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Furlough days hit Tinker employees in their wallets

Greg Ross is one of thousands of civilian employees at Tinker Air Force Base being forced to take furlough days this summer because of the federal sequester budget cuts. He has taken a second job to make up for the 20 percent of his pay he's losing, meaning he rarely sees his wife and kids.
by William Crum Modified: July 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: July 22, 2013

It's been five days since Greg Ross has seen his daughters.

“Daddy!” scream Zoey, 1, and Zaria, 2, as the door to their day care opens and he sweeps them into his arms for a few minutes.

Ross, 37, of Oklahoma City, swore he wasn't going to be one of those dads who was never around. But that was before Congress' inability to reach a budget deal caused 14,000 civilian employees at Tinker Air Force Base, including Ross, to start taking furlough days this month as part of cuts known as the sequester.

These employees are to take 11 unpaid days off by the end of September.

Economic experts warn the furloughs could hurt Oklahoma's economy. A 2011 report from the State Chamber Research Foundation and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce said the state's five military installations are responsible for one out of 16 jobs in Oklahoma. The State Chamber said in a September 2012 report that Oklahoma's aerospace industry accounts for $12.5 billion, or 10 percent, of Oklahoma's total economic output.

Sales tax receipts this month in Oklahoma City are off 3.4 percent from last year, although the reason for the drop still is being analyzed.

Ross and his wife, Denise, have been struggling to make ends meet with reduced income because of the furlough, so Ross took a second job delivering pizzas.

“We don't live lavishly,” Ross said. “Working for the federal government at Tinker is a good job. The benefits are nice. I have a good middle-class income, but if they keep this up, it won't be.”

Ross leaves for work at Tinker at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday. After work, he changes clothes and leaves for his second job before his daughters get home. He returns at night after they already have gone to bed.

Before the furloughs, Ross' life centered on his girls. Now he sees them only on weekends.

“My girls are my whole world,” he said. “My wife says they pick up the toy cellphone first thing every morning and call Daddy.”

Ross spends his furlough Fridays running errands like grocery shopping and cooking for his wife and daughters, which he used to do every night.

Friday, he took a few minutes to stop by the girls' day care and visit before getting back to his routine.

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by William Crum
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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