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Government shutdown curtails Coast Guard activities in Connecticut

January 8, 2019

Five hundred active duty U.S. Coast Guard members based in New Haven and New London are working, unsure if their next paycheck will arrive.

Cargo ships headed to ports in New Haven or New York City are not all being inspected for violations of safety or environmental regulations. Fishing laws are not being enforced in Long Island Sound, nor are Coast Guard members boarding boats to look for proper life-saving equipment.

That’s because under the partial government shutdown, now in its third week, the U.S. Coast Guard is stripped of its usual funding. The Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, one of nine agencies affected by the shutdown.

“Everybody is just hoping for this (shutdown) to be expedited,” said Steve Strohmaier, petty officer in the Coast Guard’s New York Public Affairs Office, which oversees Connecticut. “Everyone wants to get paid and preferably on time... We are all hoping for the best and that government can work together to resolve this the best way possible.”

Public affairs officers in the Coast Guard’s New York and Boston offices said any immediate threats to public safety or property will be swiftly addressed by the Coast Guard while the government is shut down. Search and rescue missions or national security operations in local ports will not be curtailed.

But non-essential Coast Guard functions have been stopped.

“Things like (monitoring) rec(reation) boats, boardings, issuing of merchant documentation and licensing, fishing enforcement patrols and aids to navigation maintenance — those are the kinds of things that get pushed back,” said Petty Officer Zachary Hupp in the Boston Public Affairs Office, overseeing New England.

At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, 1,100 students returned to campus Monday, but about 160 of 260 non-essential employees are on furlough, said Lauren Laughlin, petty officer second class in the Academy’s Public Affairs Officer.

The furloughed employees include maintenance and facilities staff and fall and spring sports coaches. Professors will teach their classes, which start Saturday.

The shutdown will not impact students’ academic work, Laughlin said. They should expect to feel “very little impact.”

But an annual school-wide award ceremony honoring leaders of character was cancelled Monday because necessary staff were furloughed as a result of the shutdown.

At Connecticut’s two Coast Guard stations in New Haven and New London, 16 civilians are employed and all are furloughed, unless they work on “essential functions” like coordinating search and rescure responses, said Strohmaier.

The first paycheck that working U.S. Coast Guard members may miss as a result of the shutdown would normally be paid on January 15.

On the House floor Monday, U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s 2nd District read a letter from a U.S. Coast Guard member named Jeremy from Colchester, Conn. who wrote, “My family cannot go indefinitely without pay, nor should they have to.”

The Democratic-lead House passed a bill last week to end the shutdown, but it has not been taken up by the Republican-lead Senate. President Donald Trump has said he would like the government spending bill to include money for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a proposal opposed by Democrats.

Trump will discuss the partial government shutdown and his desire to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico in a primetime television broadcast on Tuesday night. The partial shutdown is affecting 25 percent of the government and thousands of federal employees.

If the shutdown lasts until Sunday, it will be the longest in American history, said Congressman Courtney.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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