State employees nervously anticipate shutdown, layoffsby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — As it grows more likely that most state employees could be laid off, many are growing increasingly anxious.
They worry about how they're going to balance their own budgets if the stalemate over the state's budget forces a shutdown of state operations not deemed essential.
That has Mark Fischer, who has a full-time job at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources running its main receiving and mail room, looking to his second job. Fisher, of White Bear Lake, received a layoff notice. He moonlights as a bartender at the B-Dale club in Roseville and hopes he can get more hours there — a lot more.
If the state government indeed shuts down, he doesn't expect to be among the employees who are deemed essential and keep getting paychecks.
Fischer's wife is off for the summer from her job as a teacher's aide and doesn't have any money coming in.
"My wife is done with school for the summer," he said. "So she is out of work. She is looking for work right now. I got the part-time job here. Maybe I'll be able to pick up extra hours. But I'm not sure what we'll do. It's going to be scary. It's scary for a lot of people right now."
If they are laid off, it appears Fischer and other state workers could collect unemployment benefits for six months or more. Unemployment benefits generally pay out half of what a person was making in their job, to a maximum of $578 a week. That's before taxes.
Normally, Minnesotans can collect unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks. With various federal and state extensions, benefits can be collected for up to 86 weeks. However, some extensions may disappear in 2012. Fischer is not hopeful about finding full-time work that pays well.
"It's pretty tight out there and nothing that has any substantial income," he said. "It's all just part-time lower-wage work."
Fischer and his wife are trying to cut expenses and stretch their money. They're buying less meat at the grocery store and clipping more coupons.
"I'm carpooling with a couple of people at work who live in my area now and just cutting back on the necessities, not spending as much at the grocery store," he said.
Lots of other state employees say they're living paycheck to paycheck, as well.
Michael Lindholt, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, plows snow and helps fix roads and bridges. Lindholt lost 10 days' pay in the 2005 state shutdown and expects a much longer hiatus this time — maybe two months.
As a union leader, he's getting lots of questions from worried workers.
"Unemployment — can I get it?" he said. "What am I going to do? How am I going to make my house payment? What about my car payment? I just bought a brand new truck. Children on the way. Sick kids. Sick family members."
Lindholt lives with his girlfriend, Jen Guertin, who works for the St. Paul water department. She's heard the city may have to cut employees if it goes too long without much-need state aid payments.
The two of them are paying down credit cards, eating out less, stocking up their freezer and foregoing trips with their kids to a family cabin up north because of gas prices.
"Everything is on hold," Lindholt said. "The main reason is you don't have the money. Things are tight."
Pink slips also have been going out to county employees whose jobs are funded by the state.
Katie Conners, an assistant public defender in Ramsey County, also received a layoff notice. She expects she and her co-workers will be deemed essential and continue to work.
"My husband works for the Department of Revenue and it does not look like they're going to be core function," Conners said. "So, I think he will be laid off if a shutdown happens."
That's going to make things pretty tight for Conners and her husband, Ryan Schroeder. The couple, who have a nearly two-year-old daughter, have have one car, a small house and few non-essential expenditures they could cut.
"I have a lot of student loan debt, something comparable to some people's mortgages," Conners said. "And so if the shutdown lasts longer than a week or two I think we're going to be in trouble and I quite frankly don't know what we're going to do. I don't know how to plan for it."
But it seems more likely that Conners, her husband and tens of thousands of other government employees will have to deal with a state shutdown nevertheless.
- Morning Edition, 06/28/2011, 8:45 a.m.