Coast Guard Families Feeling Pinch of Government Shutdown Turn to Food Bank, Community Support
About 2,400 federal workers in the Granite State are directly impacted by the partial government shutdown that’s dragged on for the better part of a month. That’s impacting the U.S. Coast Guard, which, unlike other branches of the military, is currently going without pay.
New Hampshire has 173 active duty and reserve Coast Guard members and there are 725 in Maine. Dana Cuevas’ husband Matthew serves on a cutter out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He’s out a paycheck since January 15th. With three kids to feed, Cuevas says her family has turned to a local food bank so they can focus on the bills that are piling up.
“We are using our savings account and pretty much everything that we’ve saved up to pay for just those bills for this pay period,” Cuevas says.
They’ve been through shutdowns before, but in the more than 12 years her husband has served with the Coast Guard, this is the first time he hasn’t been paid. Because the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense, its members are not getting paid.
“And that’s kind of why we’re just kind of shocked that this is actually happening because there’s been multiple shutdowns,” says Cuevas. “And for me as well, I guess I was kind of in denial of ‘Well, we’ll be fine because we’ve always gotten paid.’”
"We are using our savings account and pretty much everything that we have saved up to pay for just those bills for this pay period."
Cuevas says she owes money to a local contractor who finished work on her house. She just can’t pay him right now.
“For me it was very -- kind of embarrassing -- to have to call a company and say I can’t pay this bill. And if you could please not charge me a late fee for it,” Cuevas says.
But she says the contractor and others in the community have been supportive of her family. People have made dinner and donated gift cards. Her husband even picked up some odd jobs from a man who lives nearby. Neil DeLuca says Matthew helped him fix a subfloor in his shed.
“I mean, they’re out there protecting our shores, they’re helping fishermen and people in distress,” DeLuca says. “They’re out on patrols... And they deserve to get paid as well as all the other federal employees.”
DeLuca went a step further and put up a GoFund Me page for Coast Guard families in the area.
“This is a dedicated group of men and women and they’re being terribly affected,” he says.
For Dana Cuevas and families like hers, going without pay while protecting the nation’s coastline has already taken a toll on morale.
“To sacrifice my husband for months on end, being deployed,” she says. “And now it’s kind of like, we don’t have that guarantee anymore and it’s kind of thrown in our face.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted Tuesday that she’s working with Congress to pass legislation that would fund the Coast Guard while the stalemate lingers on. But with no money currently guaranteed until after the shutdown is over, families like the Cuevas remain in limbo.