/Furlough discussion at Human Services department sends lawmakers scrambling to close gap

Furlough discussion at Human Services department sends lawmakers scrambling to close gap

John Davis, executive director of state human-services, stated to the House Appropriations Committee, that his agency requires approximately $30 million in federal funds in order to continue paying its 4,500 employees. These funds will not be available from federal government until the federal shut down, which is now in its 34th year, ends. Davis informed lawmakers that he might have to start furloughing agency workers whose salaries are paid with a mixture of state and federal funds by February 15. The Department of Human Services didn’t respond to emails and calls Thursday seeking additional information on the funds required or the number of affected workers. According to a House Democrats plan, the state would lend the agency money from its so called rainy-day funds. According to Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis), the agency could repay the loan if the federal government reopens. Baria stated that it was important to ensure that all families are not cut off. “Anytime we’re talking approximately 4,500 families losing their jobs in one sweep, it should be a top-priority for the Legislature.” John Read, R-Gautier is the chairman of House Appropriations. He said that whether the state can access its rainy day fund or not depends on how much money they have. After the meeting, Read stated that “we want to protect all (state) employees.” “But it’s going down to what we can get in our reserves,” Read said after the appropriations meeting. The reserve fund has approximately $400 million. Read added: “I’m like everyone else. We hope Washington is resolved quickly. The Department of Human Services gets nearly 95 percent of its budget directly from the federal government. This is the largest share of any state agency. Many other state agencies also depend on federal funding. The House Democrats requested information on what other state employees might be affected by the shutdown. Baria stated that if the impasse continues many more state employees could be subject to furloughs. Mississippi receives the highest amount of federal matching funds from any state. It consistently ranks near the bottom in terms of poverty and health measures. Rep. John Hines (D-Greenville) stated that no matter your position on the issues causing the shutdown, it shows how precarious Mississippi is. “And when we look at how this will impact those who serve and those that we serve, we have big problems.” Davis told lawmakers that the agency could keep its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is funded by the federal government for $60 million per month, through March. Davis also pleaded for higher salaries for agency employees. He stated that 10 percent state employees also get the SNAP benefits provided by the agency.