Several Idaho lawmakers say they aren’t shocked by the 126 layoffs and nine office closures planned at the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), with some saying similar action at other state agencies could be coming.
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he’s not surprised by the closures. “You hate to see people laid off and you hate to see offices close,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “At the same time, with the budget situation we’re in, it’s understandable.” The closures are expected to save DHW $7 million in the next budget, which begins in July. Cameron said he understands why the Rupert DHW office is targeted for closure. People from Rupert would need to go to a DHW office in Burley, which is a 10 minute drive.
On his blog, Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, called the DHW layoffs the tip of the iceberg for budget impacts. “The Department of Health and Welfare is only the beginning,” he said. “In future weeks, other agencies will face the budgetary reality that our nearsighted governor and majority leadership placed upon them and make similar cuts to services and jobs.”
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said DHW’s decision made sense, though there were other options. “I understand that they’ve got to tighten up and do what they have to do,” she said. “I had been so hopeful that they’d use furloughs and not layoffs for workers.” A DHW official said the department has used furloughs, which are unpaid time off for state employees, to deal with holdbacks in the current budget, but that layoffs and closures are a permanent solution to permanent state spending cuts. Bell said laying off DHW employees could end up adding to the number of people going to DHW for services like food stamps.
Other big spending areas of state tax dollars including public schools, universities, and prisons, are unlikely to see closures, but layoffs remain a possibility. Cameron said one area where closures could occur is in agricultural research stations across the state. “This last budget cycle, we’ve started to see the effects on ag research and extension offices,” he said. “We’ve had the closure of a few offices last year.” Cameron said that while lawmakers approved the reductions in the budget, agencies have flexibility to decide how to meet a smaller bottom line. “Every agency is dealing with those reductions differently. Some are able to handle it with furloughing and some can’t furlough as well.”
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