State employees brace for loss of paychecksby Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With no budget compromise in sight at the Minnesota Capitol, the reality of a government shutdown is sinking in for most state employees.
Thirteen-thousand people who provide services a judge deemed critical will continue working. But another 22,000 will be laid off as of midnight Thursday. Many are preparing for a big financial shock.
State workers will continue to receive health benefits during a shutdown and will be eligible to collect unemployment. But unemployment checks will only cover up to about half of a worker's normal income.
Deepa DeAlwis says she understands why she failed to make the cut of essential state employees. DeAlwis works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in St. Paul, helping to clean up contaminated groundwater at old industrial and military sites. She regards her work as essential to people's long-term health.
A small number of MPCA employees who deal with chemical spills and other emergencies will stay on the job. But DeAlwais says no one will die if she misses work for awhile.
"My job isn't to stop this chemical that's just spilled from going into the river or the lake nearby. My job is to deal with the stuff that we've dumped for the last 60 years into our ground," DeAlwis said.
DeAlwais says she loves her job, but now her biggest concern is paying the bills. She's the sole provider for her two children, and says she's been watching every penny for months in anticipation of a shutdown. She's even cut out simple summertime pleasures like ice cream.
"It's going to be a very boring summer for my children, because unless it's free, I can't do it," she said.
Financial concerns are on the minds of many state workers facing layoffs. Ryan Patrick of Duluth works as a drug and alcohol counselor at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility. Guards at the facility have been declared essential, but Patrick isn't sure if he'll be getting a paycheck. Patrick says if he is laid off and a shutdown lasts a long time, he and his wife may have to borrow money from family to pay their mortgage. But Patrick says he's especially concerned for the inmates he counsels.
"A lot of these guys are getting toward the ends of their sentences, and they're all looking at getting out and getting into work release and getting released back into the community," he said. "From my perspective, helping these guys and providing treatment for them is essential when they go into corrections."
At many state agencies the mood has been anxious. But Diana Rae Evensen says at the Management and Budget office, things have been suprisingly normal -- mainly because it's been so busy. She says despite the turmoil at the Capitol, morale has been OK.
"I know that what I do is important. And I know that it's not my bosses or the management here that is wanting to shut us down," said Evensen. "It's just the political reality between the two political parties, and the Legislature and the executive branch."
But Evensen is even more concerned than the others about how she'll make ends meet. She and her husband filed for bankruptcy this year, so getting credit is difficult. On top of that, two of Evensen's sons are unemployed, and she supports an extended family of seven.
Unlike Diana Rae Evenson, Mike Lang is single. He shares a home with his brother and has enough savings to weather a shutdown. He's more concerned that his job at two Department of Economic Development workforce centers could be eliminated once there's a budget compromise.
"The threat of losing our jobs seems a lot more real, even though some of us have been with the state for — I myself have been with it for 12 years, and some longer. There's still concern over what might happen," he said.
But Lang says even if he does wind up unemployed, he can use some of the skills he's learned in 12 years of helping others find work.
- Morning Edition, 06/30/2011, 7:44 a.m.