Posted 10/14/2013 05:03 pm
Updated 2 months ago
LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas finance officials said Monday nearly 600 state employees were furloughed because of the federal government shutdown, while two of the state's universities said they were preparing to idle more workers if the budget standstill continues.
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration said 590 employees whose positions are funded by the federal government were on furlough because of the shutdown that began Oct. 1. The number was revised sharply downward from earlier Monday, when state officials said nearly 1,100 employees were on furlough.
Department Director Richard Weiss said the figure incorrectly included hundreds of state Health Department employees who were, in fact, still on the job.
Weiss said the number could change as agencies continue reviewing grant language to see if they could use federal funds left over from past years to keep workers on the job. Other state employees have seen their pay cut during the shutdown or are working without pay.
"That's going to be a moving target for the next couple weeks," Weiss said.
Gov. Mike Beebe told state agency heads last week that Arkansas no longer had the resources to cover for the federal programs and employees because of the shutdown. He said any agency would have to get approval to keep employees on the job.
The vast majority of furloughs are in the state Military Department, where 376 workers are idled. A spokesman for the state Department of Health, which has 35 furloughed workers, said those included water engineers, health facilities services workers and prescription drug monitors.
Beebe, a Democrat, continued to vent frustration about the Washington budget fight that's led to the idling of hundreds of workers in the state.
"It doesn't have to happen," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol. "It's ludicrous that the federal government can't get this problem solved. I think the American people are just about disgusted, they're usually disgusted with Washington, but they're even more so now. There's no reason for this."
The University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University, meanwhile, said they were preparing for furloughs if the standoff continued. UA announced that as many as 100 employees could be furloughed this week.
Arkansas State University said it has informed 11 full time staff and 15 graduate assistants that they will be furloughed starting Wednesday if the shutdown does not end. The school said four full-time employees will also see their pay reduced during the shutdown.
"We deeply regret these actions, but we must follow the guidelines outlined by the federal government and the state Department of Finance and Administration," Len Fry, ASU's vice chancellor for finance, said in a statement. "We will bring them back as soon as the federal shutdown ends."
In Washington, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor said he believed bipartisan discussions he was involved in with other lawmakers was helping moving the Senate toward a deal on ending the shutdown. Pryor said he met on Monday with a group of 12 other senators and presented a framework of those talks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Pryor declined to offer specifics on the talks, but said he was optimistic it was moving closer toward ending the shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.
"This bipartisan group paved the way for the two leaders to find a solution here," Pryor said, referring to Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "To me it's a victory for bipartisanship."
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