Tammy Grice of Tacoma says forced furloughs for Defense Department civilian workers will “sink my family’s ship.” Shes a daycare worker at Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord.
Anxiety is rising among the civilian workforce at Joint Base Lewis-McChord that stands to lose up to a fifth of its pay this year to furloughs if Congress fails to prevent forced federal budget cuts this month, a panel of workers told Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday.
“This is going to destroy my entire family,” said Matt Thompson, 47, of Roy. He’s a Lewis-McChord mechanic supporting a family of five who says he cannot afford to lose 20 percent of his income over the next six months.
Those furloughs – initially planned as one day a week from April to September – are part of the Defense Department’s response to the $85 billion in immediate, forced federal budget cuts mandated in the so-called sequester.
They were set in motion two years ago by lawmakers who called them “unthinkable,” but put them in place to compel a compromise between Republicans and Democrats.
Now the sequester is about to take effect and the Evergreen State faces an especially sharp hit because of its concentration of military installations and defense industries. It could lose $173.4 million in take-home pay alone for Defense Department civilian workers, according to a White House report last month.
Murray, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, called the Lewis-McChord panel together in Lakewood because she believes lawmakers in the other Washington are becoming complacent about the toll the sequester will take on families. She said testimony from people like Thompson will help her put a face on the budget cuts that could compel lawmakers to act.
The Senate last weekend passed a budget proposal that would replace the forced cuts with different ones. It’s headed to a conference with lawmakers in the House of Representatives who passed a more conservative budget.
“Sequestration is the wrong cuts at the wrong time in the wrong way,” she said.
The Army had planned to send out furlough notices this week. It delayed them when Congress last week passed a spending bill that freed up some money, but not enough to take the furloughs off the table completely.
Sources on Wednesday told The Associated Press that the new spending bill gave the Pentagon enough room to reduce the number of furloughs days it will force its civilian workers to take this year under its sequestration plan.
That news had not reached the Lewis-McChord panel. Defense Department civilian workers likely will be asked to take 14 furlough days instead of 22, the Associated Press reported.
Murray’s questions tapped a deep sense of frustration among workers who have watched Congress delay decisions on spending compromises.
“It seems very apparent to many people that D.C. doesn’t give a damn,” Thompson said.
“My message to Congress is let’s get real,” said mechanic Eric Morse, 51, a union leader at Lewis-McChord who lives in Puyallup.
Tammy Grice of Tacoma brought her 6-year-old son, Liam, to the panel. He bashfully chanted, “Hey, hey sequestration’s got to go” for the senator.
Grice, 39, a daycare worker on the base, said the furloughs would force her to choose between paying her rent and paying her family’s medical bills. Her husband is a veteran and substitute teacher with inconsistent work.
“That 20 percent (cut from furloughs” would sink my family’s ship,” she said.
Matthew Hines, 53, of Spanaway works as a clerk in the Lewis-McChord office where service members pick up paperwork to get settled in Washington when they’re first assigned here. His wife is also a Defense Department civilian worker, meaning his family stands to lose
40 percent more of its pay to the furloughs.
But Hines was most worried about his adult son, who has a growing family and recently bought a house. The young man works a security guard at Lewis-McChord’s gates.
Tears welled up as Hines thought of how the furloughs would hit his son’s pocketbook. “It’ll kill him,” he said.