PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is discussing a plan that would cut state employees’ hours and allow them to collect unemployment benefits in an effort to ease Rhode Island’s budget woes, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
Details of the plan remained scarce as of Monday afternoon, but it could mirror a newly disclosed program in Providence under which city workers are being furloughed for up to two days a week and tapping into the R.I. Department of Labor and Training’s WorkShare program so unemployment benefits can help make up for their reduced wages.
Employees on WorkShare are also eligible for the temporary $600 weekly unemployment bump that Congress authorized under the CARES Act. That program ends on July 31.
An announcement by the governor’s office could come as soon as Tuesday, though discussions were described as still being fluid, and it’s possible the program will be voluntary.
An administration spokesperson declined to comment. Officials from two major state employee unions, AFSCME Council 94 and SEIU Local 580, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Like many states around the country, Rhode Island is facing an enormous budget shortfall triggered by the coronavirus crisis. The House Fiscal Office estimates a roughly $900 million combined deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the next one.
The governor has said she wants to hold off on crafting a final budget plan in hopes that Congress will provide significant additional federal budget aid to states or offer additional flexibility for how to use the $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund money that was included in the CARES Act. She has repeatedly described furloughs and layoffs as a last resort.
Legislative leaders have resumed holding budget hearings but not have yet laid out a specific plan for how they plan to tackle the budget. While a final budget plan is usually enacted by the end of June, Raimondo and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed have both suggested the General Assembly may want to wait until later in the summer in case Congress takes action.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.