Carroll County resident Christy Ward’s husband is a chief warrant officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. He moonlights as an EMT.
Two jobs were a lot, Ward said, but her husband’s been forced to pick up another gig teaching CPR at Carroll Community College to make ends meet in light of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, which has forced active-duty Coast Guard members — among other federal employees — to work without knowing if or when they’ll be compensated.
The Coast Guard receives funding through the Department of Homeland Security, unlike the four other branches of the military, which are funded through the Department of Defense.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are paid during government shutdowns. The country’s “maritime first responder” is not.
Civilian employees of the guard have been furloughed, save for 1,300 “mission-essential” personnel. And the essential civilian personnel and active duty members must report to work despite not knowing the status of their next paycheck — they’re usually paid on the first and 15th days of each month.
As the spouse of a Coast Guardsman, you expect to move all around the country and to have your husband or wife called into action at a moments notice, Ward said. “Our son attended nine schools his entire life. … I always say he said goodbye to more friends in his [18 years] than most people do in their entire lifetime.”
Those are expected hardships, she said, and her son, who graduated from Century High School in Carroll County, handled it graciously.
“Not getting paid is not an expected hardship, and it shouldn’t be an accepted one,” Ward added.
Bills seeking to fund the Coast Guard during the partial shutdown have been introduced in both chambers of Congress.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the part of Anne Arundel County that encompasses Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard, signed on as a co-sponsor of the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act of 2019.
“The patriotic members of the Coast Guard continue to patrol our shores, risking their lives to interdict drugs and protect our seaports, including the Port of Baltimore — all without pay,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “Of all the many consequences of this senseless government shutdown, this is one of the toughest to swallow. Our Coasties and their selfless families deserve so much better.”
The 42,000 active members were paid on Dec. 31, said Amanda Faulkner, public affairs officer for the guard’s mid-Atlantic district. But if legislation is not passed or a resolution not reached by Monday, Jan. 14, Coast Guard personnel won’t receive their Jan. 15 paycheck, she added.
The uncertainty of the next paycheck has left Coast Guard families in precarious positions. CG SUPRT, a Coast Guard program created to help families, made a tip sheet entitled “Managing Your Finances During a Furlough.” It outlined a seven-step process that instructed families to understand the details, calculate the numbers, “get lean” and supplement their incomes, among other suggestions.
The Carroll County Times obtained a copy of the document, which is no longer available on the organization’s website.
To supplement their incomes, the tip sheet suggested, families could put on a garage sale; sell big-ticket unwanted items with newspaper or internet ads; babysit, pet sit or house sit; “turn your hobby into income”; tutor students; or “become a mystery shopper.”
“It’s very insulting,” said Amy Wingate, of Bel Air, whose husband has been a Coast Guardsman for 22 years and whose oldest son is at Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey.
She said it’s not insulting because she or others feel they are “above getting side jobs or working,” but because there’s a double standard.
“I feel like if this involved all the branches [of the military] it wouldn’t even be where it is now. There would be a huge outcrying of our military not getting paid,” Wingate said.
“The majority of people I’ve spoken with have said, ‘Oh, you’re military, you’re getting paid,’ but they don’t realize that we’re not.”
Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, which touches Carroll County, said House Bill 367, which would appropriate money to pay the Coast Guard before the shutdown was resolved, was not yet ready for co-sponsors.
“But I believe we should treat the Coast Guard like we treat all the other uniformed services,” the congressman said in a statement, adding that he had twice voted to fund homeland security, and blamed Democrats for the government shutdown.
Meanwhile, some families wonder how much more fat can be trimmed from their budgets.
Carly Maulini and her husband, an active duty Guardsman of almost 16 years, moved with their five children to Annapolis in July and were met immediately by financial setbacks. Their car broke down and they had to replace it; they had to adjust to the higher cost of living.
“When you have five kids, you don’t have a lot of extra money,” Maulini said in a phone interview. “Not knowing what’s going to happen — and everybody still has to eat, my husband still has to drive to back and forth to [Curtis Bay] every day — it’s just hard.”
The timing, Maulini said, is particularly tough, considering that the great uncertainty comes weeks after Christmas.
“You try to make your Christmas special for your kids, so maybe you went a little overboard,” she said. “And now you’re regretting doing it, which sucks, because that’s a good time and it takes it away from that.”
Baltimore resident Julia Young’s family went from two incomes to one when she lost her job recently. She’s been counting on her husband, a Coast Guardsman of 12 years, to provide for her and their two children. Now with the partial shutdown, what were two incomes could quickly become zero.
Young said they’ve been forced to tap into their 401(k), and know they’ll be penalized for it the following year. If the shutdown drags on and Congress doesn’t appropriate funds in the interim, Young said she’ll have to consider withdrawing her 4-year-old daughter from preschool.
“I don’t want to take her out of preschool, but that’s several hundred dollars a month.”
Meanwhile, approaching his high school graduation rapidly, Young’s 17-year-old son is thinking about joining the Coast Guard, she said.
“He’s concerned,” Young added. “I don't know if it’s going to change his mind — I hope it doesn’t — but he’s definitely rethinking some things.”