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One family’s struggle with the furlough

KINGSTON — This summer, Deborah Simon had the unpleasant task of explaining to her two young daughters why they weren’t going to summer camps this year.

Her husband, a Department of Defense civilian worker at Kitsap Naval Base Bangor, has been furloughed, his workweek reduced by one day a week until the end of September.

That equals a 20 percent cut in weekly income for her family for the duration of the furlough.

“It’s a lot of stress, and it’s not just because of the money that I have to come up with, which is like milking a turnip,” Simon said.

She doesn’t use her dishwasher, instead washing dishes by hand to save electricity. She’s cutting her 4- and 6-year-old daughters’ hair at home. And the girls are skipping camps and summer recreation classes.

“Normal summer activities have been cut off,” she said.

Of the impact of the furloughs on local businesses, she said, “It may not be trickling down as much right now, but as furloughs continue, it will be more evident. Most people tried like us to get a jump on it earlier, but if [their] budget is lean enough, they’re not going to get a chance to do that.”

The Navy’s budget was cut, like many other government departments, because of sequestration. Of Naval Base Kitsap’s 15,000 civilian employees, approximately 4,000 were given furloughs, or required unpaid days off, according to Tom Danaher, base public affairs officer. The shipyard was exempted from furloughs.

“There’s genuine concern, not just from the workers who are impacted by these furloughs, that sequestration and furloughs will affect our entire community and economy,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Bremerton. “Less money in our neighbors’ pockets means less that goes into our economy. I hear frequently from small businesses that our economic situation — furloughs, sequestration, and Congress’ inability to pass a long-term budget — hinders their ability to grow and succeed. These cuts and the effects to our community will be even deeper in the coming years if Congress does not act.”

Kilmer is working on the 2014 Defense Appropriations bill. His amendments include ending furloughs for civilian workers.

Local families, like Simon, are feeling the brunt of the cuts.

“Twenty percent may sound small, but I would challenge anyone to go thorough their budget and take 20 percent out,” Simon said. She said 70 percent of her budget is fixed — house, auto and life insurance payments and mortgage make up 60 to 70 percent of her monthly budget. Groceries, medical bills, gas and utilities make up another 30 percent. Which means vacations, extracurricular activities, and savings are reduced or cut out completely during the furlough time.

“I don’t know how I’ll get it. That’s going to have to come out of savings in the next two months,” Simon said. She said she understands the civilian number of workers is relatively small compared to the Navy employees, but “every number is a person, is a family.”

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, said in an interview with Federal News Radio, “We had money available from previous appropriations and laws coming in that we used to get us through 2013. That’s not available in 2014. And so the impact on the investment accounts will be deeper cuts, and that’s a concern.”

Simon said she is planning on the cuts in income being permanent.

“That’s the best we can do. We have to be prepared for what happens,” she said.

Simon isn’t sitting idle, however. For the past few years, Simon has been running a business from home, handling rare breeds of chickens for pets and eggs. She said recently she’s tried to pick that up, “advertis[ing] more aggressively to fill the empty space from the furloughs.”

She’s also been communicating with elected officials. She’s made calls to local congressional representatives and the White House comment line.

“It lets the girls see what government in action is, what we as the people who elect government do to let them know how we feel,” Simon said. She isn’t pleased with what she’s hearing though.

Simon said she’s frustrated that Congress hasn’t passed a budget reflecting today’s funding levels and needs.

“Why can’t they just do their job,” she asked. “We feel isolated in that we have to buckle down, go back in years in the pay that we deserve.”

 

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