Coast Guard left out as other military arms get paid during government shutdown
Eric D. Woodall/US Coast Guard(FRISCO, Texas) — Money is extremely tight for Kendra Cucovatz’s family right now.
Her husband, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, is deployed in Bahrain. He’s one of 42,000 other members of the Coast Guard who are working, but not getting paid.
To cope, Cucovatz negotiated with her landlord to pay half of their $2,000 rent in Frisco, Texas. She went to Walmart to stock up on cheap food — such as bags of clementines, Russet potatoes, spaghetti and bread — to feed her two sons and daughter. She said she avoided berries, which are too expensive. And the family has stayed home for days to save money on fueling their car during the holiday school break.
Unlike the other branches of the military, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security and not part of the Defense Department. That means it’s still waiting to be funded by the government. And so, its families are being subjected to the harsh reality of living through the federal government shutdown, which has lasted a week so far.
“A lot of my bills are due on Jan. 1. I don’t have enough to cover everything and still have money for food,” Cucovatz told ABC News. “Especially with my husband overseas, he’s going without. He doesn’t have anything for any extras. If he needs a razor, he’s not buying it.”
Cucovatz stays at home with their children, one of whom has special needs, she said. It’s her family’s first Christmas apart, despite her husband’s four years in the Air Force, four years in the Texas Air National Guard and 10 years in the Coast Guard.
For military families, the shutdown can be particularly rough. Constantly moving makes it hard for spouses to find jobs to provide their families with a second income. And, unlike civilians, members of the military cannot moonlight or find another job.
“People think this is just about the money; these spouses need to go out and get a job,” Liana Abundo, 29, told ABC News. Her husband is also posted overseas with the Guard in an undisclosed location. “I haven’t seen my husband for a month. My kids haven’t seen their father. He’s out there serving his country and not getting paid for it. Anybody would be upset. Anybody.”
This shutdown is particularly difficult for the Coast Guard because, unlike previous shutdowns, USAA, one of the largest banks for military families, is no longer fronting paychecks for service members. Previously, USAA had offered what was essentially a zero-interest loan to service members until paychecks resumed. Navy Federal Credit Union, however, is providing that service for its members, it confirmed to ABC News.
A spokesman for USAA confirmed it has discontinued that service this year and is instead offering a one-time, low-interest loan at 0.01 percent, payable over 12 months. He added that this was because the company had redesigned its services in order to plan for recurring shutdowns.
Like Abundo and Cucovatz, Mandie Jarvis feels the hit of not having Friday’s scheduled paycheck and the cover that the USAA deposit usually gives. Jarvis told ABC News that USAA wasn’t offering the option because this time, the Department of Defense is not affected.
“This time, because it only affects active-duty Coast Guard and not DoD, they’ve come out and said if it affected DoD as well, they would do it. Now they’re only offering loans, and people with credit scores above 700 or 750 are getting denied,” Jarvis said.
Cucovatz said she had applied for that loan with “decent credit” but was denied, adding that she did not know anyone who had gotten one.
“We have heard comments that some Coast Guard families feel like we are discriminating against them. This is most certainly not the case,” a USAA spokesman wrote in an email.
Jarvis said she hasn’t had to apply for a loan yet because she has family nearby who has offered to help. She also said she’s afraid to take out a loan because it would affect her credit score, saying, “They’re doing a credit check on you for an unsecured personal loan.”
Cari B. Thomas, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral and CEO of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which aims to assist the neediest Coast Guard families, said the nonprofit is fielding questions from Coast Guard members.
“We are encouraging people to contact their landlords, utilities and other creditors for some relief,” Thomas told ABC News in an email. “Families should contact their local Mutual Assistance office for help.”
Even families that are OK for the moment are anxious, since the shutdown shows little signs of ending soon. President Donald Trump has held the line that the government will remain shut until he gets funding for a wall on the Mexican border.
“The uncertainty is where the fear lies, where there seems to be no sense of urgency of coming to an agreement,” Abundo said, emphasizing that Congress is still getting paid. “The DHS, the people who are going to be defending this country — the whole reason this disagreement is happening — are not.”
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