The federal government enters its eighth day of a partial shutdown today, meaning some employees — including those working for the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S Forest Service in Gold Beach — won’t be getting paid Dec. 31.
The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military paid through the Department of Homeland Security. All the others of the military are paid through the Department of Defense, which is not impacted by the shutdown.
“What Congress may not realize is that service members will pay the price for this with their time to fill out paperwork to take out personal loans and grants to cover their bills, not to mention the time it takes to pay back any loans received after the government shutdown is resolved,” said Chief Petty Officers Associan (CPOA) President Jon Ostrowski. “Our Coast Guard members deserve better than this.”
At Station Chetco River, at the Port of Brookings Harbor, it will be business as usual.
“We’ll continue to perform our duties — essential services, law enforcement response, port and homeland safety and security, search and rescue and environmental response,” said Master Chief Dave Pierias of the 44 men and women stationed there. “We have an obligation. The men and women here all understand. There will be no degradation in the services we provide for the public.”
The lack of a paycheck, however, could hit some of the guardsmen, he admitted.
“Especially for a lot of the junior members,” Pierias said. “But there’s programs available that will help offset this for them —interest-free loans to get these through tougher times. We’re all just hoping (federal budget issues are resolved) as quickly as possible.”
U.S. Forest Service employees in Gold Beach were among those sent home until a budget is approved and funds are made available again. A recorded message tells callers there will be no one to answer phones or emails until that yet-to-be-determined date.
This is the third partial federal government shutdown this year.
The problem started last week when Congress could only agree to fund about 75 percent of the budget through next September, including the Pentagon, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services.
But a full third of federal employees — from federal parks, the justice system, homeland security, law enforcement, the IRS and transportation — were affected, with some being furloughed and sent home and other “essential” employees ordered to continue work without pay. It is up to Congress to see that the employees get pay retroactive to the beginning of the shutdown.
Congress is deadlocked on the budget because President Donald Trump is adamant about getting $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexico/United States border. Neither side is likely to blink until Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House, officials have said.
The Dow Jones industrial average blinked; it had one of its worst weeks in decades, falling about 4,400 points, or 16 percent, since October.
Travelers will have the usual hassle getting through airports, as TSA employees remain on duty alongside air traffic controllers, to ensure the safety of commercial aviation. Passports and visas will still be issued — until that branch of government runs out of reserve funds.
Federal prison employees will remain on the job, as will those in immigration enforcement, the National Weather Service and USDA meat and poultry inspectors.
Also still operating is the Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Any time the U.S. Coast Guard is threatened with budget shortfalls or government shutdowns, citizens in Curry County have become vocal.
Station Chetco River is based at the mouth of the river at the Port of Brookings Harbor, deemed the safest entrance to port than any other in the Coast Guard’s district.
It is responsible for the stretch of ocean Cape Blanco to more than 20 miles below the California-Oregon border, including Crescent City. Their duties include rough water rescues, maritime environmental protection, maritime law enforcement, boating safety and implementation of commercial fishing vessel safety regulations.
The crews are routinely lauded as heroes when their boats or helicopters are summoned to the scene of a boating incident, plane crash or to rescue someone off the coast’s rocky seastacks.
Senate Bill 545
The CPOA Thursday urged Congress to reintroduce Senate Bill 545, the Pay Our Coast Guard Act.
Introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, the bill makes continuous appropriations for Coast Guard pay in the event of a government shutdown.
“This legislation would bring parity with the Department of Defense military and civilian personnel and we urge Congress to pass it now,” said CPOA national President Jon Ostrowski. “Our Coast Guard personnel carry out an expansive multi-mission responsibility as it relates to both national and homeland security. This current shutdown brings a severe hardship on our active duty members who work in the same capacity as their military counterparts of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.”
Coast Guard officials say the government has a responsibility to adequately maintain their ranks as it does other military service branches.
“These men and women always put their country first and serve honorably,” Ostrowski said. “Congress and the Administration need to fix this now and prevent this from happening during any future political disagreements.”