Charleston area braces as Pentagon furloughs take effect
HANAHAN — Computer scientist Allyn Stott has a plan this morning for the start of the Pentagon’s mandatory civilian furloughs.
By the numbers
Various DoD civilians facing sequestration furloughs in Charleston area:
Army Strategic Logistics
Activity Charleston: 38 civilians
841st Army Transportation
Command: 25 civilians
Army Corps of Engineers:
Nuclear Power Training School:
Consolidated BRIG: 23 civilians
Naval Health Clinic: 140 civilians
SPAWAR Atlantic: 2,600 civilians
Air Force Base: 1,390 civilians
Estimated Charleston total:
Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, June estimates.
“No vacation and no eating out except for one day a week,” said Stott, 25, of James Island, who works at the U.S. Navy’s high-tech installation known as SPAWAR and supports his wife in graduate school.
He also has calculated how much it will cost him to stay at home every Friday without pay for the next 11 weeks: Roughly $3,700 of his $75,000 annual salary.
That means cutting out “everything that would have been for fun or extra,” he said, pointing to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he brought for lunch.
After months of anticipation, the Department of Defense’s “sequestration” furloughs are now a reality as thousands of civilians working for the military across the country and South Carolina are required to miss one day out of every five. That equates to a 20 percent loss in pay through September.
In the Charleston area, a minimum of 4,300 people are affected, with more than half of those coming from SPAWAR, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic.
Statewide, the total number is more than 11,000 workers being furloughed, primarily from areas around South Carolina’s other three leading military towns, Beaufort, Columbia and Sumter.
The furloughs came after Congress last year failed to head off the so-called “fiscal cliff” of budget reductions that triggered mandated spending cuts. The military’s portion of those cuts is expected to save about $2.5 billion.
Still, the number of furlough days is not as bad as first envisioned. The target went from the Pentagon’s originally announcement of 22 days down to 14, and finally settled on the current 11 days.
The reduction hasn’t been enough to stop some Defense Department employees from looking for other options as they seek to make ends meet, ranging from renegotiating phone and cable packages to shopping more in bulk.
Veronica Maskell, 40, of West Ashley, who works as an administrative assistant at SPAWAR and is a single mother of two, is trying to land a second job as a waitress. Her ideal situation would be to work Wednesday and Thursday nights and on Fridays to make up for the loss of 20 percent of her take-home pay.
“I send my kids to private school, and I don’t want that to change,” she said.
SPAWAR officials have mandated every Friday as the designated “stay home” day for most workers, unless there is something like a planned installation of electronic equipment on a ship where more time might be needed to finish the job without interruption.
Other local commands, including the Charleston District Army Corps of Engineers headquarters with 60 civilians, are letting supervisors approve employee schedules.
Meanwhile, some local economy watchers said the 20 percent loss in pay will have a significant ripple effect as furloughed employees spend less and opt to stay home more, avoiding activities such as dining out and other extras.
“Forty-three hundred people taking a 20 percent cut in pay between July and Sept. 30 is, no doubt, going to impact the economy,” said Mary Graham, who follows military issues for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Recent statistics show the military employs more than 22,000 people in the Charleston area, through active-duty, civilian and contract employment. Their contributions add more than $4.67 billion each year into the local economy, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.
The state Commerce Department estimates that there is $15.7 billion in total economic impact (final demand or sales) and 138,000 jobs directly or indirectly supported by the military in South Carolina.
It’s not just the loss of payroll cash. Graham said she has had conversations with some sectors of the defense industry worried about budgets and the short-term future.
“Their concerns are what happens in 2014 and 2015 and beyond,” she said in a recent evaluation of the situation. “The longer you delay maintenance, training, etc., the worse the long-term impact is going to be.”
Graham said one positive effect of the furloughs, and how the defense industry reacts to it here, is that it could show the value of the various Charleston installations to the Pentagon, post-Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I guess that could be the silver lining, if we show that they need us,” she said. “The challenge could be that we meet the mission — and take the furlough.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.