Robins Air Force Base workers cut back spending with furloughs looming

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 1, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Robins Air Force Base worker Chelsea Ybarbo planned on buying a bigger car this year because she has three small children, but the prospect of furloughs resulting from automatic spending cuts put that on hold.

Ybarbo makes $32,000 per year in her job processing packages for the Defense Logistics Agency at Robins. She will be among about 15,000 civilian workers at the base expected to take 22 days of furlough between mid-April and Oct. 1. Her husband is a master sergeant at the base but won’t be impacted by the furlough because military members are exempt.

Still, Ybarbo said Friday, hours before the cuts known as sequestration were expected to go into effect, her family has been cutting back on spending to prepare for the impact.

“It’s going to affect me in a big way, with three small kids, a mortgage to pay and groceries to buy,” she said.

She said they have significantly reduced eating out, going to the movies and other entertainment expenses, including trips to children’s play place Monkey Joe’s.

“I am worried,” she said. “That’s money coming out of our household, and we still have to live.”

Sequestration originates from the 2011 Budget Control Act, which called for $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years on nearly every aspect of federal spending except for entitlements. Almost $500 billion of that is to come from the military. The act set up a super committee that was supposed to come up with an alternative for targeted cuts that wouldn’t touch every program, but the committee’s negotiations failed, and Congress couldn’t reach an alternative agreement by Friday’s deadline.

David Jones, a weight and balance examiner in the 402nd Maintenance Wing, said he has been hoping for a compromise to stop the cuts, but he also has been preparing for them. He and his wife have three children, all in elementary school, and they have been spending less.

“We don’t go out to eat as much as we used to,” he said. “We don’t go out and buy the things that are not necessities versus wants.”

Tom Scott, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 987, the largest union at Robins, said members have been anxious about the prospect of furloughs. He said he warned members in January to start saving in the event the cuts went into effect. He is particularly concerned about workers who are the primary wage earner in their family.

“I think about 20 percent of members are probably going to be OK,” he said. “The majority are going to be living paycheck to paycheck.”

He said the union is in negotiations to try to allow workers to take the furlough days consecutively, rather than one day per week as previously was announced. By taking the days consecutively, it would allow workers to collect unemployment benefits.

Gus Maturana, owner of Emilio’s Cuban Café just south of the base, said about 70 percent of his customers are base employees. Another 20 percent, he said, work for local contractors serving the base who also will be impacted by the cuts.

So far he hasn’t seen a drop-off in business from base workers trying to cut back in anticipation of furloughs, but he is concerned the cuts will begin to impact his business significantly.

“We speak to our customers, and I know they are really concerned,” he said. “They are going to be cutting back, so it really scares me.”

Because industries that do contracted work for the base already have contracts in place, it’s expected to take longer for the impact to be seen there.

Boeing employs about 500 people in Middle Georgia, including its Macon plant and those who work at the base, said company spokesman Dan Beck. He said it’s still uncertain how the cuts might impact the company or its employees in Middle Georgia, but he said there are no current plans for any actions related to the cuts.

“At this point we really don’t know and can’t speculate on what it might mean,” he said. “We have to wait until we get specific guidance. We are certainly very disappointed sequestration appears to be kicking in. Boeing has been opposed to it and the devastating effects it will have on national security.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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