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Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 10:55am

Robins AFB Starts 'Furlough Fridays'

Thousands of civilian Pentagon employees across Georgia are heading into an involuntary long weekend.

Unpaid furloughs resulting from the federal budget cuts known as sequestration began this week. Civilians who work for the Department of Defense will have 11 unpaid days off between now and the end of September.

Rather than stagger all employee furloughs, officials at Robins Air Force Base decided to concentrate as many on Fridays as possible, allowing them to shut down some facilities and save money on energy.

Esther Lee-Altman, a civilian engineer who supports solid waste management at four Air Force bases from her post at Robins, said she’s ambivalent about her first "Furlough Friday," as employees are calling them.

On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some housework, she said, "and then on the other hand, I’m kind of used to just buying whatever I want, and now it's like, 'ok, I have to think twice, do I really need this? Probably not.'"

The mood on base is one of resignation, Lee-Altman said. People have had months to prepare for their reduced incomes — they might like it, but they're ready, she said.

The unpaid days will be doubly painful for Hans Hinners, a systems engineer for the AC-130 gunship. Both he and his wife work on base, so the financial loss is compounded.

"For us, our family, it’s $1,100 a pay period," he said. "So, every two weeks we’re going to be short, and we’ve tried to save up as much as possible to make up the gap."

Hinners said his family has canceled their land line and stopped eating out.

The 21st Century Partnership, a non-profit organization that advocates for the Robins community, estimates these 11 furlough weeks will cost the surrounding economy more than $50 million.