By Greg Slabodkin
Lately, if you’ve been by the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on Mondays, you might have noticed the absence of people. That’s because sequestration has gone into effect across the U.S. military, resulting in furloughs that began at the base on July 8.
However, the furloughed employees aren’t just statistics tracked by Pentagon bean counters. Behind the numbers are real people, military and civilian workers at the Niagara Falls air base who are feeling the painful financial effects of sequestration spending cuts mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Imagine if your employer cut your weekly income by 20 percent and how that decline in take-home pay would impact you and your family’s household. That is what most of the personnel at the base have had to endure at the rate of one furlough day per work week.
The economic situation is tough enough for families struggling to make ends meet without being hit by furloughs. Mortgages need to be paid. Food must be put on the table. And kids need tuition for college. None of these costs of living goes away simply because Congress and the Obama administration can’t get our nation’s financial house in order.
In addition to the loss of pay these base employees now face, the furloughs are also negatively impacting our local economy due to the fact that these people are spending less on businesses in the area. Retailers and restaurants that rely on the base are noticing a decline in business as a result of the furloughs.
When the Defense Department first announced the furloughs, the plan was to continue them through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2013. However, now there is a good possibility that sequestration will continue into fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1, thereby prolonging the suffering of the men and women at the Niagara Falls base.
In making the decision to furlough employees, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called it “an unpleasant set of choices” between the desire to avoid furloughing workers versus using funds to restore sharp cuts in training and flight operations. Hagel has admitted that sequestration is a mindless, irresponsible process. “It’s unfair. It’s wrong to do this to families, to people who have given their lives to this country,” he said.
These men and women unselfishly serve our nation each day with their commitment and sacrifice. And, in return, our political leaders in Washington have dishonored their service by putting them on furlough.
In recent years, those who have jobs at the Niagara Falls base have been at risk from defense budget cuts calling for the retirement of C-130 aircraft and the ever-present threat of a new round of base realignment and closure. Haven’t they been through enough?
Greg Slabodkin of Kenmore is a former editor of Inside the Air Force.