As a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Major Angela King-Sweigart is prepared to deal with any catastrophe no matter the circumstance. But a looming crisis in Washington, D.C. has the potential to cause a challenge unlike any she has ever faced.
“We’re ready to be prepared to serve our country,” said King-Sweigart. “But I think people personally have some anxiety as far as what’s going to happen with their jobs and the impact it’ll have on their families.”
While the sequester, a series of forced budget cuts which is scheduled to go into effect on March 1, could have an impact on all Americans, those who would feel the initial brunt of it locally are civilian employees who receive federal funds from the Department of Defense, including members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
In Pennsylvania, that would mean 26,000 civilian employees would be furloughed, or required to take a day off without pay. In New Jersey 11,000 would be furloughed and in Delaware 2,000.
According to King-Sweigart, the furloughs would be for one day a week for approximately 22 weeks or, the equivalent of a 20% pay cut.
Experts believe the furloughs would likely start in late April.
John Garrity, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 3, believe the furloughs could start as soon as April 26.
“Many of our employees provide direct fleet support and travel around the world,” he said. “If the furloughs happen, as the Department of Defense is planning on April 26, those employees will not be able to do their jobs, which is to direct fleet support, because they wouldn’t be allowed to travel on a furlough day.”
Garrity represents 2,000 employees at three Philadelphia Naval Command Centers. He also served as an electronic technician for the Navy for 25 years and says the sequester would not only impact employee pay, but also the Navy’s mission.
“It would impact a lot of the contractors that we contract out to who provide support services that we accomplish on the Navy ships,” said Garrity. “I was in Washington two weeks ago in a meeting with Senator Bob Casey’s staff. I was told that across Pennsylvania it would affect 80,000 government workers and contractors.”
King-Sweigart also says the initial impact could go beyond members of the Guard and affect the economy of communities that have a heavy military population.
“You would potentially have employees who are working less, perhaps going out to eat less and spending less discretionary income,” she said. “The larger impact I think could be if there was a state emergency that we needed to respond to as a guard, a snow emergency or flooding emergency, our readiness could be impacted by sequestration. So we wouldn’t be as prepared to respond to those emergencies.”
In addition, contractors who work for federal agencies will see less work, added Moritz Ritter, an Associate Professor of Economics at Temple University.
Congress continues to work on reaching a deal before Friday’s deadline. If the sequester goes into effect on March 1, a new deadline will be set for March 27 at which time the Continuing Resolution that funds the overall discretionary operations of the federal government runs out and the government could potentially shut down.
“From what I’m hearing from the Hill, it looks like the sequester is going to happen,” said Garrity. “It doesn’t look good. But for how long? We don’t know.”
Garrity tells NBC10.com federal employees remain anxious as the deadline draws near.
“People are scared and employees are scared,” said Garrity. “This has a 20% impact on their pay. Also, federal employees have been on a pay freeze for 2 ½ years. So this isn’t the only thing that federal employees have had to sacrifice if they do have to go through furlough.”
Garrity also has a direct message for Congress.
“We’re talking defense of our country,” said Garrity. “We need to compromise and do what’s best for this country. The sequester isn’t what’s best for the country. It’s going to have an affect not only on the military but everything else federal employees are involved with.”