WASHINGTON — In a surprise reversal Friday night, Coast Guard officials announced that service members will receive their regularly scheduled paychecks next week, despite the ongoing government shutdown.
In a message to all Coast Guard members, Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray said that service and Department of Homeland Security officials “identified a way to pay our military workforce on 31 December.”
The move means that service members won’t go an entire month without paychecks, as many had feared when the shutdown began on Dec. 22. Earlier in the week, Coast Guard officials had announced that without an end to the shutdown or new emergency legislation, the paychecks would stop completely.
“I recognize that this changes course from previously provided guidance on military pay,” Ray wrote in the message. “However, this is outstanding news for our military workforce.”
Service and administration officials did not provide details on how they managed to cover the $75 million shortfall in funding. Appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security lapsed on Dec. 21 when Congress and the White House failed to reach a deal on full year funding for a host of federal agencies.
Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are unaffected by the budget stalemate because funding for their departments was finalized last fall. The same goes for veterans benefits, since the Department of Veterans Affairs saw its full fiscal 2018 budget approved in September.
But Coast Guard funding is handled through the Department of Homeland Security, and about 42,000 service members have been required to work through the shutdown without pay.
Ray noted in his message that the funding work-around will not apply to the next scheduled pay period on Jan. 15, if the shutdown continues until then.
But it does mean that many Coast Guard members anticipating new year rent payments and post-holiday credit card statements will see their regular paychecks arrive on time next week, creating less financial havoc for their families.
“While this is a great New Year’s gift to our Coasties, we encourage lawmakers to realize this could happen again in a few weeks,” said Mike Little, executive director of the Sea Service Family Foundation. “Just because the threat is gone tonight, Congress and the White House still have a long way to pass a budget. Their paychecks are still stuck in the middle of that fight.”
Advocates were working in recent days to pass emergency legislation authorizing Homeland Security officials to process paychecks despite the partial shutdown. They sent nearly 70,000 emails to congressional offices asking for action, but the proposal never got any significant legislative momentum.
In the last week, Coast Guard officials have said child care subsidies may also be halted during the shutdown, and some non-essential travel will be curtailed. Service exchange locations are scheduled to remain open for now, as will service day care centers. Several public affairs and public outreach offices have already been closed.
The partial government shutdown entered its seventh day on Friday and is poised to become the third longest since 1980 if it stretches until Jan. 3, the day the new Congress is scheduled to be seated.
Roughly 420,000 federal employees are working without pay during the latest shutdown, caused by a budget stalemate between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump over costs related to his proposed southern border wall.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.