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Shutdown may prompt layoffs at MN Department of Health

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: October 8, 2013 - 11:38 AM

Unless the federal government gets back to work, more than 100 state health department employees will be out of work by the end of the month.

Layoff notices have gone out to 104 employees at the Minnesota Department of Health, including an estimated 71 nurses. These state workers are paid with federal funds and that money is rapidly running out.

"We're hoping very much that the shutdown will be resolved by the time any layoffs would have to take force," said health department spokesman Michael Schommer.

Most of the employees work in either the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program or in the compliance monitoring department that inspects hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient medical facilities for potential health code violations. The nurses will be laid off effective Oct. 18, unless the shutdown ends. The compliance monitoring staff would be laid off on Oct. 25 and the WIC staff would likely lose their jobs by the end of the month.

Schommer said the state has been trying to divert the employees onto work that can be paid with state money, but those projects are limited. Funding for WIC will dry up by the end of the month. The state will still be able to respond to emergencies and complaints at healthcare facilities, but will not be able to continue with routine inspections.

In all, more than 19,000 Minnesotans work for the federal government and some 3,000 state government employees rely on federal funds for their salaries. Unlike federal employees who faced furloughs as soon as the shutdown began last week, state contracts require several weeks' before a layoff.

Federal funds are responsible for a quarter of Minnesota's budget, funding everything from road projects to the school lunch program to paychecks at the health department. When that money starts to run out, state officials say they do not have the funds to keep those programs or jobs.

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