Something's wrong when three strong-willed personalities have the ability to shut down an entire government and throw the world's strongest economy into disarray. Sure, democracy is a messy way to run a country, and sure, Americans will always do the right thing after they've tried everything else. But this? Our government leaders tell 800,000 employees that they're not going to be paid? And more than half of them are being told to work anyway? Is this the American dream?
I'm going to drill down through those 420,000 people who are being told to work without pay to one particular instance, right here in San Luis Obispo County—the United States Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat Station in Morro Bay.
Here we have 30 young men with two boats, patrolling and guarding 350 miles of California coastline from Monterey to the Channel Islands. They work around the clock in a building too small to house and feed them, and so they are given allowances to buy food and housing on the local economy.
Usually. But not now.
The United States government is withholding their pay, their food, their shelter. They're not even getting money to buy gasoline to drive to work. And it's not just the guardsmen—more than half of these young men are married with wives and children.
What is the real-world effect on these young men and their families? They struggle to pay their rent or mortgage. And if they miss a payment, or are evicted, that's a credit hit that follows them for years. Their school-age children go on the free lunch program. Stress at home rears its head. Wives struggle to make ends meet. And this carries over to work. When you report for duty, you have to be mission-ready, and that's hard when your family is suffering and worrying about their next meal.
My colleague, City Councilmember Dawn Addis, and I are working with Station Commander Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate Timothy Crochet and his executive officer, Kacy Jones.
Chief Crochet wants first to assure everyone that the station is fully operational. They have funds appropriated to continue to protect lives and property and provide national security.
His entire force of 30 men, however, is receiving nothing for basic living expenses. More than half of his contingent has families living here. The guardsmen are receiving no salary and nothing to pay for food, housing, gasoline, or any normal living expenses. One young man enlisted in the Coast Guard 2 1/2 months ago, and has now served without pay for half of his career.
By the end of this month, that will become critical, especially for younger troops who have not had time to build up savings.
And here is where real America is revealing itself—people in the community are raising money, donating food, giving gift cards. Morro Bay Rotary Club donated $1,000 worth of gift cards. Jim Mang in Cambria set up a GoFundMe account and has collected more than $2,000 so far.
Countless individuals are knocking at the door of the station and bringing groceries. Morro Bay's three safety departments—fire, police and harbor—donated $600. Cambria American Legion is providing free dinners to guardsmen and their families. Paul Worsham, president of SLO Veterans Service Collaborative, is mobilizing support from local American Legion posts. Kevin Drabinski has his food bank trucks ready to roll the minute he's asked. From assisting with Wi-Fi to delivering a boatload of toilet paper, local businesses are stepping up.
But the real need is for money. That's what pays the rent, the mortgage, the everyday necessities for running a household, such as money to buy laundry soap so the men can wash their uniforms.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance is stretched thin. At this time, it's able to make a one-time interest-free loan of $1,000 to families and $750 to individuals.
That's appreciated, but it doesn't go very far.
The Coast Guard is not allowed to receive donations of money, but the Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA) can accept cash or checks. Chief Crochet is able to access the CPOA fund and disperse it as he deems necessary, with a full accounting of transactions.
As part of my support for our Coast Guard, I am pledging my city salary to the CPOA fund until Coast Guard pay and allowances are restored. It's not much—the city pays me $106 a week—but I am donating all of it to the fund.
Chief Crochet wants everyone to know that he appreciates the huge community support that his men are receiving, and they all send a big thank you to everyone.
But first and foremost, they remain mission-ready, supporting and protecting the United States. Let's all of us step forward and support and protect them. Δ