Orange Park, FL - It was an evening of emotional stories from people directly affected by Department of Defense furloughs and demanding to know why.
“I’m seeing firsthand how it’s affecting my family, my coworkers, my patients,” says Julie Kellogg, who works in the pediatric department of the Naval hospital.
She’s one of the some 200 people who came out to Orange Park Monday night for a town hall focused on the furlough, led by Congressman Ted Yoho.
Kellogg served active duty 12 years before starting work as a civilian at the hospital. She says between the time off she’s forced to take and that which the other people in the department take as well, it’s difficult to see all the patients in their case load in the amount of time they have
“I really didn’t think that when we started hearing about the sequester and things like that, that it would come to this, because it was designed not to come to this,” she says.
That very idea is what Yoho opened the town hall with- recalling back to when the sequester was first thought up and the original intent that it never actually take hold.
“I think it’s a travesty that our government didn’t think through this better,” he tells WOKV.
The first questioner broke out in tears when talking about how her husband has had to pick up a second job as a result of the furlough. She wanted to know why the money to pay salaries exists, but it’s being spent on other things, like building facilities. Yoho likened that to a concern he heard from NAS Jax earlier in the day- he said the Executive Officer told him their biggest problem was that he didn’t have enough ability to use the funding as he wanted, that it was all earmarked for specific purposes that gave him no flexibility. He says Washington needs to look at priorities and spending.
“It’s the ineptness of Congress not getting their act together,” he says.
Another questioner- a self-described ‘Navy brat’- says she’s heard questions about priorities and budgeting since she was five, and now she’s older than thirty-five hearing the same issues. Yoho says there’s just not enough political will right now.
“If we could fix air traffic controllers so quickly, this [sequestration] could be fixed,” Yoho says.
And the concern didn’t stop with those affected now, but those looking at getting in to service as well.
“I wanna make sure that they’re addressed now so they will not affect my future,” says Jordan Pfile, who is a candidate for the Naval Academy.
Yoho is confident Congress can not just address the furlough, but make sequestration end within six months. I asked him what makes now different than last year, when the cuts were actually put in motion.
“What they [Congress] tried to accomplish didn’t get accomplished this way, and people got hurt in the process,” he says.
It’s a welcome bit of hope for people affected by the furlough, like Greg Daniels who works at the Fleet Readiness Center. But Daniels tells me he’s not confident that promise can be fulfilled.
“I don’t really firmly feel that it’s gunna happen like he says, I think there’s still a fight ahead,” Daniels says.
He says, rather, that the deal can’t be done until Washington puts politics aside.
“They need to work together, reach across the aisle, bipartisan support and come up with a solution,” he says.
Peggy Dutton, who also works at the Fleet Readiness Center, echoed that call for bipartisanship, adding thata Congress really needs to take a hard look at cutting wasteful spending.
“Hopefully for next year we won’t be going through the same thing,” she says.
She’s joined by many others who called for at least a new distribution of cuts that now weigh so heavily on these furloughed workers instead.