Beebe critical of Congress over federal budget debate

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 51 views 

While federal lawmakers wrestle with resolutions to keep the national government funded, state leaders are making contingency plans for furloughs and delays.

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration has been advising up to 2,000 state employees since Friday to prepare for a potential shutdown of federal services in the state. Several stage agencies – including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Workforce Services – receive significant federal funding.

“The inability of Congress to do its most basic job will put many Arkansans out of work and leave Arkansas children in peril,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

“As many as 2,000 state employees will be furloughed, with thousands more facing a similar fate if the shutdown is sustained,” Beebe added. “Losing these jobs affects not only those working Arkansans and their families, it also hurts our local and state economies. That economic damage will be compounded by the furlough of federal employees in Arkansas, as well.”

In Beebe’s comments, he said the DHS would soon be unable to pay for child abuse investigators. Beebe also said that meals programs for certain children and nursing home population residents would be reduced. He also noted that the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program would be unable to serve newborn babies and special-needs babies with infant formula available through the program.

Two DFA memos issued Friday (Sept. 27) outline how affected employees will likely be furloughed if the federal government budget impasse is not resolved.

“Agencies must plan to furlough employees paid from affected program funds. State money is not available to supplement these federal programs,” DFA director Richard Weiss wrote to state employees last week. “I regret that Congress has neglected its responsibility to pay its bills but we must plan to fulfill our fiscal responsibility.”

Furloughed employees could be declared inactive if their funding is affected for more than a week. A second DFA memo said, “Furloughed employees are not allowed to ‘volunteer’ their time to the agency during the furlough period. This extends to [the] use of any state provided resources (cell phones, laptops, state vehicles, etc.)”

Also, any employees who are furloughed and declared on “leave without pay” status for more than 10 days will cease to accrue annual and sick leave for the length of the furlough.

In the event of a long-term furlough, additional instructions will be forthcoming, the DFA memo stated.

On Monday (Sept. 30), the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate rejected a second spending bill sent from the Republican-led U.S. House. The first measure stripped funding for the federal health care law, also known as Obamacare.

In the latest version, the House spending bill would have delayed the health care law’s implementation for another year.

Without a resolution, parts of the federal government will begin shutting down at midnight tonight.

“Once again, Arkansas stands to suffer from a crisis wholly manufactured by Congress,” said Beebe. “What should be a simple and clean resolution to fund our federal government has turned into political posturing by elected officials who, of course, will not be among those hurt by their actions. Arkansas and America deserve better from Washington.”