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Military Community Feels the Effects of Furloughs, Too

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PFC Jasun Jordan, 1, ... ] PFC Jasun Jordan, 1, ... ] Defense Department file photo

Washington is in the grips of yet another potential government shutdown and a showdown over raising the debt limit. The sequester almost seems like old news.

Almost, but not quite, unfortunately.

Fiscal 2013 sequester-related furloughs might be over and done with, but unpaid leave for even more federal employees in fiscal 2014 is a certainty unless Congress replaces the automatic budget cuts. The FBI said last week that it would shut down for 10 agency-wide furlough days if sequestration continues as expected in the next fiscal year. The Defense Department, which furloughed more than 650,000 of its civilian employees for six days in fiscal 2013, announced it might have to lay off civilian workers if the budget cuts remain in place.

It’s hard to start thinking about what could happen in fiscal 2014, though, when you’re still reeling from this past spring and summer.

And it’s not just civilian feds who were affected by the sequester.

Seventy-two percent of middle-class military families with annual household incomes of at least $50,000 said they were adversely affected by the furloughs of civilian Defense workers, a recent survey found. Service members were exempt from furlough, but they depend on their civilian colleagues for many services, ranging from medical care to grounds maintenance in military housing areas.

“While the recent furloughs obviously impacted the financial lives of hundreds of thousands of civilian defense workers, many military families are also feeling the effects,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command Financial Services Inc., the group that conducted the survey. “It’s worth noting that a significant subset of active-duty households include a federal employee. These families were hit twice by the furloughs -- through a reduction in various services to the military communities as well as smaller paychecks for federal workers.”

Nearly half of the survey’s military respondents -- 46 percent -- cited reduced hours at military commissaries and exchanges as a negative result of civilian furloughs. The First Command Financial Behaviors Index looks at trends among the American public’s financial behaviors and attitudes through a monthly survey of approximately 530 U.S. consumers age 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly.

Active-duty service members also complained about long waits to enter federal facilities and military installations, delayed or decreased access to medical treatment, hiring freezes and a lack of bonuses.

By contrast, 32 percent of middle-class Americans in the general public reported being negatively affected by sequestration, according to the survey. Of course, that figure could spike if, say the Federal Aviation Administration or Social Security Administration are forced to furlough employees next year.

Congress is attempting to pass a continuing resolution this week to keep the government running through Dec. 15. The fiscal 2014 budget cuts take effect in mid-January, so if there are furloughs, they most likely won’t start until the winter or spring of 2014.

Unless of course, the government shut downs on Oct. 1, and most of the federal workforce goes on furlough because of a lapse in appropriations.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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