PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The city of Providence is furloughing 500 members of its workforce for one to two days a week starting this week, a spokesperson confirmed Monday.
The employees will be automatically placed on unemployment insurance for 20% to 40% of their workweeks using the state’s WorkShare program, receiving benefits on the days they aren’t working, according to city spokesperson Patricia Socarras.
The workers will continue to receive their city health benefits.
Socarras said the city is coordinating the unemployment payments directly with the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, and workers do not need to apply for unemployment individually. Employees who are affected were notified last week.
The furloughs include both union and non-union employees, but do not include teachers or sworn members of the police or fire departments. (The Providence Public School Department is separately mulling layoffs or furloughs to balance its budget if state aid does not come through at expected levels.)
“Participating in WorkShare will allow the city to avoid more severe measures due to anticipated decreased revenue in this and next fiscal year,” Socarras said.
WorkShare recipients are eligible to receive the extra $600 per week approved by Congress in the CARES Act for workers receiving unemployment during the pandemic, according to DLT spokesperson Angelika Pellegrino. The extra benefit runs out in July, unless Congress extends it.
Target 12 first reported that Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration was considering furloughs to balance the budget, estimating five furlough days for every employee in his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1.
Socarras said the city is expecting to save about $2 million through the new furlough plan, which is currently scheduled to continue through Sept. 5.
Many city employees have been working from home during the pandemic, but some have continued to be paid despite not be able to work remotely, according to testimony at Council Finance meetings over the last several weeks.
The timesheets of employees during the pandemic helped determine in part which ones would be furloughed, Elorza’s Chief Operating Officer Sabrina Solares-Hand told the Finance Committee on Monday night.
“The payroll records … were used to take a look at where staff were not reporting full time hours at the time, and those particular people became candidates for this,” Solares-Hand said.
Solares-Hand said City Hall and other city buildings will tentatively reopen June 22, with two cohorts of workers that will come to work in person on either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, with deep cleaning on Wednesdays and over the weekend.
She said employees would work from home or serve their furlough days on the days they are not coming into the office.
Providence is not unique in its budgetary woes; the widespread closure of businesses during the pandemic has thrown municipal and state budgets out of balance as expected revenues have not come in as planned.
Multiple other cities and school departments are either considering or have already enacted layoffs or furloughs, including in Warwick, Johnston, East Providence, Central Falls and Tiverton.