As the impact of the longest government shutdown in history continues, residents and agencies here in East County have begun to feel its affects.
And for an area surrounded by waterways, the Delta region is particularly vulnerable given the Coast Guard, which falls under Homeland Security – one of the nine impacted federal agencies – protects East County’s waterside communities.
Deemed essential, those active duty personnel are still reporting for duty, and Lt. Commander Matthew Kroll, public affairs officer for the 11th district, gave an update on the missions and overall morale among his team.
“Operationally, the Coast Guard is still authorized by law to do a number of missions that pertain to public safety, national security, environmental response – so we’re still able to do a lot of missions that normally serve the public,” said Kroll.
Kroll noted every active duty Coast Guard was considered essential and is still showing up to work, but a number of civilian employees have been furloughed, amounting to about 40 in the Bay Area. Rio Vista is still operating with search and rescue – much like a fire house with a crew standing by 24/7, waiting to respond to anything within their authority in the Delta area.
On the scene, this means delayed maintenance and active duty picking up the slack where authorized to do so to cover the tasks of civilian staff.
“If a civilian (employee) is involved with essential missions – search and rescue coordination, water way management, safety inspectors – those are deemed essentials, and they stay on-site,” said Kroll. “But for both civilians and active duty, no one has received a paycheck.”
What pulls them through this time, Kroll said, is the community Coast Guard has formed internally and that which they have in the Bay Area. Kroll expanded on the community’s involvement during this time in the form of local businesses offering free meals or large discounts for furloughed employees; donations in food drives for Coast Guard men and women who are making ends meet until the next paycheck; banks offering low to no interest loans to cover paychecks; and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which is normally in place for those who maybe need an emergency repair on their home for example, now liberally offering loans to those impacted.
Another impacted federal employee, Brentwood resident Michael Osburn – an air traffic controller (ATC) for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – and his colleagues have been working without pay since Dec. 24.
“I’m not sure how many people realize that most air traffic controllers are federal employees who are still required to go to work due to the obvious safety critical function of our job,” said Osburn, further noting his opinions to be his own and not a reflection of FAA or his union. “However, there are thousands of ATC trainees who are not exempt of furlough and haven’t been to work since Christmas Eve … I only hope to move on from this nonsense and hopefully encourage our politicians to learn exactly how our economy and many people are affected by shutting down the federal government. I believe we can do better.”
Osburn, while strapped during this time, considered himself in a better situation than some of his colleagues as his wife is also employed, but the two have a house full with seven other mouths to feed: three kids, three dogs and what he called “a very stubborn” cat.
“Additionally, there are many financial institutions and billers that have been phenomenal for us during this time though I cannot speak for everyone,” he said. “Thank you Navy Federal Credit Union for looking out for this veteran and his family!”
Other local impacts have manifested as a result of the Department of Agriculture’s closure.
Outlined in a press release from Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services, most current recipients and eligible applicants of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or CalFresh, will be receiving February benefits early due to the shutdown.
“The USDA is instructing states to release SNAP benefits – known as CalFresh in California (formerly food stamps) – more than two weeks early to use available funding as the shutdown continues,” Tish Gallegos, community and media relations, wrote in an email to The Press.
While those affected must weather the financial storm and tighten their belts, both Kroll and Osburn noted their service to the safety of the public would withstand.
“We’re definitely appreciative of the community support, because the Coast Guard is still going to show up for work,” Kroll said. “We’re still going to save people, we’re still going to go out and complete our missions no matter what – that’s just the mentality of people who joined because for the most part, we’re a humanitarian service. The big message here is that we just want to reassure the public that the Coast Guard is still there for those who need us.”