It was supposed to be something so horrible that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress would do anything to avoid it. But when the moment came an agreement on budget cuts could not be met. The Budget Control Act, a series of across the board cuts to the Federal budget known as the sequester, began on March 1 of this year.
“And so this was all designed to say we can’t do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration,” President Obama said at the time.
With August here, the effects of the sequester are now in their second month. A July rally of the stock markets based on housing market numbers, strong manufacturing figures and a drop in unemployment has some doubting if the sequester will have an effect on the economy.
Some in the Capital Region already know the answer.
“The 20 percent cut in pay is pretty brutal no matter how you slice it,” said Darryl Borton, an employee at the Watervliet Arsenal. “Most people operate on a fixed income; you can’t just take 20 percent off your mortgage or 20 percent off your car payment.”
The Watervliet Arsenal employees 600 federal workers, all effected by the sequester. The average salary of its workforce is $28 per hour and the majority of jobs there are in skilled manufacturing.
The Arsenal workforce is now in the second pay period of furloughs. Budget cuts required by sequestration demand that the Department of Defense reduce its civilian labor cost by 20 percent each pay period. The furloughs require federal workers to take unpaid days off, a practice many employees call Furlough Fridays.
The Arsenal has served the military since 1813 and is the primary supplier of mortars and cannons, according to the Arsenal’s website.
The Watervliet Arsenal is not the only employer affected by the sequestration. The New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs in Latham also felt the budget cuts.
The DMNA is the state body in charge of the New York National Guard, and New York Air National Guard. It employs about 1,745 federal technicians, according to its website. These civilian employees are paid through federal funding and are required to serve in the National Guard or Air National Guard part time.
These employees mostly perform maintenance on equipment and aircraft in the National Guard inventory, according to DMNA Public Affairs Officer Eric Durr.
“We’ll still be able to accomplish our core mission, if the governor says I need [the Guard] to come out to respond to a storm like we did in the Mohawk Valley a couple of weeks ago, we’ll be there, but there will be maintenance deferred, things will just get put off,” said Durr. “You won’t have as many vehicles that can run; you won’t have as many helicopters that can fly.”
Even the unemployed find themselves effected by the sequester. People who qualify for a federally funded extension for unemployment benefits that start after 26 weeks of unemployment saw benefits reduced by 10.7 percent, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
The DMNA hopes that the budget crisis is resolved in the new fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Until then the furloughs remain in effect. According to a statement issued by the Watervliet Arsenal, the sequester diverted hundreds of hours of manufacturing into planning for how to cope with the effects of the budget cuts.
“If this becomes a long-term solution to the fiscal problem, there will be a lot of chit-chatting with my wife about what were going to do, because obviously we can’t deal with a 20-percent reduction and have that be OK,” said Borton.