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It's Pay Day For The Coast Guard But No Checks Are Expected

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Today is payday for members of the United States Coast Guard. They will be paid nothing. Unlike other parts of the military, the Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security, which is affected by a partial government shutdown. Retired Rear Admiral Cari Thomas is CEO of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which is an official military relief society. Good morning.

CARI THOMAS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I just want to be clear on this. Tens of thousands of people are in the Coast Guard. Is everybody who's on duty today unpaid?

THOMAS: That's correct. There are 42,000 men and women on active duty that are unpaid and 8,000 civilian employees that are not being paid as well.

INSKEEP: And give me an idea of what kinds of people we're talking about. Do these tend to be people who are making lots and lots of money and probably have plenty of savings to draw on?

THOMAS: Many of the employees of the Coast Guard are below the poverty line. And this morning, I know that they're frustrated. They're sad. They're angry. They're still on duty. And then the civilians that have been furloughed, they're guilty that their shipmates are at work and covering their duties and that they're not being paid either.

INSKEEP: Oh, the uniformed service members are on duty and being paid without the assistance of civilian members of the Coast Guard who are just at home, is that right?

THOMAS: Right. There are a few civilians that are still on duty, but you've got the wide spectrum. And at this moment, no one is being paid.

INSKEEP: How is your relief agency preparing to respond to this situation?

THOMAS: So we've been around since 1924, and our mission is to help the Coast Guard in time of need. And that is truly what our mission is. And, you know, there are countries around the world who make decisions on how many people are in trouble or their gender if they're going to go save them. And I'm grateful in America that you don't have that as part of the calculus. And so our charity is doing our part to save the men and women of the Coast Guard. We're prepared to provide financial relief of up to 22,000 people. And anyone who of our junior workforce that has an immediate financial need, we're prepared to help them.

INSKEEP: Twenty-two thousand people you can provide what kind of financial relief - a check of some kind?

THOMAS: It'll be some - a check of up to $1,000 if you are married or you have children. And then if you're single, up to $750.

INSKEEP: OK. And I imagine that's a meaningful amount of money for somebody who's being paid below the poverty line and suddenly doesn't have a paycheck.

THOMAS: For some, but there are others that it's not as meaningful as we'd like it to be. You know, we wish we could do more, but we're going to do all that we can do.

INSKEEP: This still has to be a breathtaking situation, Admiral, because I would imagine that if you're talking about a Coast Guard relief agency, you're talking about a few service members at a time who might be in a crisis situation of one kind or another. Suddenly, you have the whole Coast Guard in that situation.

THOMAS: Typically - on a typical day, we have - we help about 14 people with about $12,000 worth of aid. And today, we're prepared to help up to 4,000 people with at least $3 million in aid a day.

INSKEEP: Are your people who are helping the Coast Guard themselves being paid?

THOMAS: They are not, actually. Many of the people that are providing relief are military men and women. And they love this part of their mission, helping others in time of need, and they're not being paid either.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, is there's something you want the public to know about the Coast Guard today?

THOMAS: There's a lot that can be done. Local communities can help, businesses can help and, of course, your donations to Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. We can be reached at www.cgmahq.org.

INSKEEP: Admiral, thanks so much.

THOMAS: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Retired Rear Admiral Cari Thomas of the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.