The Sequester, 20% and Our Defense Family

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We are a Department of Defense family; have been for 24 years. We moved to a new state in 1995 due to base closures. We've held our breath hoping that hubby's name wouldn't be on the list being sent to support the troops in the middle of conflicts numerous times. We've watched our benefits dwindle. We've had no cost of living pay increases in over two years. We are now being told that unless Congress can actually do their job and create a budget, we are looking at a 22-week sequester.

May 09, 2005; Wheatland, CA, USA; MICAIAH PADDOCK, a senior airman stationed at Beal Air Force Base, stocks up on groceries at Big AlÕs Market in Wheatland, CA. Image Credit: Carl Costas/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press. (©) Copyright 2005 by Carl Costas/Sacramento Bee

First off, let me clear up a widely held misconception. Federal workers, more specifically D.O.D. blue-collar workers, are not making anywhere near six figures a year. In fact, most of the private contractors working at the base make more than my husband. While there are advancements within each pay grade once you top out (which most do within a few years), the only raise you see is the cost of living pay increase. We don't get bonuses. Everyone gets the same raise, regardless of job performance. I've been wondering why many people think the pay is more than it is, and I've come to this conclusion: The D.O.D. hires many retired military personnel; at least half of the men in my husband's shop are former Navy. These families are living on two incomes from one provider, which I think is what gave rise to the pay misconception.

On to our future. In the past, there has been talk about layoffs, base closures (been there, done that), forced retirements, and sequesters. This is the first time we are receiving weekly updates from the commander of our base regarding what the future could look like. There are so many different aspects to this; it is overwhelming. We were originally told that the contractors would be let go, which unfortunate as it is seemed fair. On Friday, we learned that the contractors aren't actually being affected, as their money comes from a different budget line, and the contracts with their employing companies have already been paid. These are men who have worked side by side for months -- now they are being viewed as the enemy.

If the sequester does happen, Hubby will be reduced to a four-day work week. Originally, there were talks that they would work a regular five-day week and only be paid for four; then, before the end of the year, the owed monies would be paid. As hard as that would be, at least we knew the money would be coming. That plan was quashed, and now it appears that they will only work four days a week for 22 weeks. Basically, that is one month + two days of no work/no pay. For five months, we will see a 20% reduction in pay.

This is where life gets fun. Most people have wiggle room in their monthly budget -- but 20% is Zumba room, not wiggle room. The utility companies won't accept 80% of what is due. The car can't run on 80% of the gas it needs. Luxuries such as expanded cable will be cut, along with our Weight Watchers membership. My Friday lunches will also be put on hold for a while. We will survive this, but it won't be easy.

The long-term effect of this sequester on military communities will be devastating. There are already too many people living above their means as it is. Reducing their income will force many to default on loans or extend their credit further. While we may not see immediate consequences, I believe we will see a rise in bankruptcies and foreclosures.

To me, what is incredibly frustrating is the finger pointing and blaming going on in DC. Depending how your friends on Facebook lean, you're seeing memes condemning either the president, the Democrats or the Republicans. At this point, does it really matter? Until we as Americans hold our representatives (yes, remember they are supposed to represent ALL of us) responsible for their actions, and stop treating their TEMPORARY jobs as pawn pieces in the game we call government, nothing is going to change.


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