The federal government broke the news to more than 100 of its employees on Wednesday that they will soon be out of a job. As of February 18th, practically everyone who works at Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport will be let go under Reduction In Force or RIF proceedings. Officials say it was a difficult decision but necessary since all the residents are gone.
"It wasn't easy but it was something that needed to be done. It had to be done," said interim director Robert Locke.
The message was heartbreaking for Locke to give, and difficult for social worker Cindy Coffer to hear. She is among the 130 dedicated employees who will be laid off.
"It's a hard situation for a lot of people to be in because you were secure and now you're not," said Coffer.
Andrew Brumsley from the American Federation of Government Employees sat in on the meeting. He says union members in South Mississippi and Louisiana face major challenges.
"When you get a certain age, it's hard to start over and look a different job or a better job. So they're really sad," he said. "They've had a hard time."
Damage from Hurricane Katrina relocated the hundreds of veterans who lived here to Washington, D.C. Now the government is trying to help the staff left behind make a difficult transition.
"This is one where information needed to be disseminated on a personal basis on that kind of level where people could ask questions about what am I supposed to do after two months? What is going to happen after this RIF period? What does severance mean? What does unemployment insurance mean?" said Locke. "These kinds of questions needed to be answered."
Although many employees were grateful for government help so far, they would like to get hiring preference for federal jobs outside south Mississippi.
"Is there any program for the employees here to get a job outside the local area. Bottom Line? Yes or no?," asked one employee asked during the meeting. "No" he was told.
It could take months. It could take years. No one is sure when the Armed Forces Retirement home will reopen here in Gulfport, but officials say it definitely will be back.
"I can tell you this that we will reopen. We have over 300 residents who are calling their congressmen, and I don't think they really want to hear from them all the time."
For the next two years, any laid off workers who want their jobs back will have first consideration when the retirement home re-opens.
At the meeting laid off workers learned they may be eligible for early retirement, extended health benefits, and job training. Union members say they would like to meet with the government officials to discuss adding to those options.