Most federal employees would have trouble paying for basic expenses if their agencies institute furloughs, according to a survey of National Treasury Employee Union members.
The NTEU surveyed 2,200 of its members and 82 percent said a furlough of one week to one month would make it difficult for them to pay for housing, food and utilities.
Nearly two-thirds — 63 percent — would have to take money out of savings or retirement accounts, while 57 percent would have to take out loans or incur new debt to make ends meet, according to the survey, which was released at NTEU’s annual legislative conference.
Agencies will be forced to cut budgets across the board because of automatic spending cuts slated to take affect March 1. The cuts — known as sequestration — are required under the 2011 Budget Control Act unless Congress and the White House agree this week on a deficit reduction plan.
Colleen Kelley, NTEU president, said at the conference that sequestration would be devastating to federal employees and would require agencies to cut indiscriminately from their budgets instead of prioritizing the most important functions.
“This meat ax approach to deficit reduction was never expected to be implemented. It was supposed to serve as an incentive for a sensible approach,” Kelley said.
Federal employees are already feeling the effects of agency budget cuts, with 79 percent of surveyed employees saying their agencies are not replacing workers who leave and 67 percent reporting hiring freezes in their workplaces.
Kelley said federal employees are not only worried about the sequestration cuts but also about other looming deadlines: the end of the continuing resolution that funds the government until March 27; the debt limit ceiling suspension set to expire May 19; and the debate over the 2014 budget.
“It’s like a horror movie where the monster keeps coming back to life again and again and won’t die,” Kelley said at the conference.
Kelley said NTEU will bargain with agencies over potential furloughs in an attempt to give employees more flexibility for when they serve those days and how agencies deal with increased workloads.
She added that the end of the continuing resolution might provide Congress with a way to mitigate sequestration as part of the larger budget process.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who spoke at the conference, said Congress hasn’t reached a compromise because of political posturing and added she does not have “a lot of hope” for a current Senate proposal to replace the sequester with a new mix of tax increases and budget cuts.
But she said Congress needs to find a way to avoid sequestration or its effects will hurt the economy.
“The impact of letting these cuts go forward is devastating,” Shaheen said.