Associated Press Writer
FORT STEWART — Casey Taylor-Racinelli has tightened her grocery budget and gotten stingier with air-conditioning at home to help her family absorb the blow of 11 unpaid days off she’ll be forced to take from her job as a physician’s assistant at an Army medical clinic starting in July.
She’s among about 3,100 civilians working for the Army at Fort Stewart and neighboring Hunter Army Airfield in southwest Georgia who will be forced to take one furlough day each week starting July 12 and continuing through Sept. 30. For them, the automatic federal budget cuts that kicked in months ago will have financially painful consequences — a 20 percent pay cut for almost three months. Commanders say the total payroll loss could top $10 million.
“We’re eating cheaper and going back to the store brands. We’re not eating out much and keeping the fans on so we don’t use the air-conditioning as much,” said Taylor-Racinelli, 37, who worries about keeping up with $650 installments on her student loans when she expects the furloughs to cost her $1,000 each month. “It hurts.”
About 100 Army employees and military family members turned out Friday for a town hall meeting with commanders at Fort Stewart, the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River.
They’re far from alone.
Civilian employees of the military nationwide are being forced to take the furlough days. The economic hardships will be felt across Georgia, from the Army’s Fort Benning in Columbus to Robins Air Force Base south of Macon, from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay on the coast to Fort Gordon in Augusta.
And the budget crisis is hitting civilians performing a vast range of jobs for the military — security guards at access gates and elementary school teachers, administrative workers at military hospitals and check-out clerks at the commissaries where service members and their families buy groceries.
While soldiers, sailors and airmen on active duty won’t take any pay cuts, they’ll certainly see a reduction in services. At Fort Stewart, the commissary will be closed two days each week instead of one. Civilian-staffed offices that supply troops with ammunition for training and vehicle maintenance will close every Friday. So will the office that issues ID badges, the on-post library and the recreational gun range.
Brig. Gen. John Hort, deputy commanding general at Fort Stewart, noted the Pentagon managed to find ways to cut the number of furlough days in half from an anticipated 22 days earlier this year. But he also acknowledged that’s not much comfort for families facing a big pay cut.
“It still is important to all of you who are trying to put food on the table and take care of your children,” Hort said. “But our military leadership has taken this very seriously and done all they can.”
Mark Bowyer, who supervises a medical laboratory at Fort Stewart, said his family should have enough savings to pull through the coming months. He’s also an Army retiree who spent 20 years on active duty, so healso has a pension to supplement his income.
But Bowyer, 47, said many of his co-workers will struggle financially and he’s angry that they’ll have to pay the price for federal overspending and unwillingness by Congress and the president to agree on solutions.
“We have to shoulder the burden for ineptness in Washington,” Bowyer said.