As civilian Defense Department employees across Hampton Roads brace for the possibility of furloughs, a group of community, business and defense officials said Tuesday the entire region needs to prepare for the side effects of budget cuts.
Among the concerns highlighted by panelists: If government workers are forced to take unpaid days off, some likely will have trouble paying their rent or mortgage; senior services such as Meals on Wheels might be curtailed later this year; and charitable giving probably will drop off.
Mark Honecker, executive director of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said the impact of mandatory spending cuts on the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is not clear.
"I've got about an $11 billion budget. I can't tell you within about $300 million where we're going to end up at the end of the year," he told a LEAD Hampton Roads breakfast forum of about 75 people at the Town Point Club in Norfolk.
The furloughs, which the Pentagon has said could begin in June, with employees being notified this month, would affect more than 30,000 federal workers in Hampton Roads, Honecker said.
About 10,000 ship repair workers, 5,000 civilian mariners and 4,000 medical personnel are directly employed by the Navy in the region, he said. Most workers - excluding uniformed personnel - could be forced to take one unpaid day off a week for 14 weeks.
The pay cuts will be difficult to manage because those workers cannot easily replace their lost wages or apply for unemployment benefits, said Carol McCormack, president of United Way of South Hampton Roads.
She pointed to a recent study that found about one third of federal workers, military and civilian, had said they would have trouble paying for housing if they lost a week's pay. The findings are based on a survey of 7,000 Hampton Roads households conducted recently by the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center as part of a community research project.
The effect on people's personal finances is "the forgotten part of this whole thing," McCormack said.
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