Metro, News

Government shutdown impacts Rhode Island Coast Guard families

Families struggle to keep up economically, but work to support each other amid longest shutdown

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2019

Today marks the 35th day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and the second missed paycheck for Coast Guard workers in Rhode Island, who are required to show up to work despite their lack of compensation.

The Coast Guard has approximately 332 active duty and reserve personnel in Rhode Island, according to Petty Officer Andrew Barresi. While some civilian employees are furloughed during the government shutdown, active duty and reserve members are not. The Coast Guard will continue to provide essential services, including “search and rescue, port and homeland safety and security, law enforcement and environmental response,” Barresi wrote in an email to The Herald.

Despite these continued operations, “they will likely not have the full support that they need in order to maintain mission readiness,” Barresi wrote, adding “as far as water safety goes, Coast Guard units in Rhode Island will continue to perform missions that protect life and property.”

Many of the Rhode Island Coast Guard members who are working to keep the coast safe are struggling to make ends meet. Mariah Battermann is a Coast Guard spouse and stay-at-home mother of two young children in Middletown. She is also, like many of her peers, facing the ramifications of the shutdown.

“It’s definitely got us making some different choices,” Battermann said. “I’m not used to really having to pay much attention to when I go grocery shopping. If I want to get something, I usually just get it … so now that has changed a little bit for us, and we’ve had to make some big cut backs like (not) going out to eat, no stopping at McDonald’s for the kids.”

According to Battermann, a lot of other Coast Guard families in the area have also been forced to make hard choices in light of the shutdown —which has no clear end in sight. Rachel Malcom Brown, another Rhode Island Coast Guard spouse and stay-at-home mother of four girls, faces similar difficulties.

To weather the financial burdens of the shutdown, Malcom Brown and her family have cut down on groceries and called bill collectors in order to defer payments.

“(We’re) making sure that we’re utilizing the food that we have here – trying to make everything last as long as we can,” Malcom Brown said.  This is the first time a government shutdown has affected Battermann and Malcom Brown’s families, they said.

Some families affected by the shutdown have come together to support each other as their financial security is threatened. Malcom Brown reached out on Facebook to others in her position to offer what she could: “a warm meal, or a friend.”

After receiving an overwhelming response from families in need and those eager to help, Malcom Brown called her friend, Battermann. Together, the two launched the Be The Light Drive of Rhode Island, an initiative to provide food and other necessities to families affected by the shutdown.

On Sunday, Be The Light Drive hosted a potluck dinner at OceanPointe Church in Middletown. The group provided food donated by local restaurants, household goods and pantry items to families impacted by the partial shutdown. They also handed out brochures listing local organizations that can provide assistance to those directly affected by the shutdown and created a sign-up sheet for specific needs. According to Battermann, this event served 61 families.

“The community really chipped in and we all came together,” Malcom Brown said. “I started getting messages from everyone in the community, saying, ‘What donations do you need? What can I bring? What can I do?’”

“It was 100 percent a community effort,” Battermann agreed. “It was touching and heartwarming and just overwhelming.” According to Battermann, some community members who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits approached the organizers asking what they could buy to donate to the drive. “The only word for that is ‘wow,’” Battermann said, “because you’re looking at people who don’t know where their next meal’s gonna come from, and they’re willing to help us.”

Even Malcom Brown’s six-year-old daughter pitched in, spending her birthday preparing for the potluck dinner. “We had that conversation with her about what we were doing and how we were gonna help people like us.” Malcolm Brown said. “I think that she enjoyed giving back.”

Battermann and Malcom Brown are now working to secure a building for a pop-up pantry. They hope to have it up and running before this weekend, and plan to keep it open as long as the shutdown continues.

Both of the community organizers remain uncertain but “hopeful” that legislatures will “find a solution soon,” but they are “in the meantime, … just trying to trudge ahead,” Batterman said.

For now, Battermann and Malcom Brown are focused on the support of their community.

“When you get lost in the negativity like on the news, you forget that there are people (whose) hearts are in the right place,” Malcom Brown said.

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