By Joe Davidson
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Patricia McGinn loses sleep fretting about lost wages.
Mary Watkins paid off a couple of bills early, just in case.
Laura Hill has a question about unemployment compensation.
Each of these federal employees have different circumstances, but they all share a big concern — the unpaid leave days facing the workforce.
Federal furloughs seem more and more likely as a disgusted nation and frustrated workers count down the days until March 1, when across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration kick in.
Furloughs would not be immediate; agencies must give employees 30 days’ notice. But the impact could be severe. The Pentagon estimates that most of its 800,000 civilian employees could lose up to 20 percent of their pay from 22 furlough days, spread over as many weeks. Estimates from other agencies are lower, and some might be able to deal with the budget cuts with no furloughs at all.
But the uncertainly of not knowing what your paycheck is going to look like in a couple of months is a stiff price for federal employees to pay for the inability of Congress to do its job.
While the financial costs to individuals from a sequester are at least a few weeks away, the emotional costs are building now.
“I can’t even sleep at night thinking about it,” said McGinn, a Federal Aviation Administration management program analyst who lives in Glen Burnie, Md.
McGinn, a single mother with two teenagers, said employees were told they could be furloughed two to four days a month, which could leave her monthly income short by $600 to $1,200.
“I can’t even take $50 out of my paycheck,” she said, “let alone $600 to $1,200.”
If the hit is $600, she said, she “could possibly manage” by stopping cable TV, Internet and telephone service. If a furlough takes $1,200 of her monthly pay, “I honestly can’t imagine how I would handle it,” she said.