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U.S. Coast Guard back in business—for now

USCoastGuard

Friday’s announcement that the partial government shutdown had ended gave a sense of relief to members of the U.S. Coast Guard who had been working for five weeks without pay. Some Coast Guard families worry that another shutdown could resume in three weeks.

President Trump signed a three-week temporary funding bill on Friday to end the shutdown until February 15. “We have reached a deal to reopen the federal government,” Trump said from the Rose Garden at the White House. “I will make sure all employees receive their back pay very quickly, or as soon as possible.”

Lt. Amy Midgett, a Coast Guard spokesperson, told Stars and Stripes that it will take three to five days to pay Coast Guard members. There were widespread reports during the shutdown that Coast Guard families were going to food banks or seeking other resources because some could not afford basic necessities.

Retired Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, CEO of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, said his nonprofit provided $4.4 million in assistance to more than 4,000 members during the shutdown. Other nonprofits like the Coast Guard Foundation also provided $250,000 to help the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard salary freeze was the first time servicemembers in a U.S. Armed Force were not paid during a lapse in appropriations.

Communities and local marine businesses also rallied around the Coast Guard. The Seattle Boat Show held a food drive during the event, which ends of February 2, and a local Sea Tow franchise in Fort Myers gathered food and gift cards totaling $12,000. “We’ve built up such a strong relationship with the Coast Guard over the years and they never hesitate to help us out when we need it most, so it’s only right we return the favor,” said Heather O’Brien of Sea Tow Ft. Myers.

Sea Tow franchises in Tampa and Manasquan, New Jersey, also participated in collecting food and donations.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, who called the impasse between Trump and Congressional Democrats “unacceptable,” praised the new spending bill. “I recognize that the last five-plus weeks have been extremely trying and stressful for you and your families,” wrote Schultz in his announcement that funding had been restored. “But with the support of many remarkable Coast Guard communities across the nation; generous national service organizations and corporate entities; and our strong network of ombudsmen, spouse clubs, and Chief Petty Officers, you pulled together and demonstrated extraordinary patience, resiliency, and trust in your leaders.”

Schultz said he and the Coast Guard leadership were “so proud” of its members. “We are equally proud of your families that weathered adversity, unhesitatingly supporting your continued service,” he wrote.

Some Coast Guard families are preparing for another possible shutdown in February, according to the Navy Times. Mariah Battermann and Rachel Malcom, who have husbands in the Coast Guard in Rhode Island, told the paper they are sticking to “tight budgets” over the next few weeks.

"I would have breathed a much larger sigh of relief if it was a permanent, not temporary, agreement," Battermann told the paper. "We're just still uncertain as to how to proceed with this. For our household, we're definitely going to stay cautious."

"You can only be so happy because you just have to know that it could happen again," added Malcom. "We're going to be playing catch up, so I don't want to overspend."

Battermann and Malcom opened a resource center at a church in Newport, Rhode Island, for people affected by the government shutdown. The resource center included household goods.

Crystal Simmons, whose husband serves in the Coast Guard in Connecticut, also plans to stay on a tight budget. "You're looking at almost a week to process back pay and that gives us maybe two weeks to breathe a little more normally, then we may be in the same situation," Simmons told the paper. "I don't think I can really relax and go back to the way things were."

Simmons, who works at a local college, said some companies have allowed her family to delay payment on a few bills. “For a lot of families who are a one-income family, it’s going to take a much longer time,” said Simmons. “It’s so disheartening to know that.”

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