Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

Relief program for Coast Guard members off to slow start

January 25, 2019 - 7:29 am

Victims of the partial government shutdown, members of the Coast Guard in Connecticut are about to miss their second paycheck.

But few have yet to take advantage of a state grant program that could provide them with thousands of dollars of relief.

Funded by state taxpayers who choose to contribute when filing their state income tax returns, the Connecticut Military Relief Fund was set up in 2005 to help active-duty and National Guard and reserve members and their families weather financial hardships. Hundreds of Connecticut Coast Guard members who are working without pay because of the shutdown are eligible for the help, too.

The fund provides grants in the amount of up to 35,000 or an average of a little more than 1,000.

Fagan said she “couldn’t speculate” as to why more Coast Guard employees haven’t applied for the military assistance grants.

Connecticut also has joined other states in approving an interest-free loan program for federal workers affected by the shutdown.

The result of a fierce political battle between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over funds to build the president’s border wall, the shutdown began on Dec. 22 because there was no agreement on how to fund nine large federal agencies and several smaller, independent agencies, including NASA.

Without appropriations, the Department of Homeland Security, which has authority over the Coast Guard and other affected agencies, was forced to shut down, sending workers who were deemed “nonessential” home without pay.

Most, if not all, Coast Guard employees are considered “essential” and required to remain on the job without pay. Many have made use of pop-up food pantries and other assistance, including free meals at some restaurants.

On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire, caused a stir by telling CNBC “I don’t understand why” federal workers are needing to go to food banks.

Rep. Joe Courtney, whose 2nd Congressional District is home to the Coast Guard Academy, said “food banks for military families is just an embarrassment.”

Courtney is a co-sponsor of the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act, introduced in the House on Jan. 8. The legislation would guarantee pay for Coast Guard members during government shutdowns. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 3. But neither bill has advanced to a vote.

Connecticut has more than 1,000 federal workers besides the 400 or so Coast Guard members who are affected by the partial shutdown.

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