Pentagon officials announced Tuesday they will postpone the forced unpaid leave for civilian employees pending analysis of legislation that could affect their budget.
The officials will not issue 30-day notices of the leave, or furlough, until about April 5.
Officials are delaying the notice so they can review pending legislation regarding the federal budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The legislation could reduce the number of furlough days required, according to the Defense Department.
Currently, the Pentagon is expecting that civilian employees will have to take 22 days of unpaid leave before the end of September.
More than 5,000 civilian employees work at local Air Force bases.
The 22 furlough days would result in about a 20 percent pay cut for about six months, and many employees are worried about how they will be able to meet their financial obligations.
Despite the furlough being pushed back, officials at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field are continuing to prepare for it and have resources to support civilians who are affected.
“We want them to know there is hope, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the impact,” said Mark Wilke, director of the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Eglin.
Wilke’s center and a similar one at Hurlburt are equipped to provide one-on-one financial planning sessions to assist affected employees, as well as a space to talk about the stress of a sudden loss of income.
Officials said they haven’t yet seen an increase in the number of people seeking counsel at the centers.
Wilke said he thinks employees are still processing their situation, but the resources are there if and when they need them.
Financial counselors can help employees figure out how the furlough will affect their monthly income, review their monthly spending plan and assess how the loss will impact their long-term financial goals.
Wilke said they can sometimes find ways employees can offset the income loss.
He said during the stress of facing sudden pay cuts, people can forget some of the fairly simple adjustments they can make to save money. The counselors try to help them identify categories of spending where they could cut back, such as packing a lunch instead of eating out or reducing their gasoline bills by driving less.
Wilke said all the employees at the center will also be affected by the furlough, so they understand the challenges and stress.
“We cannot only give advice, but we can empathize because we’re in the same boat,” he said. “We’re just helping folks to look at their options because sometimes in the fog you may miss something here or there.”
The counselors can also point to resources in the community that can provide food and other necessities if employees are living paycheck to paycheck and find themselves in trouble, or help employees apply for emergency financial assistance.
“They may look at some of the options they might not have normally considered,” Wilke said.
Many civilian employees have expressed concerns that with the pay cut they will be unable to meet financial obligations to lenders, which would hurt their credit and be potentially devastating to their financial future.
Wilke suggested taking proactive steps.
Because there are still several weeks before the first possible furlough day May 6, employees should contact their creditors now to let them know in advance about their situation.
He said most financial institutions have programs available to help with sudden losses in income.
“I really encourage them to talk to their banks, their credit unions, their mortgage lenders,” he said. “Most lenders are not looking for their folks to default. They want their clients to be successful, too.”
Also, if an employee requests, Air Force management will be required to write a letter explaining the furlough situation to anyone the employee is struggling to make a payment to, according to a labor agreement between civilian employee unions and the Air Force that was signed earlier this month.
LaVonne Vasques, director of the Airman and Family Readiness Center at Hurlburt, said the centers also have people to help with personal issues.
“They can talk about the stress they are feeling with their work life and how to be resilient through this,” she said. “Any kind of concerns, they should be coming over or calling us and seeking our assistance.
“It’s one team, one fight,” she said.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Affected employees can contact the Airman and Family Readiness Centers at Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field with questions or to set up an appointment. Walk-ins are also accepted. Call the center at Eglin at 882-9060 or at Hurlburt at 884-5441.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.