Trump agreed to reopen the government. What does that mean for the Coast Guard?

In this Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, U.S. Coast Guardsmen Gustavo Rosas, who missed his first paycheck a day earlier during the partial government shutdown, monitors marine vessel traffic at Sector Puget Sound base in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

A temporary deal between President Trump and Democrats Friday ended a month-long partial government shutdown that affected hundreds of thousands of federal workers. Members of the Coast Guard were among those who have been working for weeks without pay, because unlike the other branches of the United States military, the Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security.

Stephen Flynn.

Active-duty members have been scraping to get by. There are reports, for example, of Coast Guard families relying on food banks to make ends meet or dipping into their limited savings in the midst of this political dispute.

Meanwhile, retirees, who get paid only once a month and some of whom depend on their pension as their main source of income, were looking at missing their first pension check at the end of the month, said Stephen Flynn, founding director of the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University, who served in the Coast Guard for 20 years before retiring in 2002.

Flynn shared his insights about how the shutdown affected Coast Guard members and which ramifications it could have on the future of the agency.

What was your reaction to President Trump’s announcement Friday to temporarily end the shutdown and what might this reprieve mean for the Coast Guard?

Relief. And a sense of frustration how this has gone on so long, the level of dysfunction, and a failure to appreciate how people who are serving their country and making tremendous sacrifices to do that. Hopefully there is a commitment here to not do this ever again.

Hopefully it will happen relatively quickly so people will get what they’ve lost in wages back. The great irony of this is that the fight has been over a border wall. Much more than our land borders, America has maritime borders. The Coast Guard has been impacted, of course, by resources and funding to do its mission, but also it’s not really clear that the Coast Guard is going to be getting lots of additional resources to do this mission even though border security is apparently the big focus of this whole shutdown.

Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska said the shutdown has had a crippling effect on the Coast Guard. What have you heard from active duty members on the impact the shutdown had on them?

It’s a great job, but it’s not known for great pay. Coast Guard folks are usually pressed pretty hard when they’re living and working in high-[cost] places, so living paycheck to paycheck is just a cold reality. You also have a number of Coast Guard folks who are husband and wife teams. The Coast Guard has the highest percentage of women in the armed services serving in uniform. So you have a double impact where they have to go to work, that’s what is required. They have to provide childcare in order for them to go to work. They have no income to pay child care.

How did the shutdown affect retirees like yourself?

[Had the shutdown continued], a pension check that Coast Guard retirees get on Jan. 31 would not have been paid out … The other armed services, the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army, they’re actually like a trust fund around which their pensions come out of and they would be unaffected by a government shutdown. The Coast Guard’s retirement pension system is tied to annual appropriations, so if the government is shut down, this is the first one that potentially impacts pensions as well.  

Which long-term repercussions do you anticipate this shutdown will have on the Coast Guard?

One, new people coming in. You always want to try to recruit the best and the brightest and the most capable people, and even the young people who didn’t have pause, their parents probably have some pause about encouraging them to do something where you essentially are going to have to go to work and they may not pay you.

I very much worry about the reenlistment impact this is going to have and that could be a really detrimental part, because you’re losing essentially your middle management.They have younger families, they have expenses; they went through this, and they really have to say, is this worthwhile to continue a career?

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