It’s mid-January 2019, and the Shutdown has reached its fourth week. We reported last week on how the Tantrum Over the Wall was affecting people nationwide, including some of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who have been furloughed or must work without pay. This week, we’re looking closer to home: some federal employees you may never think about, right here in Alameda County, are being required to work without pay, and may be heading for dire financial straits.
Close to 1,000 uniformed men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard live in Alameda County. Coast Guard Base Alameda is a major homeport of four Legend class cutters that go on months-long patrols: USCGC Bertholf, Waesche, Munro, and Dorothy Stratton. Each holds over 113 personnel, and some are on patrol now while their families are left behind to deal with the financial stresses of this shutdown.
The 41,000 women and men of the U.S Coast Guard were paid once before January 1, and have missed their first bi-weekly paycheck in January. However, since Coast Guard members are considered critical personnel, they must work without pay during the shutdown. Of course, their expenses aren’t put on hold; nor are the literally life-or-death nature of the responsibilities some of them have, such as those at Station Golden Gate who participate in search-and-rescue.
The government has responded to the situation by adding insult to fiscal injury, telling Coast Guard members to see themselves through the hard financial times brought on by the Current Occupant’s wall-inspired tantrum: Have a garage sale! Be a dog-walker! Be a mystery shopper! says a Coast Guard support tip sheet. “Yes, your credit score may suffer during this time,” it helpfully notes. “Bankruptcy is a last option.” Former Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad W. Allen has decried this shutdown as unnecessary political theater. Perhaps we should talk about moral bankruptcy of a government that refuses to pay the men and women who serve their country because one man insists on a so-called defense system that experts repudiate?
No paychecks for government workers like our Coasties doesn’t just harm them and their families: it also means immediate economic impacts to their local communities and threats to the well-being of local businesses. Based on previous shutdowns of similar length (although this is now the longest government shutdown in US history), one study concluded that “the shutdown led to an immediate decline in average household spending of almost 10 percent” and “households with a member who was furloughed and required to stay home from work slashed their spending more dramatically – by 15 percent to 20 percent.” Some small businesses in the area are already reporting dramatic losses because the federal workers who are their frequent customers aren’t getting paychecks.
IEB Governance Committee member Ted Lam says:
People often ask me what I miss most as a retired Coast Guard officer: the service? Or the work? I always say: I miss the people. They are the most patriotic, inspiring, and unselfish people I have ever worked with. So during this difficult time for the Coast Guard, I’m looking for ways to help my old shipmates, and I can tell you there’s a great way to help. It’s the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. I’ve seen first hand the amazing results of Mutual Assistance’s work to help the youngest and most vulnerable in the CG. I hope you’ll join me.
You can donate to help a member of the Coast Guard on the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance website.
You can also call our Senators and tell them you want them to insist on reopening the government without money for the border wall. Please call Sen. Feinstein at 202-224-3841, and Sen. Harris at 202-224-3553 to thank them for their support, and tell them:
My name is ____, my zip code is ___, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. The government shutdown is hurting people and communities, all because of a wall that’s a terrible idea to begin with. I want to thank Senator Feinstein/Harris for voting against advancing legislation that wouldn’t have reopened the government without funding for the Wall. Please do everything you can to reopen the government without funding for the Wall.
Ted Lam and Elizabeth Douglas contributed to this article.
Photo of Coast Guard Island in Oakland Estuary between Oakland and Alameda United States Coast Guard, by Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik Swanson.