Sequester Cuts Devastating Families With Two Government Jobs

family government jobs sequesterBy Elizabeth Dilts

NEW YORK -- The U.S. government's effort at cutting spending across the board is hurting a population once considered among the most financially stable -- dual income families where both partners are government employees.

Starting on Monday, employees at agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Management and Budget will be required to take unpaid days off -- a consequence of the U.S. government's sequestration budget cuts. These forced furloughs come on top of the first round of cuts that began on March 1, and they will reduce some workers pay by as much as 12 percent a month.

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The cuts, which include decreased work hours for federal employees, hiring and pay freezes and layoffs, might be hard on couples like Laurie and Jack Swensen, FAA employees in Kansas City, Mo. When they both start furloughs next week, the couple will earn $1,900 less every month. The cuts come just as they were making moves to buy a house, said Laurie Swensen.

With six family members, including their eldest son and his pregnant wife, living in a two-bedroom rental home, the Swensens were eager to move. But the furloughs and subsequent pay freezes have forced the family to reconsider.

A Reuters analysis of Census Bureau data from the Minnesota Population Center in March 2012 shows that about 400,000 employed Americans were part of a husband-and-wife team where each worked for the federal government in civilian or military roles.

Civilian personnel will be the first to be affected by the furloughs.

The cuts are expected to have wide-ranging consequences, experts said. Besides destabilizing families that rely on government salaries for both partners, they may undermine loyalty and cause some in-demand and highly qualified workers to leave.

"They're not taking into consideration what they're doing," Laurie Swensen said, referring to Congress and the president. "When you take that big of a chunk of people's budget, that's going to put people into bankruptcy. It's going to put them back where they were just three or four years ago."

More: First Furlough Notices Go Out

Budget Crunch
U.S. President Barack Obama proposed sequestration as a political ploy to push Congress to reach an agreement to reduce government spending. When March 1 came and went without an agreement, $85 billion of automatic spending cuts went into effect, pushing federal agencies to furlough employees whether they be meat inspectors or military vehicle mechanics.

The FAA will furlough almost all of its 47,000 civilian employees for a day per pay period to meet its mandatory $637 million budget cuts.

The Department of Defense said that it will have to furlough almost all of its 780,000 civilian employees to reduce its budget by $41 billion. Those furloughs will likely start in mid- to late June, and will require employees to take 14 days unpaid leave sometime between the start date and September 30, according to the department website. This is the equivalent of a 12 percent pay cut.

"We're hearing from a lot of communities that the cutback is already starting," said Joyce Raezer, associate executive director of the National Military Family Association, an advocacy group. "They're already deciding 'I'm not going to buy a new car. I'm going to cut back on my cable bill.'"

Heather Barlow and her husband, Chris, both work at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Heather Barlow lost her job in Letterkenny's data logistics division in March after the first round of sequestration cuts eliminated her position. The same day, Chris received word from managers and union representatives that employees in his aviation and missile command department could expect to be furloughed one day a week.

Chris, who has not yet been furloughed but was informed by managers and union leaders that it is likely, is selling his Harley Davidson motorcycle to ensure his family has a financial cushion.

Heather, meanwhile, has stocked their freezer and pantry with about two months of non-perishable groceries, something, she said, that makes her feel more in control.

More: Politics Could Kill 1 Million Jobs By 2014

First To Feel Cuts
Many conservatives argue that there is plenty of fat in the federal budget that could be trimmed. But, when it comes to sequestration, which is more of an axe than a scalpel, they find they have some common ground with the affected federal employees.

"The one positive thing I could say about (sequestration) is it is cutting spending and these are the only spending cuts we're getting out of Congress these days," said Patrick Louis Knudsen, senior budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "However, it's not a good way to budget. It leaves a lot of people up in the air."

Mattie Duppler, director of budget and regulatory policy at Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative, taxpayer advocacy group, agreed saying, "Sequester is definitely an inelegant and possibly the worst way to cut spending. There is plenty of extraneous spending going on at these federal agencies.

"Why are the workers the first to feel the cuts?"

While layoffs and furloughs impact families' budgets immediately, they also lower morale and loyalty long term, said Paul Light, New York University Professor of Public Service and an expert on civil service and bureaucracy.

The cuts make no distinction between high performers and mediocre ones - everybody goes, he said.

The government does not calculate the impact lower morale has on productivity the way other businesses do, so there is no way to know the economic impact, Light said. But the furloughs may lead to a brain drain of highly skilled workers leaving for more lucrative, private-sector jobs.

"It has a pernicious effect on loyalty to the federal government," Light said. "The people who will leave are the wrong people to leave -- they're highly skilled workers who can go elsewhere. The people who are staying are staying because they have nowhere else to go or they have no choice."

Sequestration cuts will also strike specialized workers who are often tied to contracts that prohibit them from leaving.

Chris Lloyd, a contract worker in high security at White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in North America, expects to be furloughed beginning in May or June at about the same time he plans to marry co-worker Stephanie McDonald.

The furloughs will mean four-day work weeks for each of them until Sept. 30, about the equivalent of 12 percent of their paychecks.

White Sands, which is also home to a nuclear reactor, employs more than 9,300 people, including 2,459 civilian Department of Defense employees. Almost all of those civilians will be furloughed, but the agency is unable to give more specific information about the start, said Monte Marlin, spokesperson for White Sands. That leaves employees in a holding pattern.

Bill and Christine Mounger, two furloughed FAA employees at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, Okla., are turning to sports to make up for the $800 that they are losing each month by capitalizing on a talent Bill learned in high school that has nothing to do with his aeronautical engineer work. To make up some of the $800 they'll be losing each month, Bill Mounger will be officiating at as many as three football, softball or baseball games per day this summer for $18 a game.

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12 Comments

Filter by:
Ono

"... Let's not forget the pension ..." Yes, let's forget the pension of USG workers. They make a contribution to their TSP accounts, Social Security, and private (none of your business) accounts.

April 23 2013 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ono

FTA - " ... a consequence of the U.S. government's sequestration budget cuts."
I suggest an alternate version: a consequence of the Congressionally-mandated sequestration budget cuts." I believe this more accurately describes the current situation.

April 23 2013 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TB

Lookie...being as government employees are the new upper-middle class, they should bear a bit of furlough.

April 23 2013 at 11:51 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to TB's comment
Ono

This coming from a rabid ray-guns supporter.

April 23 2013 at 12:04 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
chuck

go back to school and learn a new trade, one that is needed in these times.

April 23 2013 at 10:19 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
gmgpjandon

A wise person once said, it's not how much you make, it's how much you spend. I've found that to be true over eighty years of living. Some would argue.

April 23 2013 at 10:18 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
askbolden

My husband is receiving short term disability and sickness benefits. We were struggling before his disability and now the sickness benefit was reduced. I think WE need to think carefully about who is elected to governmental positions. Aren't they suppose to be working for us.

Struggling Spouse

April 23 2013 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kent05r

The Divider-in-Chief’s sequester strategy has been a flop thus far, but the president is stubbornly staying the course. This week he’s forcing flight delays on America’s busy traveling public. Won’t give me more tax hikes? Take this.

First student White House tours, now air travelers. So transparent was the White House ploy that airlines and ex-FAA officials joined Republicans in calling the president out.

Travelers can expect to see “a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing,” droned Obama’s FAA henchmen, creating delays of over three hours at airports from LA to Laguadia. The agency claims the sequester gives them no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees – including nearly 15,000 controllers.

Nonsense. Congress has given the executive branch authority to minimize the impact of the cuts on key operation – but the president (and his Senate) has ignored it. “The FAA’s decision is a dangerous political stunt that could jeopardize the safety and security of air travelers,” says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, suggesting the agency could save millions on unnecessary “consultants, supplies and travel.”

Delta Airlines weighted in as well as the White House played politics with its business.

April 23 2013 at 8:02 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kent05r's comment
Ono

"The Divider-in-Chief’s sequester strategy ..." Get a life. Congress holds the purse strings. Learn that your cute BS name for the President of the U.S. immediately makes your post nonsensical and in the ranks of the low-informed.

April 23 2013 at 12:08 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
impactvqi

Sequestration cuts will not effect the ones that let it happen congress and senate or the president

April 22 2013 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to impactvqi's comment
phil

"They're already deciding 'I'm not going to buy a new car. I'm going to cut back on my cable bill.'" Cry Me a River!!!!" Notice how the story left out the salaries of these Government workers? Why? Cause it doesn't fit the narrative of the political agenda of Huff-Po. Here's the REAL story: #1. There were NO SPENDING CUTS, over last year. Same dollar amount spent, except, there was no increase for this year. #2. These people AREN'T starving. They are some of the most well paid, workers on the planet. They have pay and benefits that most in private industry could only dream of. They aren't leaving, en mass for better jobs. There are NO "better, private industry jobs," for most of these folks. Thanks to their leader, private industry is still feeling the results of the longest recession in U.S. history. #3. Ask for whom did they vote for President? Elections have consequences. #4. Ask..."How does it feel?"

April 23 2013 at 10:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to phil's comment
redmondconstruct

Notice how the story left out the salaries of these Government workers?
The article stated that " they will reduce some workers pay by as much as 12 percent a month. " This means that some will be less. A pay cut of $1,900 would be a 12% of a salary of $15,833 per month.
I hope that they can manage on the remaining $13,933. Let's not forget the pension and other costs to the taxpayer.
You were probably right, Too much information would not have generated enough sympathy.

April 23 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
harleybv

I agree with most of what you are saying, except for the fact we were tanking when it was Bush in office. It all didn't just start one day when Obama became Prez. So in a sense you are correct..Elections have consequences, and we are still feeling 8 years of Bush

April 23 2013 at 12:05 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down

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