Updated 

State furloughs spread as shutdown continues


LITTLE ROCK — Nearly 600 state employees were on furlough Monday because of the federal government shutdown.

State Department of Finance and Administration Director Richard Weiss said 590 employees whose jobs are federally funded, entirely or in part, were furloughed.

More state workers could be idled this week if Congress and the White House fail to find a solution to end the two-week-old budget impasse, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said.

State agencies were told last week that the furloughs could rise because the state no longer has the resources to cover the federal programs affected.

The furloughs began Oct. 1, the day after the latest temporary resolution to fund the federal budget expired with Congress locked in a battle over efforts to defund or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the U.S. will default on its loan obligations, if Congress does not agree to raise the $16.7 trillion federal debt ceiling by Thursday.

Along with the more than 1,000 state employees furloughed, the shutdown has caused the Arkansas National Guard to cancel weekend drills for October, and has forced reduction or elimination of a number of food and health programs for the poor and elderly.

Elsewhere Monday, the University of Arkansas announced that as many as 100 of its employees could be furloughed this week because of the shutdown.

“University officials are working to reduce the number of affected employees as much as possible,” the university said in a news release.

Not all federally funded positions will be affected, the university said, because some federal agencies are allowing invoices to be submitted and funds to be distributed during the shutdown. Also, some employees may be assigned to work on other assignments and be paid with state or private funds.

Also, Arkansas State University announced that 11 full-time and 15 part-time graduate students who work for the university would be furloughed Wednesday if the government shutdown does not end.

ASU spokesman Jeff Hankins said most of the those employees are involved in research in various departments, including biological sciences, agriculture and engineering. A few work in the Delta Center for Economic Development in consulting and training, he said.

The employees are paid with grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Four other full-time ASU employees will not be furloughed but will experience salary reductions because portions of their compensation come from federal funds, according to the university.

“We deeply regret these actions, but we must follow the guidelines outlined by the federal government and the state Department of Finance and Administration,” said Dr. Len Frey, ASU vice chancellor for finance. “We will bring them back as soon as the federal shutdown ends.”

Other state colleges and universities have already furloughed some staff who are paid with federal funds, while others have indicated they could furlough staff soon if the shutdown continues.

State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told the state Board of Education at its regular monthly meeting Monday that most federally funded school programs are already funded through the end of the school year, but school meal programs — which receive their funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the U.S. Department of Education — are not.

“Those are reimbursement programs, so schools will have to begin carrying those,” he said. “Our reimbursements up through September were guaranteed, and some funds that we can draw on ’13 fund balances are available, so we’ll be able to reimburse some of those meals up to a point — but at some point schools and food service programs will have to carry those until this is fixed.”

Kimbrell said the Department of Agriculture has said it expects — but cannot guarantee — that it will be able to reimburse schools retroactively after the shutdown ends, “but for some of our small, struggling, financially insecure districts, that’s going to be difficult.”

Some pre-kindergarten programs, especially those that are outside of schools, lack the cash flow to keep their meal programs going, and some have already contacted parents and asked them to send meals with their children, he said.

“Our hope is that Congress and the president will come together for a compromise and fix on this very soon,” Kimbrell said.

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Reporter John Lyon contributed to this report.