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U.S. Coast Guard Families Receive Back Pay After Shutdown

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A crewmember from the cutter Valiant is reunited with his family after a long patrol, Mayport, Florida, Jan. 29 (USCG)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-01-30 18:55:00

U.S. Coast Guard servicemembers at home and abroad are receiving back pay this week for their January 15 paycheck, which went unpaid due to the 35-day government shutdown. Thanks to an agreement between President Donald Trump and the leaders of the House and Senate, the federal government has been funded temporarily through February 15, giving Coast Guard families two more pay periods to prepare for another possible shutdown. 

"I know a lot of families are prepping and stocking up as much as they can with these next two paychecks, so it's a relief, but we're still not out of the woods yet," said Britaini Armitage, the wife of a coastguardsman stationed near Mobile, Alabama, speaking to local media. 

42,000 active-duty Coast Guard servicemembers worked without pay between January 1 and January 25, marking the first time that members of the military have gone unpaid due to a lapse in appropriations. Unlike other federal employees, they could not quit to seek paying work elsewhere, as they are required to complete the terms of their military service. 

National and local aid efforts were launched to bridge the gap for Coast Guard families, with assistance ranging from loans and grants to food and diaper drives to community dinners. “It has been challenging, mostly for our younger folks that just joined,” said chief warrant officer John D. Rice, speaking to the local NBC affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas. The starting pay for an enlisted coastguardsman is about $21,000 per year.

Shutdown may resume

President Trump has indicated that funding may lapse again if Congress does not provide $5.7 billion for a proposed border wall. The previous shutdown centered on the same demand, but the wall was not funded in the agreement to temporarily reopen the government.

That agreement lasts until February 15, and members of Congress from both parties are currently in talks to find a more permanent compromise. However, the negotiations over whether the U.S. will pay for the wall are reportedly at much the same place as before the shutdown: the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not interested in funding the project, while the president insists that it must be incorporated in any potential deal. “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on border security is not discussing or contemplating a wall or physical barrier, they are wasting their time!” Trump wrote Tuesday in a social media post. 

On Sunday, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he thought the odds for the talks' success were not good. "I personally think it's less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board," he said. 

The president has also reserved the right to pursue another option: to declare a national emergency at the border, repurpose funds already allocated by Congress for military construction projects and build the wall using military resources. The Hill has confirmed that one potential funding source could be a pool of $13.9 billion in unspent appropriations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an amount that Congress originally approved in a disaster response bill for Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma.