guard Enlisted Association of Southeastern Connecticut, said its volunteers helped close to 1,000 people.
Coast Guard leaders have begun openly condemning the shutdown and its effects on Coast Guard families. Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, called the ongoing partial government shutdown “unacceptable” in a video message to service members and said, “We’re five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay. You, as members of the armed forces, should not be expected to shoulder this burden. … Your Coast Guard leadership team and the American people stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty, resilience and that of your families.”
The are many, many reasons why the shutdown is unfortunate and damaging and should be resolved quickly. For the sake of the Coast Guard members and their families, at least, we urge Washington leaders to get together to swiftly resolve the issues that caused it.