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Kitsap Sun - Sequester Victims Hear Words of Support

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Location: Unknown

By Ed Friedrich

Defense workers received varied support Tuesday, with a rally at a shipyard gate in the afternoon and town hall meeting in the evening.

A credit union-led event at Presidents Hall helped ease fears of some of the 13,700 local civilian defense employees faced with losing 20 percent of their pay because Congress can't agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

Furloughs were planned to begin April 26, but required 30-day notices were delayed two weeks to assess implications after Congress passed a new continuing resolution. There's been no announcement on how lawmakers will proceed.

The resolution added $4 billion for Navy operations and maintenance, but it's still more than $4 billion short through September because of the sequester, Capt. Steve Williamson, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility commander, told workers in an update Tuesday.

Chief Executive Officers Jim Morrell of Peninsula Credit Union, Elliot Gregg of Kitsap Credit Union and Scott Prior of Connection Credit Union said they have been hearing concerns from members about how the credit unions will handle the pay cuts. The CEOs combined forces and decided a town hall meeting would be the most effective, least intimidating response.

"We had two primary goals: to give people hope and resources to be able to navigate the situation," Morrell told about 150 guests.

Don't wait if you're having financial trouble, Gregg said.

"Talk to us first, share your situation and depend on us to help you," he said.

"We came together because we are cooperative and we cooperate," Prior said. "You are our members; and as our members, you are our owners. We work in your best interest, always. If it benefits you, it benefits us."

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, spoke, saying the sequester, with its indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts, is "dumb" and urged the crowd to use him as a resource. He's working with the Department of Defense to prevent workers from losing security clearances because of financial problems.

More than a dozen other "community partners" were invited to set up booths Tuesday and market services, from food banks to mental health options to massages. Costco of Silverdale provided food and said it will have some part-time jobs for those affected by the sequester, said JeanMarie Harmon.

Donna Poole, of Kitsap Mental Health, said the biggest threat to a person's financial security is health and gave tips on how to take care of oneself during stressful times.

"It's your job to seek help. People aren't mind readers," she said. "Blaming others or yourself isn't beneficial. As much as we might want to blame Congress, it's not useful."

"Control what you can control and let go of what you can't," she said.

And, summing up, "If tense, breathe and drink water. It's a miracle."

The credit unions encouraged guests to take advantage of an entire calendar of financial education classes they offer.

Some in attendance said they just wanted to be prepared.

"Just getting the information and knowing what's out there," said Jeff Lewis, a PSNS worker from East Bremerton. "I've worked for the shipyard for 30 years and all of a sudden they're saying we're going to be furloughed 22 days. That's going to hurt."

"Trying to be extra prepared because my wife has medical issues that are bogging our finances down," said Randy Roberts, a shipyard worker from Bremerton. "I came to get reassurance and hope out of it, and that's what I did. Just knowing the credit unions care about it, the resource partners care about it and they're not going to just leave us out in the cold."

"Just trying to be proactive so it's not so scary," said Bonny Ewert, of Tracyton, a DOD worker in Silverdale. "It's nice to know just how many resources there are."

Earlier in the day at the shipyard's main gate, 10 supporters hoisted signs and urged workers to call their lawmakers.

"Cut Loopholes Not Jobs," "29,000 DOD Employees Furloughed in WA" and "Jobs Not Partisanship," the signs read.

Mary Jaffe, a retired teacher from Port Orchard, organized the event.

"These people need to get motivated to get their message told," she said. "They all have their own (hardship) stories. Congress needs to hear the details."

The supporters offered contact information for local members of Congress and leadership. Some workers accepted it. Some said thanks. Some smiled. Many just walked on by.

"That's who to call, and call 'em often," one demonstrator hollered.

"While they're on vacation?" a woman asked.

"You guys are doing your job, make Congress do theirs," chanted another.

"When you figure that out, let me know," a worker replied.

Another said something about placing a steel toe somewhere.

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