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Iowa Guard lays off more than 100 employees

BY JAKE MCCULLEY | OCTOBER 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa National Guard has furloughed 116 employees because of the ongoing partial government shutdown, and while the layoffs are temporary, there is no telling when the workers will be allowed to return.

All government functions deemed “non-essential” were suspended on Oct. 1, and they will remain so until a bipartisan agreement can be reached by sparring Republicans and Democrats over the national budget.

The now furloughed National Guard employees stand as just one example of state workers currently affected.

While more than 1,000 Iowa National Guard employees were originally sent home Oct. 1, a ruling by the Department of Justice about the Pay Our Military Act resulted in their return to work Oct. 7.
The future for those facing furlough remains unclear, however.

“Everything depends on Congress and how soon it passes a budget,” said Col. Greg Hapgood Jr., the head of public affairs for the Iowa National Guard. He noted that those affected by this round of layoffs are full-time skilled tradesmen, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and building-maintenance employees.

But without federal funding, the Iowa National Guard is slowly losing its ability to function.

“We can’t make any purchases or sign new contracts,” Hapgood said. “If we run out of certain supplies, we may have to lay off additional employees who can no longer do their jobs.”

Locally, problems also ring true.

The Iowa City National Guard Armory, a $23 million complex built in 2010, has witnessed cuts to several training programs. Hapgood was unable to confirm an official number of local workers furloughed.  

The shutdown is the result of Congress’ failure to pass a new budget after the House of Representatives, controlled by the GOP, attached legislation to defund the Affordable Care Act. The Democratic controlled Senate refused to pass such legislation.

In the meantime, around 350,000 federal employees are furloughed without pay. Upon returning to work, they will receive back pay, a decision made by Congress the day after the shutdown began.

While the layoffs are unfortunate for those affected, two University of Iowa faculty members maintain that the larger economic effect, to date, isn’t very significant.

“It’s a shame that those people lose their jobs,” said economics Assistant Professor Nicolas Ziebarth. “But 116 people, on the state or national level, won’t be noticed, especially if it’s only temporary.”

Despite the employee absence, more than 2,100 Guard individuals in the state remain employed. However, Ziebarth said, the economic effects would compound over time.

“It’s going to get worse and worse as time goes by if the shutdown continues,” he said.

UI political-science Associate Professor Timothy Hagle echoed that belief.

“The way the federal government funds programs is convoluted, and soon even state programs start to shut down,” he said. “The longer the shutdown continues, the less flexibility the national and state governments will have, and the effects will cascade. That will increase pressure on the politicians, until, hopefully, they’re forced to compromise.”

Although many speculate that the Thursday debt-ceiling deadline could bring the shutdown to a head, Hagle is less sure.

“Let me clear up a basic misconception,” he said. “We won’t default on our debt when we reach the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling means we can’t borrow any more money, but we can continue to pay back the interest on our debt.”

But does that mean Congress will allow the day to come without a compromise?

“It is possible they’ll reach an agreement. Several congressmen are meeting with Obama today to continue negotiations,” Hagle said. “They could pass a temporary budget and debate changes later.”

Despite the economic warnings, for most National Guard employees, it’s business as usual. Joe Berman, a UI student and a member of the Iowa National Guard, was upbeat.

“Our October drill got pushed back to November, but other than that, nothing has changed,” he said.


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