WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the partial government shutdown drags into its 21st day, one of Oregon's senators has joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing to provide pay for members of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the only branch of the military to be working unpaid.
“Coast Guard members are risking their lives to keep Oregon’s coasts safe, yet are stressing over missed payments on mortgages, rents, utilities, child care, and more,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. “This is irresponsible and unacceptable, and we need to make sure our military members feel secure in their daily lives while they’re protecting our nation."
Coast Guard employees have been encouraged to "consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a 'mystery shopper'" in lieu of pay, according to recent reporting by the Washington Post. These suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet issued by the Coast Guard Support Program to thousands of employees either furloughed or working without pay.
A statement from Merkley's office cited the recent deaths of three fisherman off the Oregon coast, to which USCG rescuers responded. Rescuers like those, according to Merkley, are among the thousands of USCG personnel going unpaid during the shutdown.
"When the fishermen’s boat capsized on the stormy Pacific Ocean, Coast Guard ship and air crews searched through the storm for the fishermen who were thrown overboard. Tragically, the men did not survive," Merkley's office said.
The Pay Our Coast Guard Act promises to appropriate funds in order to pay salaries to members of the Coast Guard, civilian USCG employees, and contractors working with them. It would also authorize payments for death benefits, funeral travel, and housing allowances.
“I recognize that hundreds of thousands of other federal employees are not being paid,” Merkley said, “and I will do everything I can to fight to right that wrong, as well.”
The bill is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of the following lawmakers: Senators John Thune (R-SD), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Doug Jones (D-AL), Susan Collins (R-ME), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
The bill and a companion measure in the House of Representatives have been introduced, but not yet passed.