Dept. of Homeland Security Seeks Funding for Coast Guard Pay

File image courtesy USCG

By The Maritime Executive 01-15-2019 11:03:16

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is advocating within the administration and with Congress for a legislative fix to pay the U.S. Coast Guard. 42,000 active-duty servicemembers missed their paycheck on Tuesday due to the ongoing government shutdown, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen says that she is actively working to secure legislation to renew their pay. 

Since the shutdown began, President Donald Trump has indicated that he will not sign any funding bills for affected government agencies unless Congress appropriates $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall at the southern border. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has passed two bills to fund uncontested budget items and partially reopen the government, but the Senate has not taken them up, citing the president's opposition. 

Active-duty personnel in the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force have not been affected by the shutdown, as their service branches are housed under the Department of Defense, which has already been funded. As the Coast Guard is housed within DHS - the center of the funding dispute - it has not been paid. “Like the other branches of the U.S. military, active duty USCG should be paid for their service and sacrifice to this nation," Nielsen said in a statement Tuesday.

"Many of the employees of the Coast Guard are below the poverty line, and this morning I know that they're angry, they're frustrated, they're said, and they're still on duty," said Rear Adm. Cari Thomas (ret'd), the head of the relief agency Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, speaking to NPR on Tuesday. "And the civilians who have been furloughed feel guilty because their shipmates who are still at work are covering their duties, and they're not being paid either."

Veterans' advocacy groups have called on the government to find a solution to the pay gap, noting its serious effects on Coast Guard families. "Just because a Washington flow chart structures the Coast Guard under Homeland Security does not mean they should not be paid," said Brett P. Reistad, the head of the American Legion, in a statement earlier this month. "Members of the Coast Guard regularly perform heroic and lifesaving tasks on our behalf. They should not have to worry about bills and living expenses just because Congress and the White House cannot agree on a budget.”

Legislation has recently been introduced in both the House and the Senate to provide funding for the Coast Guard, though not for other DHS agencies like Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration. Overall, seventy-three percent of DHS employees are working without pay during the shutdown, including civilian border patrol and airport security agents.