published Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Tennessee losing jobs because of the partial federal government shutdown

NASHVILLE — Nearly 500 Tennessee state employees whose jobs depend on federal funds are being furloughed until further notice because of the partial federal government shutdown.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development said late Friday afternoon it is being forced to furlough 369 of its workers because of the partial federal government shutdown while the Department of Human Services is sending 112 of its employees home beginning Monday.

Both moves are the result of the federal budget impasse in Washington between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. The issue has gotten tangled up with the administration's efforts to raise the debt limit and it's unclear when the battle will be settled.

During the furloughs, the state employees won't be working and won't be paid and services for Tennesseans in many instances will be curtailed or sometimes stopped entirely.

Twenty-seven employees in Labor and Workforce were furloughed Wednesday while the remaining 342 will temporarily lose their jobs starting Monday until the budget impasse between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans is resolved.

More impacts are expected in both departments as well as other state agencies the longer the stalemate drags on.

State Labor and Workforce Development spokesman Jeff Hentschel said late Friday afternoon in an email "the state is going to continue to operate programs and services over which we have control."

Two divisions receiving federal funding, Adult Education and Workforce Services, which including the Career Center system, are not impacted.

"The Tennessee Career Centers, unemployment claims centers and the processing of claims are not affected," Hentschel said.

About 79 percent of the department's funds come from the federal government, "which has prompted immediate action to sustain operations" in most other areas, Hentschel said. Most programs have "exhausted their carryover funds from the previous year prompting furloughs to begin" Monday, he noted.

As a result, Tennesseans can largely say goodbye to functions like most work-site safety inspections by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Investigations involving deaths and catastrophes as well as cases involving immediate workplace hazards will continue.

Only two divisions that receive federal funding are not impacted. Those are Adult Education and Workforce Services, including the Career Center system.

Hentschel said Career Centers, which provides services to job seekers, as well unemployment claims centers and the processing of claims are not affected for now.

In an email, Human Services spokesman Christopher Garrett said 112 of the department's 463 employees are being furloughed Monday.

Garrett later said the Disabilities Determination Division "is continuing to operate and serve Tennesseans at this point."

But Garrett noted the division "is 100 percent federally funded. If the shutdown continues, the DDS operation will be impacted further." The department is "monitoring this situation very closely."

Affected employees are in the department's Division of Rehabilitation Services. The workers process Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability claims. He ignored a Times Free Press request for information about the impact on Tennesseans needing assistance.

Spokesmen for two local Republican congressmen, Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg, had no immediate comment.

But a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says the Republican Party has been badly damaged in the ongoing government shutdown and debt limit standoff. A majority of Americans -- 53 percent -- blame the shutdown on Republicans while 31 percent blame Obama. The 22-percent blame margin is wider than it was for the GOP during the 1995-1996 shutdown, NBC News reported.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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