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Civilians prepare for furloughs

Published: 03:26PM April 18th, 2013
Civilians prepare for furloughs

Dean Siemon/Northwest Guardian

America Credit Union’s Amy Thiemeyer, right, speaks with Ralph McBride at the JBLM Government Employee Financial Resiliency Expo April 12 at Stone Education Center.

Juan Crisostomo entered Stone Education Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord April 12 armed with concerns and questions about the sequester.

As the head of a household of nine people — including his children, wife and disabled brother-in-law — Crisostomo has a mortgage and bills to budget for with up to 22 expected furlough days.

“For me, I’ll be losing close to $600 every pay period,” said Crisostomo, a plumber for JBLM’s Directorate of Public Works. “That’s going to make it more difficult to try and keep up. I don’t want to be foreclosed or lose my house.”

Army Community Service, along with banks and nonprofit organizations, put together the Government Employee Financial Resiliency Expo to help hundreds of civilian employees like Crisostomo.

Planning began near the end of February when the announced number of furlough days was 22. While that predicted number has decreased, there are concerns with taxes increasing and other factors from a decreasing economic climate.

“We realized the impact was going to be about 20 percent of people’s income,” said ACS director Alecia Grady. “That’s significant, especially for people where that’s their only income.”

Lenders were available to help existing clients with options to aid with their home loans. Those lenders were made available by the HOPE NOW alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. developed to keep people out of foreclosure and in their homes.

“It could be a refinance or it could be a short sale,” said Eric Selk, executive director for HOPE NOW. “I spoke with a gentleman who is moving to Alaska and he wants to liquidate his home,” he said, offering one example of the typical concerns customers have.

With a membership of 75 representatives from various lending groups, HOPE NOW wants to help civilian employees who expect to have a reduced income. During the last five years, the alliance has been at about 150 events in their short history helping people who are struggling with several financial issues.

“It’s going to affect a variety of things in your life,” Selk said, speaking of the sequester. “Life happens. Your car breaks down or you have a baby.”

Nonprofit organizations attended the expo to help people learn about the several programs available to civilians, including food assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children.

“We are connecting them with resources for the community,” Grady said. “They may not know (they exist) because they haven’t had to use that.”

Within the first hour of the doors opening, there were about 200 civilian employees looking for answers to questions related to furloughs ahead. A few employees traveled distances as far as Yakima Training Center, including Ralph McBride. “I came here with a fellow employee and he’s got big bills that he’s facing every month,” he said. “So of course it’s a good thing for him to be here and to find out how to counter things that could conceivably happen.”

Representatives from JBLM organizations attended the expo to share information with their clients.

“We’ve probably got 5,000 people registered with the EFMP,” said Nancy Dozier of the program.

ACS’s Financial Readiness Program held four seminars throughout the day, to show civilians how to calculate their lost income and how to budget with the reduced salary.

“We feel that people can benefit from some financial advice,” Grady said. “Even if people have basic questions that they need help with, they can get it here.”