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.
After stopping by Pizza Hut to check his schedule, he grabbed a cart at Crest Foods and went through the pared-down shopping list for the week.
He picks up a variety of fresh produce before putting a large box of Ramen noodles in the cart.
“I didn't want to change the way my kids or my wife eat, so I've been eating Ramen,” he said. “We are trying to have them eat healthy. It's not cheap.”
Friday night's dinner is the one night he splurges a little. He selects some fresh mushrooms, which he'll use to make a risotto to go with rib-eye steak.
Ross intended to make a career in the U.S. Marines, but his six years of service ended in 2001 when he broke his ankle in a training accident. He had several surgeries but could not stay in the service.
His disabled veteran status and his income from his job at Tinker helped him get approved for a Veterans Affairs home loan, and the couple were looking to upgrade from their 1,000-square-foot home in southwest Oklahoma City.
After the furloughs went into effect, he called his mortgage broker, who told him the amount he'd been approved for was dropped by $40,000 because of his reduced income. The money from his second job won't count toward a loan because he hasn't been at the job long enough.
“It severely limited what we were able to do, the houses we were looking at,” Ross said.
What worries Ross most is the idea that the sequester cuts might not be temporary. Although furloughs are only supposed to extend through the fall, that could change if Congress continues to be deadlocked on budget issues.
Union reps have told employees they might have to take furloughs again next year. Ross said many good federal employees will be pushed into the private sector if they can't be sure of their income in the long term.
“I'm not voting for a single incumbent congressman,” Ross said. “These guys are making six figures a year and taking long vacations. All we ask them to do is sit in a room and make some concessions and come to a bipartisan agreement.”