With the government shutdown 20 days strong, the real-life consequences are being felt by Coast Guard families in Connecticut as they try to figure out how to make ends meet if their next paycheck is delayed.
The Coast Guard is the only military branch whose members will go without pay during the government stalemate. It falls under the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense, which continues to be funded during the shutdown.
Without knowing if they’ll get a paycheck on Jan. 15, Coast Guard families are stressed about paying off credit card bills, making home payments, even buying groceries.
“It’s a real likelihood that we won’t have money coming in next week when it should be,” said Michael Brudzinski.
The stay-at-home-dad and his family rely on wife Miranda’s Coast Guard paycheck. She is a petty officer second class working in the legal office at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. The family relocated to Groton from Florida at the end of June.
“We’re still having to call our creditors and see if we can push things back. See if they waive penalties and late fees and stuff like that,” Brudzinski said.
Forcing a smile in front of their 3- and 6-year-old children is not always easy.
“I don’t want them to worry about why mom’s upset or why we are on the phone all the time,” Brudzinski said.
He has family members, including his father, and friends also impacted by the shutdown.
If this continues, Brudzinski said he is considering utilizing his son’s reduce meal program at school even more.
“We might have to look at that being primarily what he does for lunch and breakfast if it helps with the grocery bill.”
Coast Guard Academy cadets came back from winter break last weekend. They too are considered active-duty military and receive a stipend ranging from $300 to $600 depending on their class, according to Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Laughlin, a spokesperson for the academy.
She said all active-duty military and about 100 government-paid civilians are still coming into work, Laughlin said. There are 160 non-essential employees who are furloughed.
Secretaries, some coaching staff, groundskeepers and facility maintenance staff are all staying home. In fact, some garbage bins at the academy are taped up or put on their sides because there is no staff to empty them.
Many of the civilian teaching staff is still reporting to work in because they’re deemed necessary for the academy to continue its academic mission, Laughlin said. But since there are still some instructors out due to the shutdown, an ethics class will be combined into two large classes. A required one-credit Coast Guard history class will not be given this semester. Laughlin said it does not impact seniors about to graduate.
Janitorial and cafeteria staff are working because they’re under contracts that have already been paid, Laughlin said. All programs paid for by grants or alumni donations are still continuing as usual, too.
The Coast Guard Research and Development Center, also in New London, has 77 percent of its workforce furloughed, according to Lt. Chuck Clark, the public affairs officer for the Center.
That means 56 civilians are not reporting for duty. The 17 who are still working are all members of the military.
“Regarding our project portfolio, the Coast Guard continues operations authorized by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property. Projects being conducted by the R&D Center will be paused during the lapse in appropriations,” Clark wrote in an email.
In a statement to NBC Connecticut, Rep. Joe Courtney, whose district includes New London’s Coast Guard facilities, said that he voted last week with a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives to fully fund and re-open the government.
“This week, a bipartisan majority will again pass four comprehensive spending bills in yet another effort to reopen America for business and restore financial security to many families in eastern Connecticut,” Courtney said, adding that Congress could find ways to increase security along the southern border but closing down the government should not be used as leverage.
Wednesday the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut reached out to local business and compiled a list of discounts to help provide some relief, according to Camber President Tony Sheridan. A list can be found here.