It is estimated that 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay. Among them are the roughly 40,000 active-duty Coast Guard members working without pay, plus the branch’s civilian workforce.
“I couldn’t imagine bearing the burden and not getting paid with a wife and two kids,” said James O'Neil, president of the Watchkeepers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Rhode Island and a Middletown police officer.
O’Neil remembers the uncertainty he felt when he was an active-duty member of the Coast Guard during a previous government shutdown.
Making ends meet for those at the bottom of the pay scale is hard enough in normal circumstances, let alone when nobody knows when the next pay day will be, he said.
Since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, it is estimated that 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay. Among them are the roughly 40,000 active-duty Coast Guard members working without pay, plus the branch’s civilian workforce. A one-time action ensured they were paid Dec. 31, but it is unclear whether a similar exception will be made for their next pay day Tuesday.
The Department of Defense is funded during the shutdown but the Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A retired member of the Portsmouth Police Department called O’Neil on Friday to describe how some individuals at Coast Guard Station Castle Hill are struggling to afford basic necessities for their families.
O’Neil solicited donations from his police department and mobilized his club to lend support. Part of the Watchkeepers' mission, he said, is serving fellow law enforcement officers and members of the armed services. The collection drive is intended to alleviate some of the stress amid the uncertainty, “doing what we can do to pick them back up,” O’Neil said.
Going without is not an option, said Eric Cormier, a Newport police officer and vice president of the club. “We all have kids and can’t allow that to happen,” he said.
Federal regulations prohibit the club from pooling its collections and presenting a check to the station, he said. Instead, O’Neil said he will use the donations to purchase $20 gift cards from Walmart and deliver them to the station Monday.
If others are struggling as the partial shutdown persists, the Watchkeepers will be there. “If other units are in need," O'Neil said, "we’re here to help."
To contribute, O'Neil said, call the main line at the Middletown Police Department at (401) 846-1144 and ask to be put through to him.