Face of Furloughs: DoD employee struggles to pay bills

Monday - 7/29/2013, 5:06pm EDT

Frances Smith speaks with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on the Federal Drive

Download mp3

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

Frances Smith, an administrative assistant at the Defense Department's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs, pays bills for the government. But she's having a hard time paying her own bills after DoD civilian furloughs left her with a slimmer paycheck.

This is Smith's 27th year with MWR, working at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va.

"I just never thought that something like this would happen to me, this furlough, after the 27 years," Smith said in an interview on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. "But it has, and it has a big impact on my life right now."

Last pay period, Smith's paycheck decreased because of one furlough day. Next pay period, Smith will lose more money due to two furlough days.

In order to mitigate living expenses against pay cuts, Smith received funds from the Federal Employee Education and Assistance (FEEA) fund to pay her rent, on which she was 16 days late, she said.

"It's impacted everybody," Smith said of the furloughs. "Our whole office has felt this crush that we're going through. And that's all that people talk about."

Federal workers hit by furloughs are increasingly applying for aid from FEEA, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency loans to feds who have trouble meeting basic living expenses.

FEEA provides up to $1,000 in interest-free loans to individuals employed by the federal government for at least one year, according to its website. The loans are paid directly to the creditors the individual is behind in paying.

FEEA relies on donations from individual federal employees as well as corporations. Federal News Radio is one of FEEA's six listed corporate sponsors.

While donations from corporate sponsors are up this year compared to last, FEEA needs more donations in order to keep pace with federal employee loan demands.

Smith said she still needs more help, and spends her furloughed Mondays searching for financial aid programs.

The Amphibious Base Naval Base Credit Union agreed to stop requiring payment on one of her bills until October, Smith said.

Smith said she doesn't have anything left over to put into savings and tries to make ends meet on a daily basis.

"I'm wondering now, next week, how I'm going to even pay for my groceries," she said. "I just had an 18-year-old graduate from high school who's paying his own way through college which starts Aug. 26. It makes me feel really bad as a parent, even though I know I've done my best and all I can do, but I want to be there for him and I just can't be because I'm in charge of paying the bills."

In addition to imposing personal financial constraints, Smith said furloughs have decelerated the pace of work at her office.

"It's very slow. Very slow. It's taking away from the morale that we give to the Navy families. We have a skeleton crew. Some people take Mondays, some people take Fridays. Well on Mondays, that's when my business is booming usually with military," she said. "Now they know that I'm not here, they don't even come. So Tuesday I'm bombarded with a whole bunch of military coming in — you know, I'm taking care of all their unit funds."

Civilian Department of Defense employees paid by non-appropriated funds, roughly 680,000 employees in all, must take 11 furlough days before the end of the fiscal year. In May, DoD reduced the number of civilian workforce days from 14 to 11.

Smith is concerned about future furloughs.

"What's so bad is I read an article yesterday that they might even go into 2014," she said. "I can't even imagine. I don't even want to think about what I have to do tomorrow, let alone next year. It has an impact on everything we do here at the Navy base."

To find out more about furlough loans or donating to FEEA, visit Federal News Radio's Surviving Furloughs page.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

RELATED STORIES:

FEEA overwhelmed with furlough aid requests

DoD furloughs could cause FEEA loans to swell to record levels

Surviving Furloughs