Jan. 12, 2019 — “As a recent Coast Guard City, we made a commitment to support our Station Siuslaw River,” said Florence Mayor Joe Henry. “I respect our Coast Guard and I respect what they do, and not just because I have needed them on the water before. We have rough waters out here, and they are always there.”
The Coast Guard’s motto is Semper Paratus — Always Ready. It is a motto Coast Guardsmen continue to follow even without the promise of pay. Like many other federal workers — and unlike other branches of the military — the U.S. Coast Guard is either on furlough or working without pay until the U.S. federal government shutdown ends. This impacts over 41,000 active duty Coast Guard members, 6,200 reservists and 8,500 civilian personnel.
The current shutdown began Dec. 22, 2018, as of today surpassing the previous longest shutdown in American history. The Coast Guard was able to pay members on Jan. 1, but the next payment, scheduled for Jan. 15, will not come through without emergency measures getting passed by the U.S. House or Senate.
Both chambers of Congress have introduced their own bills to fund the Coast Guard, the “Pay our Coast Guard Parity Act,” introduced in the house by Oregon’s Rep. Peter DeFazio, and the “Pay Our Coast Guard Act of 2019,” introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Thune and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. While both are still in committee and not expected to pass this weekend, the bills would provide continuing appropriations to the U.S. Coast Guard for any period during which interim or full-year appropriations are not in effect.
“Coast Guard members are risking their lives to keep Oregon’s coasts safe, yet are stressing over missed payments on mortgages, rents, utilities, child care and more,” Merkley said. “This is irresponsible and unacceptable, and we need to make sure our military members feel secure in their daily lives while they’re protecting our nation.”
A press release from the senator’s office referenced the Coast Guard’s efforts in responding to and investigating the capsizing of the commercial fishing vessel Mary B II, which led to the deaths of three fishermen at the entrance of Yaquina Bay in Newport, Ore., Tuesday night.
According to the bill, the appropriations would provide pay and allowances for members of the Coast Guard, civilian employees and contractors; the payment of a death gratuity, funeral travel and the temporary continuation of the basic allowance for housing for dependents of members of the Coast Guard dying on active duty; and retired pay. The act would remain in place until the enactment of specified Coast Guard appropriations legislation.
“President Trump and his Mar-a-Lago cronies may not have trouble ‘adjusting’ if they miss a paycheck, but for thousands of Oregon families, a paycheck means a mortgage payment, childcare, or a medical bill,” DeFazio said. “More than 1,200 active duty Coast Guard personnel and reservists stationed in Oregon are currently working without pay or furloughed while President Trump holds their wages hostage. … The act will provide financial stability to these men and women by ensuring they get paid despite the government shutdown.”
A retired Coast Guardsman in the area said Coast Guard personnel will likely get back pay after the shutdown ends. However, this doesn’t help with costs incurred in the present, including groceries, rent or mortgage, utilities, childcare, etc. Options in this case can be for individual members to get a mutual assistance loan through a Coast Guard nonprofit, which are interest-free and can be paid back over time.
“If members have Navy Federal Credit Union, they will get their paycheck in advance as an interest-free loan as long as the furlough is in effect,” the retired Coastie said. “But some of the younger folks who have no savings may have trouble making ends meet.”
These times can be especially hard for younger members, who are likely to live paycheck to paycheck.
Step in Henry, the Oregon Coast Military Museum (OCMM) and the concerned community in and near Florence — A Coast Guard City.
Henry has spent much of the past week on the phone with various representatives in the Coast Guard hierarchy. Most aren’t able to talk about the situation, or offer only guarded answers on how people or communities can help.
“We are still going around in circles on how we can channel funds to the local Coast Guard unit. It is like a catch-22,” Henry said.
Directly giving gifts or money to military personnel is considered an ethics violation. However, offering military discounts is acceptable, or inviting people over for a meal.
Henry also requested that local landlords delay when they require rent checks.
“Again, that is a tough situation as that has a trickle-down effect,” Henry said. “Landlords often use rents to pay for mortgages or other things.”
The Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association (CPAO), a military nonprofit, may also be a way to send funds directly to area Coast Guard units, though there is no way to guarantee money given to the local sector would go to Station Siuslaw River.
“I know how important it is to our community to know that our station is taken care of,” Henry said.
Several groups are working together to set up a fund.
“We are exploring multiple resources and working with other organizations such as Cross Road Assembly Church, Siuslaw Outreach Services, Salvation Army and Central Lincoln PUD for aid and assistance programs that are available to our Coast Guard members,” said OCMM Executive Director Cal Applebee. “It is time for us to step up and find a way to support these folks.”
He requested that community groups and businesses create and promote their military discounts or special offerings, such as “buy one, get one free” meals, and let the museum know so the list can be sent out.
“I know some industries have regulatory constraints themselves as to what they can offer discounted or free, so if that is your situation and you would still like to provide assistance, monetary donations can be made to Cross Road, SOS and Salvation Army as designated funds specific to Coast Guard assistance,” Applebee said.
These steps might help in the interim, but only if local representatives get no further news about restrictions over the weekend.
In addition, military discounts may help affected Coast Guard families, but will not necessarily help the other furloughed federal employees in the area.
“I believe everyone thinks we should support our Coast Guard,” Henry said. “I myself was unaware of the other federal employees in our area until this week. I would hope those same discounts be available for them, but I don’t know how that can work yet.”
It is something Merkley, DeFazio and other Oregon representatives are working to address.
Merkley said, “I recognize that hundreds of thousands of other federal employees are not being paid and I will do everything I can to fight to right that wrong, as well.”
Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, addressed the Coast Guard on Jan. 9 through a recorded video and written email, both available at www.dcms.uscg.mil/budget/.
“Your Coast Guard leadership team recognizes the concern and anxiety across our mission-ready total workforce. … You have answered a higher calling to protect America, defend our Nation’s prosperity and save lives, earning the continued trust and confidence of the nation. We remain a ready, relevant and responsive Coast Guard,” he said. “Now is the time to ‘lead through leaders’ and I call on you to be intrusive leaders at your respective units, demonstrating empathy, conveying key information, and identifying and ensuring our most vulnerable shipmates get the assistance they need.”
He directed both active-duty and civilian Coast Guard personnel to reference the above website for materials, advice and options.
“Our nation values the service and sacrifice of our workforce, and your professionalism and dedication are the backbone or main brace of what defines us as the world’s best Coast Guard,” Schultz said.
Through the length of this shutdown, which all signs indicate will extend through the weekend, U.S. Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River and its fellow sectors continue to serve — always ready.
UPDATE (1/12/19): In a Facebook post put up this morning (Jan. 12), Florence Mayor Joe Henry updated the community on ways they can help our local U.S. Coast Guard Station-Siuslaw River, including how to donate directly to the Chief Petty Officers Association to guarantee monies donated will be directed to the Siuslaw station by dropping them off at — or mailing them to — The Siuslaw News:
"Many in the community have already come forward asking how they can help..." he wrote. "... I have had several conversations with Coast Guard Sector North Bend as wells as the Admiral’s office in Seattle. I have confirmed that there are several ways that we as a community can help."
"There are going to be people in our local Coast Guard unit that will need assistance for basic need such as rent, utilities and so forth and I am asking our community to step up and help."