By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Seventy-six full-time National Guard personnel who work in Tupelo will be among 1,400 employees statewide who will have to endure 11 furlough days this summer and fall as part of federal budget cuts.
“Obviously this will be a significant hardship” for the affected military personnel, said Mississippi Adjutant Gen. Augustus L. Collins, who announced the furloughs Thursday during a news conference at the state’s Joint Force Headquarters.
The furloughs are required because of budget cuts under the so-called sequestration that was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Under the act, various agencies, including the military, were scheduled to be hit with across-the-board cuts if Republicans and Democrats could not agree on other ways to reduce the deficit.
Collins said that Congress earlier this year passed and President Barack Obama signed legislation lessening the impact of the cuts to the military. Still, Collins announced Thursday that 1,400 National Guard military technicians will be off from work without pay for one day a week – primarily on Mondays – between July 8 and Sept. 30.
Collins said the secretary of defense also worked to lessen the impact of the cuts.
But U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said, “It is unconscionable that the Obama Administration is issuing furloughs to the brave men and women who protect our nation instead of cutting wasteful spending. There is no doubt our country’s national and economic security depends on reducing high levels of federal debt. However, it is imperative that we not compromise the readiness of our brave men and women in uniform.”
Collins said the employees being furloughed perform a number of functions, from administrative posts, to maintenance positions, to working on flight lines.
The 76 people affected in Tupelo include 60 people from the Army Aviation Support Facility and 16 from the field maintenance shop.
Collins said employees’ pay would be reduced 20 percent during the 11-week time period.
But he said the furloughs will not impact employees funded thorough state revenue sources, full-time Active-Guard Reserves or “the traditional” National Guard members.
Additionally, he said steps have been taken to ensure the state will be protected during the period, which will be in the height of hurricane season.
“These furloughs will in no way impact the Mississippi National Guard’s ability to respond to any natural or man-made disasters here in the state,” he said. “We’ll be able to handle those just as we’ve been able to in the past. They will have absolutely no effect.”
Hardest hit by the furloughs will be the Joint Force Headquarters in Jackson where 524 employees will be furloughed, followed by 290 at the Camp Shelby Training Center, 236 at the 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian and 148 at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center.
Military facilities in six Mississippi communities will be affected.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant blamed the furlough mandate on Obama and said it was another reason to oppose expanding Medicaid.
“As we can see, this administration can’t even pay the bills it has now. Why should we expect them to honor their Medicaid promises and expand the program?” Bryant asked.
The sequestration is the result of Democrats and Republicans in Washington not being able to agree on how to cut the deficit. The president wanted to include new revenue – or tax increases – as part of that effort. Republicans refused to consider additional taxes.