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Furloughs underway at WPAFB

Civil service employees will lose about $55 million.

Months of waiting becomes real-world reality today when about 10,000 civil service employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base begin 11-day furloughs this week because of mandatory budget cuts to military spending.

The estimated income loss will mean about $55 million in fewer paydays for affected workers at the Miami Valley base, the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 29,000 employees.

Civil service workers will be forced to take one day off a week without pay, part of a workforce of about 680,000 civilian employees throughout the Department of Defense who must take time off because of sequestration reductions. The Pentagon has estimated the forced hours off the job will save $1.8 billion out of the $37 billion ordered out of the budget before Oct. 1.

The cuts began March 1, when Congress failed to reach a deal this year to stop $1 trillion in automatic federal budget cuts, with half targeted over a decade in the defense budget, mandated in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The reduction in hours will hit both employees’ wallets and mean more stress and less time to handle work demands, said Brian Blankenship, civilian operations officers at the 88th Force Support Squadron at Wright-Patterson. Each unit or office will determine which days employee do not work. Military service members were exempt from furloughs. Others exempted on base include firefighters, child care and intelligence employees. Many civilian contractors who work on base, but are employed by private companies, did not receive government furlough notices.

“It puts a lot more stress on military folks and any remaining civilians on any given day,”said Blankenship, 55, a retired Air Force officer who lives in Waynesville. “There’s no 20 percent reduction in mission. It will be dicey, but we will get through it.”

Outside the gates of Wright-Patterson in Fairborn, Giovanni’s Pizzeria e Ristorante Italiano owner Tony Spaziani waits to see what happens at his Main Street eatery. Thus far, he has not noticed an impact. The restaurant employs more than 30 workers.

“We’re just braced and said let’s see what happens,” said Spaziani, 65. “I can’t afford to have ulcers thinking about it now.”

Among other cost-cutting actions, the Air Force has grounded 17 combat squadrons, slashed flying hours, curbed pilot training and put off depot maintenance on many aging aircraft.

Wright-Patterson has slashed travel, plans to shut the commissary, or supermarket on Mondays, and has turned off hallway and office lights and air conditioning, among other budget cuts.

Federal civil service employees have not had a pay raise in three years. Now facing a pay cut, many workers at Wright-Patterson have avoided making large purchases and cut costs at home, said Blankenship, who also faces furlough. “It changes your spending patterns,” he said. “I’m sure local businesses are going to feel it.”

Lower income earning base employees will feel the biggest financial pinch, he said. “Many people are going to be gravely impacted,” he said. “They were living hand-to-mouth.”

Every civilian in the federal government, from Congress to the grass roots workforce, should share in the burden of furloughs, he said.

Some Wright-Patterson employees fear the furloughs will continue after Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year. “That’s not a good thought for folks and I think it just creates a lot of stress,” Blankenship said.

Still, he said, employees were grateful the number of furlough days dropped to 11 from 22 originally announced, and that the base organized town halls and information fairs to answer questions.

The furloughs begin the same time Wright-Patterson launches an exercise Monday through Wednesday that could delay entry at base gates and create service interruptions, according to a base spokesman.

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