April 19, 2019
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Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown

Sean D. Elliot | AP
Sean D. Elliot | AP
In this Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 photo, U.S. Coast Guard ensign Dana Rohde, center, works with Lt. j.g. Austin Fullmer at the controls of the cutter Juniper as Ensign Emily Cox, left, records operational information during Aids to Navigation maintenance on two buoys in the waters of Long Island Sound.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security, and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

The tip sheet, titled “Managing your finances during a furlough,” applies to the Coast Guard’s 8,500-person civilian work force. About 6,400 of them are on indefinite furlough, while 2,100 are working without pay after being identified as essential workers, said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman. They were last paid for the two-week period ending Dec. 22.

“While it may be uncomfortable to deal with the hard facts, it’s best to avoid the ‘hide your head in the sand’ reaction,” the tip sheet said. “Stay in charge of the situation by getting a clear understanding of what’s happening.”

The Coast Guard removed the tip sheet from the support program’s website late Wednesday morning after The Washington Post inquired about it.

The suggestions do not “reflect the Coast Guard’s current efforts to support our workforce during this lapse in appropriations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman. “As such, this guidance has been removed.”

The situation shows the increasing strain that the service is under as the partial government shutdown continues. About 41,000 active-duty Coast Guardsmen are working without pay. Their next check is due Jan. 15.

Overall, about 420,000 government employees are working under the promise they will be paid retroactively, with nearly another 350,000 on furlough at home.

The Coast Guard’s status as an unfunded military service increasingly has become a political issue, as family members share their worries about a shutdown with no end in sight amid a political dispute about President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. Coast Guardsmen rely not only on paychecks, but also now-frozen government housing allowances in order to afford housing in expensive coastal cities where many are assigned.

Late last month, the Coast Guard announced that it had found enough money to pay its service members one last time through the end of the year. The Trump administration took credit afterward, releasing a statement that said the president and some of his staff members had worked “round the clock” to address the issue.

Coast Guard leaders have sought to provide as much information as possible, and offer suggestions for where financial assistance might be possible. Late last month, it also released a letter for families to provide to creditors while seeking temporary financial relief.

“This lapse in beyond in appropriations is beyond our members’ control and is expected to be a temporary situation,” said the letter, signed by Rear Adm. Matthew Shibley. “We appreciate your organization’s understanding and flexibility in working with Coast Guard members who request forbearance on their obligations until this situation is resolved.”

Coast Guard family members said Wednesday that there are no easy solutions as the political stalemate continues, but that they are getting by.

Jacqueline Esparza, whose husband is in the Coast Guard and stationed in Seattle, said not all families affiliated with the service live in houses where having a garage sale is possible. Service members, who are still required to work, also are not easily able to find supplemental income, she said.

“Doing odd jobs and selling items we don’t need anymore is a temporary fix,” she said. “It’s not going to help us pay the rent.”

Natalie Daniels, whose husband is stationed in San Diego, said her family’s situation isn’t “dire just yet,” but missing the upcoming paycheck would definitely “start the clock” on that. Their family includes four children.

“I am not afraid of this shutdown,” she said. “I am afraid of the current political discourse that may discourage future generations from wanting to serve their country on the basis of being used as political pawns.”

Daniels said both political parties are “playing a game of political chicken with Americans,” and it needs to stop.

“Frankly, I am exhausted, stressed, and emotionally drained by our current political climate, but if you were to ask my husband what I’ve said to him when he’s called every night, he would tell you I’ve said, ‘We are fine,’ ” she said. “That’s how a military spouse supports her husband, and that is how a military spouse supports their country.”

 



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