When a couple of news stories recently surfaced regarding a proposal to cut costs by eliminating commissary services at U.S. military bases by 2015, the potential human toll to service members and their families understandably was the immediate focus.
FORTUNATELY, THE two-year budget deal in Congress holds promise for avoiding such drastic cuts from the Pentagon. But sounding the alarm, even as a warning, highlights the damage such reductions could have for a segment of our society who often are least able to find jobs.
The Defense Commissary Agency operates 178 stores in the United States, including the commissary at Augusta’s Fort Gordon. Did you know that the shelves of Fort Gordon’s commissary are stocked by employees of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA’s Good Vocations program, operating under a contract through SourceAmerica and Ability One? Those programs provide individuals with disabilities access to employment through placement in meaningful jobs at federal facilities across the country.
IN PLACE SINCE 1996, that commissary contract employs 27 personnel at Fort Gordon. In Fiscal
Year 2013, those workers stocked more than 540,000 cases of goods in the commissary, providing a valuable service to the men and women in uniform and to their families.
In addition, 35 other individuals perform custodial services under the Good Vocations contract, cleaning more than 1.1 million square feet of the Army facility each day.
Those workers, 80 percent
of whom have disabilities, earn an average of $11 per hour before benefits. In addition to allowing them to be productive members
of the community, this program helps these individuals to overcome their barriers to employment while learning valuable skills that they can use in seeking other career opportunities.
The defense budget cuts would have meant difficult choices across the country for service members and their families. But it would have devastated the employment opportunities for thousands of workers who already struggle to find meaningful jobs.
IT’S ALSO IMPORTANT to point out that after the recent government shutdown ended, federal workers received back pay. However, as contract employees, those commissary and custodial workers were not compensated for their lost time. That means those vulnerable individuals were hit with a substantial reduction in wages while Congress and the administration squabbled.
The two-year budget deal in Congress, then, is good news for both those in the service and for civilians whose labors support them. It averts what could have been a crisis of employment opportunity for a significant segment of our society.
ONCE AWARE OF these facts, citizens can help prevent further disruption by urging their congressional representatives to not only continue to work together to solve the nation’s problems, but on focusing their budget-cutting efforts on programs less likely to harm the military and their supporting network.
Your job, or your neighbor’s, might depend on it.
(The writer is vice chairman of the Board of Directors of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA, and assistant vice president and financial advisor for Augusta’s Merrill Lynch Private Client Group.)