State warns 104 health department workers of possible furlough

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2013 - 9:36 PM

The state employees are paid with federal funds, which are running down during the shutdown. But about 1,200 laid-off Minnesota National Guard technicians have been recalled.

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U.S. Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minn., held a rally with some furloughed government workers in front of the Federal Courthouse on Monday.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

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Minnesota officials notified more than 100 federally funded state workers Monday that they could be temporarily laid off because of the federal government shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota National Guard has recalled nearly all of the more than 1,200 full-time federal technicians furloughed Oct. 1 because of the shutdown.

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 at risk of furlough work in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program or 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 other affected health department employees would be laid off Oct. 25.

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.

The state will still be able to respond to emergencies and complaints at health care facilities, but will not be able to continue with routine inspections.

In all, more than 19,000 Minnesotans work for the federal government and about 3,000 state government employees rely on at least some federal funds for their salaries.

Unlike federal employees who faced furloughs as soon as the shutdown began last week, state contracts require several weeks’ notice before a layoff.

“This unfortunate action is entirely due to lack of funds and reflects no discredit on your service or job performance,” the memo to employees read.

So far, no one from the state departments of health or human services has been furloughed because of the shutdown.

John Pollard, a spokesman for Minnesota Management and Budget, said it is not yet clear whether the department will have to send more furlough notices. He said it will depend on the duration of the shutdown.

Guard recall

The Minnesota National Guard is recalling nearly all of the full-time technicians who service the outfit, based on an interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Justice.

Just four federal technicians remain on furlough until the shutdown ends, said Army Lt. Col. Jon Lovald, the guard’s director of human resources.

By Tuesday, about 2,100 full-time Minnesota National Guard employees will be on duty again, including the furloughed technicians who are being recalled.

“It is important that the people of Minnesota know that our citizen-soldiers and airmen remain ready to respond to state or federal emergencies regardless of the government shutdown,” Lovald said.

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