By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- With the partial federal government shutdown poised to move into its third week, Gov. Deval Patrick sent a letter Friday to state government employees informing them that furloughs and layoffs are "not imminent," but remain a possibility the longer the stalemate in Washington continues.
"The shutdown is hurting Massachusetts. Federal contracts going unfunded and federal programs at risk of running out of money do both direct and indirect harm to our people, our businesses and our economy as a whole," Patrick wrote in the emailed letter obtained by the News Service.
He wrote, "Some programs in state government are funded in whole or in part through federal grants and, in those cases, there is the potential for furloughs and layoffs of staff. This is not imminent. We are doing our best to calculate at what point in a prolonged federal shutdown we may have to take state action, and will communicate with you as and when we have a better handle on that."
Patrick urged Congress to not only pass a budget reopening the government, but also one that will reimburse states for any costs incurred to keep agencies and programs running while their federal funding streams were cut off.
"Governors across the political spectrum have joined in that very appeal," said Patrick, who is currently in Canada on a trade mission.
Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development Aaron Gornstein on Thursday warned that the shutdown could force thousands of layoffs and furloughs, and the delay of federal home heating assistance to low-income families after Nov. 1.
"Thousands of state employees will be facing furloughs or layoffs and dozens of programs for low-income families, seniors and veterans will soon run out of funding," he said during a Boston Foundation forum on housing issues.
Patrick said a great amount of uncertainty remains on the state level because the impacts become greater the longer the shutdown lasts. He said his administration would use "every flexibility and resources" to keep state government fully operational.
"However, we cannot fill the gaps left by the shutdown for very long," Patrick wrote.
Starting Nov. 1, Gornstein said, the state will not be able to provide heating assistance to 200,000 households, will not be able to make rent payments for 20,000 low-income households receiving Section 8 assistance, and 35 home projects with 1,500 units of affordable housing will be delayed.
"We need the (temporary spending bill) to pass as quickly as possible," he said. "It was cold last night at my house. And if you are a senior citizen relying on fuel assistance it's going to be tough come November 1 if you're not able to get heat."