Senate Addresses Coast Guard Pay and Benefits Issues
2022 Coast Guard Authorization Act Introduced by Senate Committee
New legislation proposed by the Senate could change some important benefits for members of the Coast Guard, and may also include eliminating the question of whether Coast Guard troops will get paid during federal government shutdowns. The new legislation is referred to as the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022.
What prevents the United States Coast Guard from being paid during federal budget standoffs? In 2019, Coast Guard members endured a month without pay due to a government shutdown. Why was the pay–and the government shut down– for such a long time?
Because of partisan bickering over the National Defense Authorization Act that year. An agreement on the federal budget could not be reached, the deadline for making funding arrangements for the federal government came and went, and the government shut down in 2019 as a result.
That meant the Coast Guard didn’t get paid until the budget was approved and signed into law. As a result, many were forced to deal with financial setbacks, food insecurity, and worse. But why?
The Coast Guard: Not a Department of Defense Agency
The United States Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense. It is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, so any government shutdown rules that affect DHS also affect the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has introduced the 2022 Coast Guard Authorization Act, which features measures that would reach into the following year. Part of that act is a requirement for the Treasury Department to ensure Coast Guard members would continue to be paid during federal funding shutdowns, unlike what happened in 2019.
But that isn’t the only quality of life issue the Act addresses.
This bill seeks to expand the Coast Guard’s child care subsidy program which helps families offset the cost of private child care; there is also language in the bill that would add a new “behavioral health policy”, to help provide care for Coast Guard members with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Coast Guard Parental Rights
The bill also permits Coast Guard Academy cadets to keep their commission and graduate while maintaining their parental rights. Under previous guidance, those attending military service academies operated by the Department of Defense had to resign if they became pregnant.
They were also sometimes required to repay the school for their education, or take a leave of absence followed by a requirement to surrender parental rights in order to return to the service academy.
If that sounds harsh to you, you are not alone. The authors of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act included rules for new DoD policy in that area–cadets and midshipmen are now permitted to have children and don’t have to sign their rights away; the Coast Guard Authorization Act would add similar policy alterations and requirements.
Other provisions include enhanced Coast Guard oversight over sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry in general; and expanded protections for marine mammals. But one of the big issues in the Act has to do with expanding diversity within the Coast Guard.
Under the bill, the Coast Guard would not expand its roster beyond its’ current 44 thousand-plus active-duty members but would require steps to improve diversity within the service. The act as written requires a minimum of one Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) operation in all 17 Coast Guard districts. There is also a requirement to develop a 10-year diversity plan to increase representation among women and underrepresented groups in the ranks.
The Coast Guard Authorization Act passed the Senate unanimously. At press time, it must pass a House vote in order to be sent to the President’s desk.