CAPE MAY – Speaking to a soaked group of reporters just outside the entrance to the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May Jan. 24, Gov. Phil Murphy called on President Donald Trump to end the partial government shutdown.
Born of a dispute over the president’s request for $5.7 billion for a wall on the southern border, the shutdown is already the longest in history, leaving thousands of government workers and contractors furloughed or working without pay.
That’s the case for most Coast Guard personnel, who are required to continue working while missing paychecks.
Murphy toured the training center and the Coast Guard base in the same complex, as well as one of the Coast Guard cutters homeported in Cape May. He said the visit included an on-base food pantry.
“The Coast Guard’s caught in an awful vise because it’s funded through the Department of Homeland Security, unlike the other branches of the military, which are funded through appropriations at the Pentagon,” said Murphy. “And, so, they’re really suffering. Even on a good day, they’ve got a pantry here because the youngest classes of enlistees are getting wages that keep them on the edge of the poverty line.”
Funding for the Department of Defense was approved last fall, so those serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are being paid. The Coast Guard falls under the Department of Homeland Security. Along with federal law enforcement agencies, including at the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, the TSA, the DEA and others, members of the Coast Guard are obliged to remain on the job without pay.
Coast Guard officials did not allow members of the media to accompany Murphy on base, so reporters gathered at a small park next to the main gate on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the governor spoke over the pelting rain from underneath a blue canopy better suited to offer shade than shelter in a rainstorm.
In his brief remarks, Murphy praised the work of the Coast Guard and said the shutdown also affects spouses and families. He called on communities to do what they can for Coast Guard members and furloughed workers.
“I wish I had a magic wand. We’ve got to get our federal government open and I plead with the president to do that,” he said. “In the meantime, it’s a series of steps, some of them small, but significant. My wife and I, in a small gesture, brought down something for the kids and the families here today, to the food pantry.”
Murphy praised actions taken by private citizens, including an offer by Jon Bon Jovi to feed furloughed workers and their families for free at his Red Bank restaurant, JBJ Soul Kitchen, in partnership with a foundation Murphy runs with his wife, Tammy.
Area food cupboards have reported an additional strain as Coast Guard personnel and federal workers seek help. The Cape May County library has announced each branch will accept donations of non-perishable food for Coast Guard staff and family while the shutdown continues.
Murphy said local restaurants are also doing their part and praised community efforts.
“The Cape May community has been extraordinary, the character they’re showing is extraordinary,” he said. “You never forget the folks who were there for you when you’re down and this community has risen up in a big way.”
Murphy, a Democrat, said he’s joined with other governors to ask the president to end the shutdown. Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have unequivocally blamed Trump for the shutdown, while the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell point fingers at Pelosi.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd), also a Democrat, has called for compromise on the shutdown and introduced a bill to fund the Coast Guard during the shutdown. Contacted Jan. 24, he said people are so tied up in the political issues that they’ve lost track of the shutdown’s impact on real people.
“I’m just totally disgusted by this whole process,” Van Drew said in a phone interview. “I believe we need leadership on both sides to sit down, 24-7, to figure out a way to get this done and move forward.”
As of Jan. 24, no compromise appeared likely, with it looking increasingly likely that the State of the Union address would be delayed.
Murphy said the state was looking for ways to help, saying he and his staff were wracking their brains about it. Possibilities under consideration include delaying property tax bills for furloughed workers and requests for banks in New Jersey to help as well.
“We’re going to do everything we can,” Murphy said. “And please, God, I hope we get this thing ended sooner than later.”
Coast Guard personnel have missed one paycheck in the shutdown so far and could miss another one. Those serving on one of the cutters with Cape May as homeport will likely be deployed if that happens, Murphy said, “which means these folks that are serving are going to be away from their families at a very difficult moment.”
Asked about reports that the most recent class to graduate at the training center has not been given assignments because of the shutdown, Murphy said he did not go into that with staff at the base.
The public information officer from the training center did not respond to a request for details on that issue.
Cape May is the single basic training facility for the Coast Guard’s enlisted personnel. Most residents and officials describe it as a vital part of the local community.
The base usually has close to 600 people, including the small boat station and other commands that are tenants at the training center. Most of the time, the base includes 95 civilian employees and 128 contractors, according to a strategic plan posted online by the training center.
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Video footage by Seaman Isaac Cross.
Gov. Phil Murphy talks with Jessica Manfre, Jersey Cape Military Spouses Club, Jan. 24, about the food pantry and what he and the state of New Jersey are doing to help.