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Sequestration Has Georgia Town On Edge

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This could be he or Last week of furloughs for civilian Defense Department employees. A half-million workers across the U.S. have had to take six unpaid days off because of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Whether there will be more depends on what lawmakers do when they return to Washington next month.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Georgia Public Broadcasting's Adam Ragusea reports on how the furloughs have affected one community.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

ADAM RAGUSEA, BYLINE: Warner Robins, Georgia. A post-war sprawl with no downtown, this city of almost 70,000 exists solely because of Robins Air Force Base. Military service members have been exempt from cuts, but most of the people employed on this base are civilians, like Hans Hinners and his wife Shannan.

SHANNAN HINNERS: I'm an equipment specialist.

HANS HINNERS: I'm an engineer.

RAGUSEA: Robins is mostly a big maintenance and supply depot, so there are a lot of mechanics and other mid-skill workers. The result is something not as common in America today: a community with a thriving middle-class economy.

HINNERS: Yeah, it does feel like people can go to work and support their families and plan for the future.

RAGUSEA: And both Shannan and Hans say they don't understand why they're paying the price for Congress' inability to work out a budget compromise.

HINNERS: The Defense Department, I mean, we're always the red-headed stepchildren that get picked on all the time.

HINNERS: Yeah, I'd say there's some people who feel that they can't trust what's going to happen next, that some of the stability that you always come to expect with a government position has been wiped away.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

CHRISSY MINER: And this next prize is a $25 gift card to Wal-Mart.

CROWD: Oooh.

MINER: Yes.

RAGUSEA: In a hotel ballroom near the base, Chrissy Miner raffles off door prizes at a kind of convention of the furloughed she's organized.

MINER: Daniel Medina.

(APPLAUSE)

RAGUSEA: Utility companies have booths, offering to negotiate past-due bills. Mental health providers offering ways to relieve stress.

Jean Laemmle with Pampered Chef shows people how they can supplement their income.

JEAN LAEMMLE: Either by starting your own business, or you can even just host a show, and you can get good equipment to make it easier to cook at home and save more money by not eating out.

TANGERINE JONES-CARTER: Yeah, we've been trying to think of going into business, or starting a business.

RAGUSEA: Tangerine Jones-Carter and her friend Eileen Smasal used to be office workers on base. They were contractors, not Pentagon employees, so instead of furloughs they got pink slips.

JONES-CARTER: Why did happen was, was it sequestration?

EILEEN SMASAL: It happened in June, and it was because of budget cuts...

JONES-CARTER: Right.

SMASAL: ...government budget cuts and the contract was not renewed.

JONES-CARTER: There's days I don't believe I'm not working, I just don't understand it, you know.

RAGUSEA: These two never thought they'd be out of work. Thanks to the base, Warner Robins has been a rare island of growth in Georgia beyond metro Atlanta.

JONES-CARTER: Building houses, building schools...

SMASAL: They're still building houses, other places are talking about things are closing. Here they're building houses, they're selling the houses.

RAGUSEA: The question here is whether they have to reset that expectation, as so many others have. Unless Congress negotiates a better scenario, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says furloughs will likely turn to widespread layoffs during the fiscal year that begins in October.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Ragusea in Warner Robins, Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.