Thousands of state employees may be furloughed and many state agencies face significant cuts if an agreement isn't reached to avert a shutdown of the federal government, Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday.
Beebe said the state doesn't have the money to make up the federal funds that will cease if the shutdown occurs.
"The state is not in a position to, nor will we, bail out the federal government," he said. "We just don't have the resources to be able to do it, nor is it our intention to do so."
The extent of the cuts varies by agency because some, like the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, are largely exempt as emergency employees.
"But we've got other agencies where it could be catastrophic, like the Health Department has a huge number of employees who are paid all or in part by federal funds," Beebe said at a news conference at the state Capitol called because of the cuts tied to the looming shutdown.
The governor spoke as the Democratic-led U.S. Senate rejected conditions that House Republicans attached to a temporary spending bill, continuing a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans less than 10 hours before a possible shutdown.
Estimates on how many state employees could be furloughed range from 600 to 2,000 in the short-term to up to 18,000 if the shutdown is prolonged.
Beebe on Monday outlined a plan to minimize the number of employees affected: Instead of furloughing everyone whose salary is paid in part by federal funds, the state will cover as many salaries in full as it can. He used an example of a worker who is paid 80 percent by the state and 20 percent by the federal government.
"You can't take an employee and say you come to work and we'll pay you 80 percent of what you're getting paid. That's just not feasible," Beebe said. "So in effect what you have to do is cut 20 percent of your workforce. If you've got enough money to cover 80 percent of the total obligation, then let's keep 80 percent of the people working. Now the tough job is going to be deciding who the 20 percent who get furloughed are. But we didn't cause this. The feds did. Not us."
Beebe called the move "unorthodox and unusual" but said the alternative would be sending everyone home on furloughs who is paid even in part by federal money.
He said the cuts will affect workers involved in a wide array of areas including investigators in child abuse and neglect investigations.
"People are going to get hurt by this stuff — by what's going on in Washington," Beebe said. "Real people. They're children. There are people in nursing homes that aren't going to be protected because some of the protections that's there is paid for with people that are either all or partially paid for with federal money … This is real. And there are real people that are going to suffer as a result of this."
Beebe called the shutdown "absolutely inexcusable."
"That's not what the Founding Fathers thought they were doing when they created this democracy," he said.
Different agencies are handling the process in different ways. The Department of Human Services, for example, will notify employees by the close of business whether they are being furloughed. And it's telling them to check an agency website to learn whether the furlough has been lifted before coming back to work.
Read more in Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The Associated Press contributed to this story