The power struggles and the government shut down in Washington, D.C. are very removed from the Florida Keys turquoise waters and drinks with little umbrellas. And yet, the matter will hit every close to home when more than 700 members of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed in the Keys will not receive a pay check on Jan. 15.
Even if the government shutdown stand off were to end today, it’s still unlikely the “Coasties” would be paid by the end of this pay period.
According to Coast Guard public affairs’ Crystalynn Kneen, based in Miami, it will take three to five business days to process the checks once legislation is passed whenever that may be.
For now, the Coast Guard men and women are working through the uncertainty.
“We are going to be here 24/7,” said Master Chief Timaree Sparks of Coast Guard Station Marathon. “And we appreciate the community’s support.”
Several local banks have come together with a plan to keep the Coast Guard afloat. First State Bank is offering a “no fee, no interest” loan to any member of the Coast Guard — or any other member of the federal government going without pay, for that matter. They only need to bring in a pay stub and appropriate ID, bank officials said, and are guaranteed same-day funds.
“First State Bank appreciates the service of our Coast Guard and federal employees and wants to try and ease the hardship placed on them during this shutdown,” said Karen Sharp, president and CEO of First State Bank. “In a situation that is out of their control, we trust this will give them some peace of mind to be able to at least remain in control of their daily needs and finances.”
The loans have to be paid back within 15 days of the next paycheck, or the government reopening — whichever occurs first.
Keys Federal Credit Union is offering a similar deal, but is emphasizing a personalized approach and urges customers to call the bank directly. “There’s a big difference between a two-year career Coast Guard employee who needs to defer a boat loan payment, and a twenty-five year member who wants to redeem a Certificate of Deposit (CD), without incurring a penalty,” said Maggie Sayer, CEO of Keys Federal Credit Union. She said the KFCU is historically a military financial institution in the Keys and when the shutdown appeared to be open ended, the bankers sat down to work on solutions.
“The Coast Guard ARE our community,” she said. “This whole thing has nothing to do with their personal choices.”
When the government shut down on Dec. 22, 2018, the Homeland Security Department found a way to supply the $75 million needed to cover pay for the Dec. 31 pay period. Members of the other branches of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — are receiving paychecks because the Department of Defense had already passed its budget before the shutdown.
There are approximately 800,000 federal workers and roughly 500,00 are deemed “essential” and so, are still working, but not receiving a paycheck such as Customs and Border Protection as well as the Coast Guard.
“Our Coast Guard is very valuable to us in the Keys, as a peninsula,” said State Attorney Dennis Ward. “They are a necessity and they do so much good work, with rescues and drug interdictions and other operations.”
Upon realizing the crisis facing the Keys personnel, Ward immediately started contacting members of the community to organize support.
“This is especially important to the Coast Guard people who live off base. They have leases, they need to feed their families,” said Ward.
Until recently, the Coast Guard operated under the umbrella of the Department of Transportation. Now it falls under the Department of Homeland Security.
Historically, Congress has paid personnel who were furloughed during previous lapses in appropriation, but this is not a guarantee, according to the Coast Guard spokesperson.
The federal government has been shut down for 19 days. The last time the federal shutdown was in January of 2018 for three days. In 1995-96, federal workers were furloughed for 26 days over two periods during the Clinton administration.