SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Coast Guard stations throughout New England and the rest of the country are continuing to operate during the partial government shutdown even though funding is limited or unavailable.
“The Coast Guard, as a whole, is still working,” said Petty Officer Third Class Zachary Hupp out of the First District External Affairs Office in Boston. “The pay is not really up to us … We do still have to maintain what is expected of us.”
A public affairs officer based in southern Maine sent the following response to a reporter’s request for information: “During the lapse in funding, our First District External Affairs office in Boston will be covering all questions/queries/interviews regarding the shutdown.”
In the third week of the partial government shutdown that began on Dec. 22, it has been reported that more than 470,000 employees of the government are working without pay. Others, including about 100 employees of Acadia National Park, are on furloughed leave until the government resumes operations.
With or without pay, the Coast Guard stations in New England, which include six in Maine, must perform essential duties such as search-and-rescue missions, port and homeland sea and safety and law enforcement in response to environmental emergencies.
“Anytime we have an issue with budget stuff, there are going to be people affected,” said Hupp. “Even if we’re not getting a paycheck, we’re going to take care of the things we need to.”
Although the Coast Guard is a branch of the United States military, like the Army or Air Force, its operations are funded by the Department of Homeland Security budget versus the budget of the United States Department of Defense, as the other branches are.
Employees and reservists with the Coast Guard were told in December they would not receive pay for duties performed during that month because their department’s budget was not approved prior to the government shutdown. Other branches of the military are not facing this issue because the budget for the Department of Defense was approved, with an increase, earlier in 2018.
With the help of senators, including Maine’s Susan Collins, funding was approved to pay employees covered by the Homeland Security budget through the end of 2018.
If the shutdown continues, it is still unclear whether Coast Guard and other government employees affected will receive a paycheck mid-January or retroactive pay for duties performed. Officials within the military branch are taking proactive measures to support their members in case funding is not available.
On the website Coast Guard All Hands: the official blog of the United States Coast Guard workforce, there is an update focused on government shutdown frequently asked questions and loan information. There is also a letter written by the Acting Assistant Command for Human Resources Matthew W. Sibley advising that members of the Coast Guard can present to any financial institutions or other parties to ward off credit issues.
In the letter dated Dec. 27, 2018, Sibley states: “Because Coast Guard members will not receive pay during the lapse in appropriations, our members may have difficulty in timely meeting their financial obligations. This lapse in appropriations is beyond our members’ control and is expected to be a temporary situation.”
Hupp noted there are certain seasonal aspects of the Coast Guard that are easier to divert resources from at this time, such as recreational and commercial boat documents.
“We don’t change the pay,” Hupp said about the Coast Guard having say over whether their staff and crews get paid. “We just monitor where our resources can best be used … We are going to be still performing the duties that are necessary.”