AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has cleared his Friday schedule so he can meet with department heads to gauge the potential damage of a prolonged U.S. government shutdown.
The shutdown has sent hundreds of state employees and National Guardsmen into temporary layoffs, and if it continues into next week, “thousands” more could be furloughed, according to LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett.
Employees at risk of furlough are those whose positions are funded, in whole or in part, with federal dollars. Bennett said Friday morning that the state has “floated” those positions this week in hopes the shutdown would be short-lived. However, she said, the state cannot sustain that policy indefinitely.
On Thursday, LePage’s administration announced that 44 administrative employees in the state Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management had been placed on furlough.
“To date, the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management has been the hardest hit of all state agencies,” LePage said in the written announcement. “Unless there is a resolution to the shutdown by Monday, the state of Maine will have no choice but to address how to proceed with other state employees or programs that are partially or fully funded by the federal government.”
Additionally, more than 400 National Guardsmen in Maine were temporarily laid off as a result of the federal shutdown, while Acadia National Park has locked its gates to tourists and greatly reduced its staff. Federally funded research positions statewide have also been affected.
The Maine AFL-CIO said Friday that other workers around the state have already been temporarily laid off. Others, such as workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and employees at the Veterans Medical Center at Togus who process veterans’ benefit claims, face the specter of being furloughed next week, the labor group’s statement said.
More than 500 employees of Defense Finance and Accounting Services in Limestone, which does accounting for the U.S. Air Force, may also be placed on unpaid leave if the shutdown continues, the labor group said.
Many others, such as air traffic controllers and aviation safety inspectors, are working without pay, according to Sarah Bigney, spokeswoman for Maine AFL-CIO, which includes the unions that represent those workers.
“We work closely with these workers and thousands more who are worried that they will not be able to pay their bills,” Bigney wrote in a prepared statement. “Many are living paycheck to paycheck.”