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Senator to introduce bill to fund Coast Guard during shutdowns

Sen. Richard Blumethal, D-Conn., asks questions during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 6, 2018.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By GREG SMITH | The Day | Published: January 2, 2019

NEW LONDON (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday he plans to introduce legislation in Congress this week that would provide paychecks for personnel in the Coast Guard, which is unfunded during the government's partial shutdown.

"The Coast Guard is a military service just like the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Army and the Navy, and we're proud of them. Unfortunately, unfairly and unacceptably, the Coast Guard is the only military service unpaid during this Trump shutdown," Blumenthal said.

The Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is unfunded during a shutdown caused by the clash between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding for a border wall. Other branches of the military fall within the Department of Defense and remain funded.

Blumenthal made his announcement at Union Station, adjacent to the site of the proposed National Coast Guard Museum on the Thames River. New London is also home to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and designated as a "Coast Guard City."

While the Coast Guard announced Friday that it had found a way to pay service members through Dec. 31, it is in danger of starting work in the new year without pay. Future payments are expected to require a vote for more funding.

Trump tweeted the news of the forthcoming paychecks over the weekend: "Great work by my Administration over the holidays to save Coast Guard pay during this #SchumerShutdown. No thanks to the Democrats who left town and are not concerned about the safety and security of Americans!"

Blumenthal said the legislation he plans to introduce when the new Congress is seated Jan. 3 will help protect the Coast Guard from the current and future government shutdowns. He said the measure could be passed within a week of Congress taking office.

The shutdown could affect about 42,000 active-duty Coast Guardsmen and 1,300 civilians assigned to the service, Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a service spokesman, told the Washington Post. They join about 420,000 federal employees working without pay. An additional 7,400 Coast Guard civilians are on indefinite furlough.

"We are really proud in Connecticut of the strong Coast Guard presence and more than any other state in the country, Connecticut is aware of the extraordinary service and sacrifice of our Coast Guard to our nation – just like all our military men and women who are now in harm's way around the globe," Blumenthal said.

When asked Monday if he expected President Trump to sign legislation funding the Coast Guard, Blumenthal responded, "To predict what President Trump may or may not do is pretty hazardous."

"What I do know is there is strong bipartisan support in the United States Senate for paying the Coast Guard like any other military service," he said.

Blumenthal said he plans to work with other members of Congress to bring a swift end to the shutdown but called funding for Trump's border wall a "non-starter" in negotiations.

"Where we have common ground, clear consensus, is the need for border security. The way to do it is through better technology, more manpower, surveillance, sensors, drones – the kinds of systems that really work," Blumenthal said.

CGA affected, too

The Coast Guard Academy's ability to serve cadets returning from winter break will be affected by the forced furlough of administrative staff and other nonessential civilians as part of the partial government shutdown, the school said Monday.

About 160 of the New London academy's 260 government-funded nonessential employees have been furloughed, with students set to return Jan. 6.

There will be a week of orientation and training before classes begin for the spring semester.

The majority of the 100 nonessential civilians who remain on the job are faculty and classes and previously scheduled training will be held, the academy said. But support staff, maintenance and facilities workers, groundskeepers and others won't be on hand to perform their duties.

"The lapse in funding will impact the ability for cadets to receive academic support services, participate in outreach activities and some athletic events," the school said in a statement.

Some contract workers, including janitorial staff and cafeteria workers, will remain on the job because those contracts have been paid through the academic year, the academy said.

Winter sports, such as basketball, will continue to be played, but coaches and staff who support the fall and spring athletic teams remain off the job, the school said. Some other athletic events may be canceled.

The service academy has an enrollment of just under 1,100 students. It receives funding from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security as well as some private funding.

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