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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Military News

MacDill furloughs' impact is far-reaching


Published:

TAMPA - On July 8, the Tampa Bay community will begin taking an economic hit that will hurt thousands of military families who will lose about $8 million in wages over the next three months.

About 3,500 civilian employees at MacDill Air Force Base will begin taking furloughs, each taking 11 days without pay through the end of September. The furloughs were mandated by the Department of Defense when automatic federal spending cuts went into effect March 1 after the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal on the federal deficit.

When the furloughs were proposed, the civilian employees were looking at 22 days without pay. But even though the cuts were halved, they are devastating for the employees, their families and those who rely on their spending.

"The impact on their lives and those around them cannot be measured, but we know it will add stress to their daily lives as well as their family," Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and MacDill base commander, wrote in an emailed statement.

The money lost by MacDill's civilians will have a significant ripple effect.

"These folks are going to be using their savings for their needs as opposed to buying things like cars and other things that fuel other parts of the economy," said Rhea Law, CEO and chairwoman of the board of the Fowler White Boggs law firm and chief of the Command Advisory Council for the 6th Air Mobility Wing. "This is a significant hit for our entire country and certainly for our community."

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The economic impact is measured by multiplying about $200 in average daily wages, times 11 days of furlough, times the number of employees affected.

In the case of MacDill, there are about 2,200 affected employees at the 6th Air Mobility Wing, as well as about 900 employees at U.S. Special Operations Command, more than 450 at U.S. Central Command and others spread through MacDill's many units.

The Department of Defense began sending out furlough notices May 28.

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon said military officials are well aware of the impact the cuts will have.

"We are moving forward with unpaid furloughs of our valued appropriated fund civilian workforce ... with expected reductions in their morale and effectiveness," said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde.

The furloughs, Hull-Ryde said, were the least painful option.

Without the across-the-board pay cuts, "we would have to make even larger cuts in training and maintenance - cuts that we judged would heighten the already significant risk that sequestration poses to our national security," she said.

A retired Air Force brigadier general and former MacDill base commander said the furloughs show that the automatic nature of the cuts - with little input from military commanders - are hurting those who can least afford it.

"It's really a shame to me that the policies and decisions coming down impact those who need the money the most," said Chip Diehl, now vice president of the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance. "The commanders aren't given any choice as to where the cuts are made and they are the ones responsible for the readiness as well as the quality of life of the people."

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As bad as things will be in the short term, Law said she worries about what will happen after September, when the new fiscal year - which is how the government divvies up its spending - kicks in.

"We don't know what will happen then," she said.

That's why a number of local organizations are working on a plan to help those who must bear the cuts.

"They are trying to figure out how they can be of assistance in finding other jobs for individuals who really need to make up the difference," Law said. "They have been there for us. Now it is time for us to be there for them."

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

Twitter: @haltman

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