A timely federal budget saves money, improves military readiness, and allows much-needed improvements to benefits included in legislation such as the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to take effect – all points stressed by MOAA over the years during advocacy efforts on this topic.
But it’s worth highlighting another group of individuals – including many MOAA members – who could suffer direct financial distress if ongoing budget talks go south: Uniformed servicemembers in the Coast Guard and the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
Those serving in the other five uniformed branches, under the DoD umbrella, will continued to receive their paychecks in the event of a government funding lapse, which could come as early as Feb. 18. However, Coast Guard, USPHS, and NOAA members do not have that guarantee. This last came into play during the 35-day partial shutdown in 2018-19, when:
- All 42,000 members of the Coast Guard missed their Jan. 15 paycheck. The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was unfunded during the shutdown.
- USPHS members received December pay, but those attached to agencies without funding at the time (DHS, for example, or the Department of Agriculture) would have missed their monthly paycheck at the end of January had the shutdown continued for a few more days.
- NOAA Corps members, serving under the Department of Commerce, missed their mid-January checks.
MOAA has continually supported efforts to ensure the pay of these uniformed servicemembers isn’t delayed during overtime budget negotiations. The Unwavering Support for Our Coast Guard (USCG) Act, (S. 1845), sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would address this issue for Coast Guard members, but it’s just the first step toward making sure others in uniform don’t face unnecessary financial uncertainty.
The big step, unfortunately, appears nearly impossible for our legislators to take – moving to pass a comprehensive federal budget before the end of the fiscal year, and ending our ever-increasing reliance on continuing resolutions. Congress has passed all its required appropriations bills on time just four times since FY 1977, with the last on-time passage coming in FY 1997.
It’s a structural problem in need of a solution, but the long-term work needed to solve it offers little comfort to Coast Guard, USPHS, and NOAA Corps members who enter every new year with some level of concern whether their next check will arrive on time.
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