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Rally protests sequester cuts
Many federal employees living and working in the Yuma area face mandatory unpaid furloughs because of sequestration, a series of automatic federal budget cuts enacted on March 1 as part of an austerity fiscal policy.
John Lee Simpson, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2104, is one of about 800,000 Department of Defense employees nationwide facing unpaid furloughs once a week for the rest of the year beginning in April. The furloughs will reduce the pay DoD employees take home by about 20 percent.
“The thing that people don't understand, we are not high-paid people who can afford to lose 16 hours every two weeks,” Simpson said. “You are going to put people in debt who are struggling now. Myself, I already know the first month my mortgage is gone. That affects this community. Everybody is going to be affected. You can't recover from a loss of 20 percent.”
Simpson, along with several other federal employees and local residents concerned about the effects of sequestration, participated in a rally Wednesday afternoon calling for the mandated austerity measures to be repealed. The rally, one of about 115 similar events organized by various unions nationwide, was held on the edge of 32nd Street near Avenue 2-1/2E.
Federal employees working for the Agriculture Department, Internal Revenue Service, Education Department, Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Interior Department and federal courts are also facing furloughs. Compounding the issue, this will be the first time federal employees will be unable to recover pay they will lose through furloughing.
Ryan Mims, AFGE legislative political organizer for the 12th District, which represents nearly 33,000 members in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, said the furloughs will have a dramatic effect on Yuma's economy, especially considering the hundreds of civilian employees employed by DoD working at Yuma Proving Ground and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
“If you are cutting their pay by 20 percent, they can't go out and spend their money at grocery stores and at restaurants ... any of those things that help drive the economy in the private sector.”
Stephanne Van, president of AFGE Local 1211, said Yuma area residents need “to understand that the 9,000 federal employees (living here) — it's not just us being affected. It's this whole entire community in which we serve and live which is going to be affected by this. If we are not able to put money into the economy, then who is going to?
“Sequestration really hurts us as a whole. The whole entire nation is going to feel this pain.”
Van called on members of Congress to “pass a budget and not use the federal employees as a scapegoat in order to take our monies away, because taking our monies away is not going to solve the problem. Them doing their job and passing a budget is how they are going to resolve it.”
AFGE is not against a balanced budget that makes cuts to federal spending, “but the 10 percent across the board doesn't take into account if someone is a good worker, or if the program is efficient,” Mims said.
Sequestration “is cutting good programs and bad programs,” he continued. “Really, Congress is paid to go in there to make smart decisions and to do things correctly, and this is not a good way to do things. We think they can do a better job that won't hurt the middle class and won't put our economy at risk.”
Mims encourages Yuma-area residents to contact their representatives in Congress and demand action on the issue of sequestration.
“It would be great if people contacted their Congress member because ultimately this issue is going to affect every American,” he said. “It is going to hurt the economy and it is going to cut the wages and salaries of middle class families, not just federal employees. The cuts instantly hit them, but over the long haul it is going to seep into the private sector economy and is going to affect everybody in a bad way.”
The austerity measures enacted by the sequester were initiated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The measures were initially set to begin on Jan. 1 but were postponed for two months by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
The cuts will reduce federal spending by about $85.4 billion during fiscal year 2013, with similar cuts expected each year from 2014 through 2021, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The cuts have been divided equally between defense and non-defense categories.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.