By Ellen Frankman
On Monday, Congressman Tim Bishop was on the lawn of the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard (ANG) Base alongside ANG members with the 106th Rescue Wing. Bishop joined the guardsmen and their families to address the crippling furloughs that went into effect on July 8 following the across-the-board cuts of the federal sequestration that that were executed in March.
Over 220 technicians of the Westhampton-based 106th Rescue Wing have been required to take 11 federally mandated unpaid furlough days between July 8 and September 30, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in pay. While the individuals affected are considered “dual-status” civilian employees of the National Guard, members of the 106th Rescue Wing also deploy worldwide to perform combat search and rescue missions for the U.S.
“These are individuals that wear the uniform of the United States,” said Congressman Bishop. “These are individuals that in one form or another put themselves on the line for the American people each and every day and our response to them is ‘Oh, thank you very much for doing that… by the way we are going to cut your pay by 20 percent.’”
“I frankly thing that that’s unconscionable,” he added, calling the sequester “terrible public policy” that disregards the human consequences of such indiscriminate cuts. It is estimated that this year, more than 618,000 Department of Defense employees will be furloughed nationally, costing the U.S. economy more than $2 billion.
“We supported the community during Superstorm Sandy, and then we had people who deployed overseas to Afghanistan and other areas for four or five months at a time,” said A.J. Wineberger, a helicopter pilot with the 106th Rescue Wing. “And they came home to a 20 percent decrease in pay.”
These pay cuts can be particularly devastating to families in which the guardsmen are the primary earners as spouses are forced to stay home to raise the children while husbands and wives are deployed.
Although Wineberger has been doing the work for decades and is lucky enough to have a spouse who is able to hold a full-time job, he is now considering pursuing other employment. Because of the furloughs and the loss of his pilot’s bonus a year and a half ago, Wineberger is coping with a 37 percent pay cut.
Sean Gavin, also a helicopter pilot with the 106th Rescue Wing, says the uncertainty of the job is the hardest part. For some guardsmen he knows, money is so tight they’ve been forced to hold yard sales to make ends meet for their families.
“It is really kind of difficult to plan your life in general, even a few months out from now when you’re talking about the furloughs continuing,” said Gavin. “Then someone tells you they are not going to continue and then sometimes tells you might get laid off.”
Lay-offs are not out of the question. According to Congressman Bishop, if the furloughs aren’t resolved by October 1, the situation will become increasingly difficult to deal with because of the distribution of the spending cuts and the increased costs of a sustained sequester.
“Not only would we be forced not to fix the furloughs, we would almost undoubtedly be looking at layoffs,” said Bishop.
But according to Bishop there is hope in Washington in the form of a bill put forth by Republican Representative Steven Palazzo of Mississippi. Bishop is a co-sponsor of H.R. 1014 which would prevent furloughs of “dual-status” military technicians like those of the 106th Rescue Wing by including them in military personnel accounts.
“I appreciate the congressman supporting his Republican colleague in his efforts to help those of us facing furloughs,” said Gavin. “That’s the kind of bipartisan leadership leadership we need.”
Congress will be in session until July 26, after which it will enter summer recess until September. Bishop vowed to vote against adjournment in the hopes of pushing the legislation through, though it is uncertain whether or not his efforts will be successful.
“How many American families would take a cut in pay of 20 percent and say no big deal?” asked Bishop. “Not too many.”