The signs of sequestration grow as military installations nationwide prepare for the additional $52 billion in cuts to the Pentagon budget this year.
Pools on bases have been closed and holiday events canceled. School calendars in some areas show kids with more Mondays at home. Commissaries are closing an additional day every week. Military families report a cut in the number of care providers at military hospitals. Furloughs of government employees delay work and limit available services.
“I’m concerned about family readiness,” said Barbara Thompson, director of the Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth for the Department of Defense.
To explore the current effects of sequestration on military families, the Congressional Military Family Caucus held an event on July 17 for military family organizations on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan caucus is made up of 84 lawmakers and is co-chaired by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.).
Leaders of family programs for the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Army Reserve and National Guard were united in their commitment to continue to provide quality programs for military families.
Each service described its own plan to maximize cost savings to the government while minimizing risks to families.
Plans included re-engineering existing programs, prioritizing programs, analyzing surveys, tailoring services, reducing services and partnering with local communities.
Tony Wickham, chief of Family Programs for the National Guard, said that its programs had been particularly hard hit because so many of their employees are also National Guardsmen. Eighty percent of their employees have been furloughed. Now nearly a quarter of those employees are living at or below the poverty line.
Yet the one factor that seemed to trouble every service was the uncertainty of what will happen with the budget. When asked what Congress can do to aid military family programs at this time, Dee Geiss, chief of Soldier and Family Readiness for the Army, stated, “A timely and predictable budget.”
The uncertainty of the budget limits what military families can expect in the year to come. “This is not the first time we’ve been hit by budget cuts in the last 20 years,” Thompson said.
Attaining a firm budget and collecting data from military families are the next steps in coping with this year’s challenges.