By Kitty Merrill
The current policy of indiscriminate, across-the-board federal spending cuts is hurting America's military, Congressman Tim Bishop said Monday as he stood with military technician members of the 106th Air Rescue Wing who have been forced to take unpaid furloughs as a result of the policy known as sequestration.
In all, 220 "dual-status" military technicians in the civilian workforce at the 106th will be furloughed for a total of 11 days between July 8 and September 30, the end of the federal government's fiscal year, effectively reducing their pay by 20 percent over that period.
"Dual-status" technicians are members of the Air National Guard and wear the uniform while performing their duties, but are classified as civilians. The furloughs are affecting technicians at all levels of experience: an entry-level technician at the GS-4 Pay Grade of $31,560 annually will lose $1,578 as a result of the furlough and a top supervisor at the GS-14 pay grade of $109,022 annually will lose $5451.
"Many military spouses don't work full time because a service member can be deployed overseas for four or five months at a time and they have to take care of their kids basically as a single parent," said A.J. Wineberger, a "dual-status" helicopter instructor with the 106th who is subject to furlough. "We all know the cost of living on Long Island and with a 20 percent pay cut people are having a hard time putting food on the table and clothes on their family. That's a travesty in itself."
The 106th Rescue Wing deploys worldwide to provide combat search and rescue coverage for U.S. and allied military forces including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wing also responds to emergencies and natural disasters in New York at the direction of the governor, and participated in the evacuation of hundreds of residents from flooded areas of Lindenhurst after Superstorm Sandy.
Despite sequestration, the core mission of the 106th will be sustained, but furloughs will directly impact operations and productivity at the Wing, with important upgrades and maintenance to aircraft, vehicles, and computer systems facing delays.
"Sequestration is hurting our military readiness, our military families, and the communities that support them and rely on them," Bishop said. "Congress must reach an agreement to replace this poorly crafted and harmful policy with a balanced approach that reduces long-term deficits while protecting our economy and critical services."
Statewide, more than 10,000 Department of Defense employees at New York's military installations are facing furloughs, including approximately 1750 National Guard technicians. The furloughs will cost the state's economy over $33 million according to analysis from the House Committee on Appropriations.
"As members of the community who support the 106th and understand how important it is for our area, we are very concerned about the impact of these furloughs on the men and women of the Wing," said Michael Jacobs, Chairman of the Friends of the 106th Rescue Wing, a community advocacy group supporting the unit.
Nationally, more than 618,000 Department of Defense employees will be furloughed in this fiscal year at a cost of more than $2 billion to the U.S. economy. Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if Congress fails to replace the sequester, the American economy will likely lose almost 1 million jobs, and up to 1.6 million jobs, by the end of Fiscal Year 2014.
Congressman Bishop is a cosponsor of bipartisan legislation sponsored by Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS), that would prevent furloughs of "dual-status" military technicians by including them in military personnel accounts exempted from the sequestration cuts.
"There's really a lot of uncertainty, and it's difficult to plan your life in general when you don't know if you might be furloughed or even laid off," said dual-status helicopter pilot Sean Gavin. "I appreciate the Congressman supporting his Republican colleague in his efforts to help those of us facing furloughs, it's the kind of bipartisan leadership we need."
"The 106th Air Rescue Wing and the dedicated public servants who work here do an incredible job for us, and they deserve better," said Congressman Bishop. "They deserve from us the level of support they are giving to us."
Earlier this year the control tower at Gabreski was imperiled by sequestration cuts, as the Federal Aviation Administration considered the closure of 189 traffic control towers in an effort to come up with $600 million in spending cuts required by sequestration. Without the tower, Gabreski would have operated with pilots shouldering the sole responsibility for safety.
Elected officials, including Bishop, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand fought the closure. The FAA ultimately acknowledged the 106th Air Rescue Wing's homeland security mission and deemed keeping it operational "in the national interest."
Gabreski is home to the 106th as well as the Suffolk Police Medevac Helicopter, and considered essential to military training and disaster relief efforts. As a gateway to the East End, Bellone called it "crucial" to sustaining the local economy.