Coast Guard Finally Getting Back Pay After Month-Long Shutdown

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute are greeted Monday, Dec. 31, 2018 at their homeport in St. Petersburg, Florida following a 59-day patrol in the Caribbean. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)
Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute are greeted Monday, Dec. 31, 2018 at their homeport in St. Petersburg, Florida following a 59-day patrol in the Caribbean. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

Some Coast Guard families began receiving back pay Monday while bracing for the possibility that another government shutdown Feb. 15 could again leave them scrambling to cover bills and put food on the table.

In Oregon, Stacey Benson, whose husband has served 19 years in the service, said back pay from the 35-day government shutdown was in her family's account Monday morning.

Coast Guard officials said they are working to deliver back pay by Wednesday to all of the more than 42,000 Coast Guard members affected by the longest government shutdown in history.

Benson, who helped start up "Be The Light" food banks for struggling Coast Guard families during the shutdown, said the food banks essentially closed Sunday, after President Donald Trump signed a bill Friday opening the government for three weeks while Congress and the White House seek agreement on funding for a border wall.

However, Benson said that volunteers are "making arrangements" to restart the food banks "just in case" the government shuts down again Feb. 15.

"If it happens, we're prepared for the worst," she said.

At the food bank in Astoria, Oregon, Benson estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 pounds of goods had been collected for distribution, including "pounds and pounds and pounds of ground beef and huge bags of dog and cat food."

The shutdown strained donors' resources to the point they're asking for donations themselves.

Brett Reistad, national commander of the American Legion, said efforts by the group to assist Coast Guard families had essentially drained the veterans organization's Temporary Assistance Fund.

"I've been in the Legion 38 years," he said in a phone interview, "and I've not experienced an instance like this.”

Reistad added that the Legion was reaching out to supporters to replenish the fund.

During the shutdown, the Legion distributed more than $1 million from the fund in the form of grants of $500 to $1,500 to needy Coast Guard families, Reistad said. Since Jan. 15, the organization had approved about 1,500 grants to a total of 1,713 families -- specifically targeted at the 3,170 children in those families, he added.

"We try to stay out of politics" as a veterans service organization, Reistad said, but "we have to recognize the possibility of this happening again" Feb 15 if Congress and the White House fail to compromise.

"These are our brothers and sisters," he said of Coast Guard members. "They were out there risking their lives, saving lives" during the shutdown without pay.

He asked anyone interested in replenishing the Temporary Assistance Fund to visit Legion.org for more information.

The White House was standing firm Monday on the president's demand for $5.7 billion to fund an extension of the southern border wall. Trump said over the weekend that he would allow the government to shut down again or declare a national emergency to take money from the military budget if Congress doesn't agree to fund the wall.

At a White House briefing Monday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the solution is to "call your Democratic member of Congress and ask them to fix the problem. This is a simple fix."

She said Trump "is going to do what it takes" to provide border security.

He would prefer to do that through legislation, Sanders said but, if Congress balks, "the president will be forced to take a different path."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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