By Christopher Cousins
State employees whose positions are all or partially funded with federal government money have received layoff notices effective Sept. 30, but a spokesman for the state's finance department said Thursday that the layoffs will be rescinded if Congress can reach a budget deal.
Alex Willette, spokesman for the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said Thursday that a total of 55 employees received a layoff letter this week because the state's contracts with labor unions requires it. Most of the affected employees work in the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Regretfully it is necessary to advise you that your position has been impacted by a lapse in federal appropriation for another position within DHHS," reads a copy of the letter obtained by the Bangor Daily News. "The process for restoring federal funding remains with the U.S. Congress. As a result of this, your limited seniority, and lack of displacement options, you will be laid off effective close of business Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015."
Willette called the letters a precaution.
"The collective bargaining agreement requires us to send out those notices when there's any possibility of a layoff," said Willette. "These are just in anticipation of the potential of a shutdown. Obviously we're hoping the federal government fixes this before a shutdown."
The same scenario unfolded in December 2013 when Congress was in a stalemate that threatened to shut down government. At the time, Maine issued 58 layoff notices, which were then rescinded.
In October 2013, during a 16-day federal government shutdown, the situation was much more dire. Dozens of state employees were laid off, and Gov. Paul LePage launched discussions with the unions about displacement caused by the layoffs, recall rights and back pay. LePage declared a civil emergency on Oct. 9, 2013, which allowed him to circumvent laws or rules that would "prevent, hinder and delay effective management of the emergency." That could have included moving employees to different jobs during the federal shutdown.
"The state of Maine simply cannot fill the financial gap created by the prolonged loss of federal dollars," said LePage at the time.
Members of the governor's communications office did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about whether LePage intends to declare another civil emergency if the congressional impasse yields a shutdown this year.
Democratic and Republican leaders were meeting in Washington to discuss a path forward for the budget, which among other reasons is in peril because of an effort by some Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood by attaching that provision to any budget bill or resolution to continue funding the federal government.
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