Bill to Restore U.S. Coast Guard Pay Moves Ahead

File image courtesy USCG

Published Jan 18, 2019 5:14 PM by Paul Benecki

The House, Senate and White House may be close to passing a bill that would provide pay for the U.S. Coast Guard beginning February 1. According to Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), congressional leadership has agreed to pass Sen. John Thune's Pay Our Coast Guard Act, which would restore normal funding levels for the service until a comprehensive appropriations bill is passed.

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) met with President Donald Trump on Friday, and he told reporters that the White House is supportive of the bill. 

Due to the ongoing shutdown, the U.S. Coast Guard has not received pay since December 31, marking the first time in history that American servicemembers have not been paid because of a lapse in appropriations. Unlike other federal employees affected by the shutdown, active-duty coastguardsmen have no choice but to keep working: as essential personnel, they cannot be furloughed; as members of the military, they cannot legally quit; and as the Coast Guard does not have funding for payroll, they cannot be paid. 

“It’s a definite slap in the face,” said active-duty Coast Guard servicemember Wade Hinkley, speaking to the Huffington Post. “If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you don’t get that paycheck, it’s a sting. If you don’t get that paycheck, you have to find a way to provide for your family.”

For now, civil society groups are helping to fill the gap, with community fundraisers, small-scale grant programs, pop-up food pantries and even diaper drives for families. While essential, these relief efforts cannot fully offset the loss of $150 million in compensation per pay cycle, and it is unclear how long they can be sustained. 

In an op-ed published Friday, four veterans who each held the Coast Guard's top enlisted post took Washington to task for failing to pay its bills. "Our government leaders also took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and to 'well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office' that they now hold. We believe they are derelict in those duties," wrote Rick Trent, Vincent Patton, Frank Welch and Skip Bowen, who all served as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. "[Servicemembers] don't deserve to have their pay held hostage by their own government leadership, who are refusing to sit down at the table and work out a deal."