Veterans, others aid unpaid, furloughed federal workers

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Local military veterans are among those providing relief to U.S. Coast Guard personnel who haven’t been paid since the partial government shutdown began more than a month ago. 

Michael Pock, adjutant and secretary of Stewart Morrill American Legion Post No. 35, said members had collected about $845 by Wednesday afternoon for the Coast Guard’s Northeast Sector, based in Boston. That includes Sector Northern New England, which serves Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and is based at 259 High St.

Pock said he hopes to see the shutdown end soon, but until it does, the post will continue to accept donations.

According to Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrew Barresi, Maine has approximately 725 active-duty and reserve Coast Guard members, who haven’t been paid since Dec. 31, 2018. 

Pock noted post Cmdr. Guy Linscott and Vice Cmdr. Wes Splettoesser are both Coast Guard retirees.

“They’re not getting paid either,” he said. “Obviously it’s hitting active-duty members even harder. … But it’s affecting everyone.”

A sign in front of the legion hall at 413 Broadway asks people to contact Pock to make donations. He said cash or checks can be mailed to the post or dropped in its locked mailbox.

Although the shutdown is having an impact on about 800,000 furloughed federal employees nationwide, Pock said the ones most familiar in South Portland are so-called “essential” employees in the USCG or working at it’s South Portland base, as well as Transportation Security Administration officers employed at the Portland International Jetport, who must work without paychecks.

“They are a part of the community. They live and pay rent … and grocery shop here. They’re our neighbors,” he said. “The longer this shutdown goes on, the worse it’ll be for these folks.”

Other local businesses and organizations have also been doing their part to provide relief to federal employees. 

In Cape Elizabeth, the Lions Club holds a spaghetti dinner on the third Saturday every month. On Saturday, Jan. 19, they offered the dinner free of charge to active duty USCG personnel from the South Portland base and their families.

The club’s former president, Benson Dana, said about 100 people were served, 24 of whom received the meal for free. He said he hopes the shutdown will be over by Feb. 16, but if not, they’ll offer the same opportunity again. 

“It’s the mission of the Lions Club. Our international motto is ‘We serve,'” Dana said. “We serve the Coast Guard.”

Town & Country Federal Credit Union, at 557 Main St., is helping federal employee members by offering loan deferments, option to skip payments, free budget tools, and more during the government shutdown. President and CEO David Libby said in a news release that the credit union’s commitment is to help people get through “financial bumps and challenges.”

“This is certainly one of those times,” he added.

Similarly, Katahdin Trust Co., which operates a branch at 144 U.S. Route 1 in Scarborough, is offering to waive fees, provide access to additional funds, and  payment deferrals on existing loans to federal employees.

Last week, the Falmouth Food Pantry announced it will serve furloughed government employees, even if they are from outside of the pantry’s usual service area, as long as they offer proof of employment. The South Portland Food Cupboard is also stocked to help any federal employees in need during the shutdown.

The GTFO Escape Room at 650 Main St. is offering free admission to federal employees in need of an active outing, with proof of employment. 

Barresi said the Coast Guard Sector Northern New England and its members “appreciate the support (they’ve) been receiving from the communities (they) serve.”

“Coast Guard personnel will continue to perform their duties during the government shutdown and will provide essential services such as search and rescue, port and homeland safety and security, law enforcement and environmental response,” he said. “However, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more difficult it will become for the Coast Guard to maintain mission readiness.”

Pock said he blames both Republicans and Democrats for the prolonged shutdown.

“It’s all politics and guess who’s getting paid? The politicians,” he said. “… Who’s losing? The poor Coast Guard workers.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Stewart Morrill American Legion Post No. 35 on Broadway in South Portland is accepting cash or check donations for local U.S. Coast Guard personnel during the partial government shutdown. 

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