County policy changed to avoid layoffs in event of another gov't shutdown

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SALT LAKE CITY — If you thought talk of another federal government shutdown was a thing of the past, think again.

When federal lawmakers couldn't see eye to eye in October, the result was a quick shutdown of the federal government, and many federally-funded programs along with it. Now Congress has until Jan. 15 to reach another budget deal or they will close up shop again.

The prospect of another shutdown recently forced some changes in Salt Lake County government. County officials said the loss of funding in October almost forced them to fire some valuable employees because county policy didn't allow them to do anything else. Now, they say, they've fixed the problem.

The Women, Infants, and Children program — known as WIC — was one of the first programs affected by the federal government shutdown. It serves some of Utah's youngest citizens, providing food, diapers and other baby supplies to families in need.

"I was worried on how we're going to stretch our money now, because it does help, that extra every month," said Sarah Timmins, a WIC recipient.

If the government shutdown had continued beyond what it did earlier this fall, we'd be forced to fire employees and not have the ability to rehire them very easily after the shutdown.

–Mayor Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County

Emergency funds were found to keep the program going, but the Salt Lake County employees who run it almost found themselves out of a job.

"If the government shutdown had continued beyond what it did earlier this fall, we'd be forced to fire employees and not have the ability to rehire them very easily after the shutdown," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

That's because those who lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, would have to go through the competitive hiring process all over again.

To fix this problem for the future, officials revised county policy to allow furloughs rather than firings for employees who work county jobs that rely solely on federal funds.

"What we want to do, if they are furloughed, (is make it so) that they can use some of their vacation time in that furlough period," McAdams said. "They can still maintain their health benefits, but we can adapt to a changing landscape at the federal level."

The mayor said there is no question October's shutdown hurt Utah at the state and local levels, and the prospect of another shutdown is maddening to say the least.

"We have Republicans and Democrats at the county that work together. We find a way to hammer out our differences and make decisions," McAdams said. "And it really is very frustrating that that's not happening at the national level, because we do feel the impact in a very real sense on the local level."

KSL News reached out to members of Utah's congressional delegation Friday. We were told there is no desire to see a repeat of what happened in October



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Geoff Liesik


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