50,000 Coast Guard retirees at risk of not receiving pension checks during shutdown

It's a shame that Congress and the president "can’t see the pain and damage they're causing to thousands of people," one Coast Guard retiree said to NBC News.

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By Doha Madani and Phil McCausland

The 50,000 retired members of the U.S. Coast Guard are at risk of not receiving their pension payments in two weeks as the longest government shutdown in history continues with no end in sight, a congressman told NBC News.

That would be in addition to the 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members who already missed their regularly scheduled paycheck on Tuesday.

Because the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security, it is getting no funding during the shutdown. All other parts of the military are under the still-funded Department of Defense.

The Guard's 50,000 retirees may not get their Feb. 1 pension checks unless Congress and the president agree to fund the government by the end of the month, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told NBC News on Thursday.

"In the last couple hundred years, and Coast Guard is the oldest service, we’ve never stiffed our uniformed military," DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said.

He introduced a bill that would allow Coast Guard active-duty members, civilian workers, contractors and retirees to be paid during the appropriations lapse. The Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Acthad 96 bipartisan co-sponsors as of Thursday.

One Coast Guard retiree whose family will be hit doubly hard if he doesn't receive his pension payment said the president and Congress are failing the public with the shutdown.

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“We elect the president and everyone in Congress and they’re acting like children right now," said Greg Klynman, 47, a retired chief warrant officer who served for 23 years. "It’s a shame that they can’t see the pain and damage they're causing to thousands of people.”

Klynman works as a stay-at-home dad to his three small children. His wife, Lizzy, an active-duty helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard in Kodiak, Alaska, is still working on essential operations during the shutdown, though without pay.

The family already did not receive her paycheck this week. If they also don't receive Greg Klynman's pension check on Feb. 1, they will be down both sources of income.

The family's options for alternative income are limited since he is the primary caregiver to their 5-year-old son and 2-year-old twin daughters while his wife works.

"We’re fortunate to live in Coast Guard housing, but we do have other bills that will have coming due next month," Klynman told NBC News.

Congress passed a bill that assures the Coast Guard and federal workers of back pay after the shutdown, but Klynman said that doesn't help families under financial stress in the interim.

To understand their concern, he said imagine not receiving a paycheck for a few weeks: "Then look at your mortgage, your insurance, your bills and see how many nasty phone calls you get when you don’t pay and the stress it causes for your family.”

Greg and Lizzy Klynman with their three children. Greg is a retired Coast Guard officer who served for 23 years and is at risk for losing his pension pay next month. Lizzy is an active-duty helicopter pilot with the Coast Guard who is working without pay as the shutdown continues.Courtesy of Greg Klynman

Officials were able to find a short-term solution at the end of December to give active-duty members, reservists and retirees the remainder of their pay and allowances for that month, but that quick fix did not extend into the new year.

The community of Kodiak has come together to try to provide relief for Coast Guard members, who make up 25 percent or more of the town's population, Klynman said. Local businesses are offering discounts and accepting IOUs, and service members are coming together to cook meals for each other's families.

"Everyone’s coming together, reassessing what they have in their house, cooking meals together — coming together to keep our community going," he said.

Klynman said there is a concern that as the shutdown goes on, mission readiness will be impaired as more people experience financial strain might not “have their head in the game.”

"We're a piece to the puzzle, and it’s a shame that two sides of people can’t come together and work something out for the greater good for our county,” Klynman said.

“We’re the United States of America not the divided states of America.”