Editorial: What a sight: Coast Guard members at a food pantry

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut did what, at any other time in our recent history, would seem completely unbelievable. But we aren’t in any other time; we are in a time when the federal government is not just dysfunctional — in the way many families can be while still finding a way to move forward. It’s well past that now. The federal government is not functioning at all.

One repercussion of a comatose government was seen in all its ugliness Tuesday, when Sen. Murphy visited the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London to drop off donations at a pop-up food pantry set up for Coast Guard personnel and their families. That’s right: a food pantry for the very people who keep us safe on the waters surrounding the North Fork, and the very crews that conduct drug interdictions, boat inspections and rescues at sea. These are people who save lives — and they aren’t being paid by their employer.

That pantry, opened earlier this month in the aftermath of the disastrous, inhumane partial shutdown of the federal government, has so far helped more than 1,000 people, according to a story in New London’s The Day newspaper.

Last month, President Trump said in a televised sit-down at the White House that if he shut the government down over his demand for $5 billion to fund a partial wall on a small portion of our border with Mexico that it would entirely be on him. If you’ve forgotten this, here are his words: “We have to have a wall … I will take the mantle of shutting it down. I will shut it down for border security.” He went on to say he would be “proud” to shut down the government. 

Which he did. And in just one place in America on Tuesday afternoon, members of the U.S. Coast Guard and their families stood in line at a food pantry. What a sight in our representative democracy. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives had made multiple attempts to pass legislation to reopen the government. Under the domineering hand of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate has not voted at all. Sen. McConnell said Tuesday there would be a vote later this week on some sort of proposal to reopen the government. 

The Coast Guard base in New London is a vital presence in our waters surrounding the East End. But they aren’t the only federal employees we count on for our well-being. Consider the statement put out this week by the FBI Agents Association, which said the FBI has lost vital informants involved in terrorism investigations. MS-13 investigations have also been impacted by the shutdown. 

The association said 5,000 FBI employees have been ordered to stay home. Others whose work is critical are doing so without pay. The Politico news site quoted one agent as saying that agents can’t “protect and serve the American people.” 

In other words, this insane shutdown has significantly compromised our national security — the very issue the wall is supposed to address.

Anyone on the North Fork and eastern Long Island who owns a boat and enjoys being surrounded by saltwater knows what the Coast Guard does here. Guard members have not been paid since Dec. 31.

So on Tuesday, the commandant of the Coast Guard said it was entirely unacceptable that his members are relying on food pantries and donations. “We’re five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay,” Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz said in a video tweeted out to members across the country. “You, as members of the armed services, should not be expected to shoulder this burden.” He added that he stood in “awe of your continued dedication to duty.” 

We, too, are in awe of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who continue to get up in the morning and go to work for us. We, as citizens of a representative democracy, have to demand better from our government, elect people who work for the betterment of the country and throw out those whose party allegiance blinds them to the painful reality around them.

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