James Blount is worried about his family’s future.
Last week the Department of Defense announced its intention to make civilian employees take unpaid leave if Congress doesn’t avert the some $85 billion in budget cuts set to take effect by the end of the week.
For Blount, a civilian carpenter at Eglin Air Force Base, that could mean he won’t be able to pay his bills. The 32-year-old is the primary earner for his wife and toddler.
“This is the only check for my family,” Blount said. “This is not only going to affect my job, but my future — probably for a long time.”
He said he already has contacted his mortgage company and credit lenders to try to get payments lowered to brace for the possible loss of income.
Even so, he knows he likely won’t be able to make all the scheduled payments.
“You’ve got to feed the child first before you pay the other bills, so that’s where the money is going to be going,” he said. “We will probably be in a lot of debt trouble. My credit is going to go to nothing.”
About 3,700 civilian employees work at Eglin Air Force Base and another 1,400 work at Hurlburt Field.
The final implementation plan hasn’t been released, but the Secretary of the Air Force said in a memo Monday that affected employees would be subject to furloughs, or unpaid leave, for up to 22 discontinuous workdays.
That’s if Congress doesn’t agree to avert the budget cuts, or sequestration, by Thursday, the memo said.
Eglin anticipates that if the furloughs go into effect, most civilian employees will not report to work one day a week from the end of April to the end of September, said Andy Bourland, a spokesman for Eglin.
For Blount, that could mean a loss of about $800 a month, or 23 percent of his pay, he said.
The Iraq war veteran served six years in the Air Force before leaving to join the civilian workforce.
He said he feels like he has a good-paying job, but that he’s budgeted his life for that income and a sudden cutback will quickly lead to hard times for his family.
Curt Kirkland, 48, is a civil engineer at Eglin. His wife is also a civil employee there.
He also is concerned the cuts will prevent his family from being able to meet their financial obligations, from house and car payments to their son’s college tuition.
His job requires security clearance that depends on a clean financial record, so if his credit takes a beating he is worried he eventually could lose his job.
Amanda Patterson, a 33-year-old civilian employee at NAS Pensacola with two children, said she may try to pick up a delivery job on the days she is required to take off to make up for the loss of income.
Civilian employees already haven’t had a cost-of-living pay raise for several years, Blount said.
“There is a lot of animosity in the local shops,” he said. “Morale has not been good.”
Local federal workers’ unions are concerned.
“We just continue to support the mission and do what we do,” said Thaddeus Wallace, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1897, which represents thousands of local blue collar civilian military employees.
“This is another extremely hard hit to take,” he said.
Wallace said he’s worried not only about his workers’ pay, but also about possible impacts to the military’s mission that relies on civilian support work and how the loss of income will affect local businesses that civilian workers frequent.
Because of that, he questions whether laying civilians out on the chopping block is the best way to cut the military’s budget.
“I think overall we can look at how we spend in general,” he said. “There’s lots of ways to address this. Just looking down at the civilians at this particular point is a method that can have long-range effects on our economy.”
The civilian workforce makes up about 10 percent of the military’s total personnel budget, which includes military, civilian and contractors, according to a Department of Defense document from 2011. Contractors are the costliest, at about 50 percent of the total personnel budget.
While many employees are scrambling to try to plan for the pay cut, Rocky Tasse, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1942, is bracing for a fight.
According to the Air Force, the unions have until early March to propose their own plans for implementing the furlough.
Tasse said he met with other union presidents representing Air Force civilian employees last week. He said they will likely propose that the furlough days be consecutive: up to 22 days off in a row without pay.
That would allow workers to file for unemployment benefits in most states to help make up for the loss of income, he said.
The employees could schedule their unpaid leave over a five-month period.
If implemented that way, it would have the added benefit of threatening to interrupt day-to-day Air Force base operations, which may be unpalatable enough to stave off or weaken the furlough, Tasse said.
“I want to make this so painful that they will never, ever consider doing this again.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.