The Coast Guard started getting back to normal on Monday after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history was temporarily halted.
Community groups are hopeful but bracing in case Congress and President Donald Trump cannot reach a compromise on border security by Feb. 15, when another disruption is possible.
Chief Petty Officer David Mosley, a spokesman for District 13 in Seattle overseeing Sector Columbia River, said about 3,500 enlisted Coast Guard personnel in the region had been working without pay since Jan. 15, along with more than 150 civilian employees furloughed. That included more than 500 enlisted Coast Guard and 14 furloughed civilian employees in the sector.
During the partial shutdown, the Coast Guard stopped doing “things that were considered nonessential,” Mosley said. “If it needed a new coat of paint, it didn’t get it.”
That included regular buoy maintenance by the Aids to Navigation Team Astoria on Tongue Point, except in the case of emergencies. Training was also curtailed, and the winter version of the Coast Guard’s semiannual Advanced Helicopter Rescue School was canceled.
The Coast Guard is expected to receive back pay by Thursday, along with paychecks on Friday and Feb. 15 while government funding lasts. There is no contingency in place if the shutdown restarts.
An estimated 9,600 federal employees in Oregon were furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown. Another federal agency with a major presence on the lower Columbia River is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees fisheries, weather and other biological functions.
“NOAA continued to provide essential services during the lapse in funding thanks to the dedication of its workforce,” Michael Milstein, a regional spokesman for NOAA, said in an email. “NOAA is currently assessing how the lapse in funding may have affected operations. As that information becomes available, we will share but we do not have further announcements to make at this time.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden joined 28 others in the Senate who wrote a letter calling on the Trump administration to provide back pay to the more than 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown as soon as possible, regardless of pay schedules.
“This government shutdown made it clearer than ever just how dedicated civil servants are to their jobs, and how vital those jobs are to the nation,” the senators wrote. “We ask that you publicize when exactly these civil servants can expect to receive their back pay, and we hope it will arrive very soon.”
During the shutdown, the community stepped up to help unpaid federal workers. Be the Light food pantry, organized by Stacey Benson and a small army of local volunteers, provided groceries and daily living needs to more than 2,300 people over two weekends.
“We are prepared to get that pantry back up and running,” Benson said. “We are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.”
Numerous businesses offered free events and discounts to the Coast Guard and other federal employees. Main St. Market in Warrenton allowed them to shop on credit, paying their outstanding balances back without interest after paychecks arrived.
“It was just the right thing to do,” said Tommy Smith, the co-owner of the grocery store. “You’ve got people caught in the middle who didn’t have any control over their own destiny.”
A small number of mostly Coast Guard took advantage of the offer, and others in the community ended up paying off their outstanding balances, Smith said.
“If three weeks from now they shut back down, the offer stands,” Smith said. “We’ll still do what we have to do to take care of our own.”