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

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.”

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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