Lingle rejects delegation's plea


POSTED: Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hawaii's congressional delegation is asking Gov. Linda Lingle to reconsider her decision to furlough state workers who are paid with federal funds, especially those who process claims for disabled residents and military personnel.

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Possible furloughs for 37 state employees and 16 medical consultants—all federally funded—under contract to the Disability Determination Branch of the state Department of Human Services prompted a letter to the governor yesterday from U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue also urged Lingle in a letter June 9 to reconsider furloughs for the federally paid disability determination workers. “;We estimate that by furloughing DDB employees, Hawaii will lose about $1.9 million in funding and delay the processing of claims for over 3,000 Hawaiians over the next two years,”; he wrote.

University of Hawaii researchers expressed concerns last week about adverse effects of the governor's proposed furloughs for an estimated 3,000 research staff members who are also paid with federal funds.

Responding to Astrue's letter, Lingle explained the furlough policy is being applied to all state workers because of Hawaii's spirit of “;working together, sharing and sacrificing for the good of all, even though it may impose hardships on each of us individually.”;

She said her decision recognizes that “;employees working side by side, whether their paychecks come from federal funds, state funds, special funds or other taxpayer resources, should be treated in the same, even-handed manner.”;

“;It is troubling that some would argue they are 'special' or should be set apart from their brethren simply because their pay comes from a federal source.”;

Lingle said residents applying for disability benefits should have prompt consideration and that she has authorized Human Services Director Lillian Koller to fill six new positions in the branch office.

The congressional team said claims for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Secure Income are running 15.8 percent higher this year than last. Furloughs “;will reduce social services just when many Hawaii residents will need them most,”; they said.

They said Disability Determination Branch furloughs will result in a loss to Hawaii of $79,500 per month in salaries; delays of $46,200 in benefit payments to new claimants per month; and delays in processing 123 new disability cases each month.

Facing processing delays, claimants will turn to Medicaid and other state-funded programs, the congressional delegation said.

They pointed out that Social Security funds used to pay the disability branch employees can't be used for any other purpose and would be directed to another jurisdiction.

Lowell Kepke, Social Security spokesman in the San Francisco office, said by telephone that the proposed furloughs are “;an anti-stimulus action.”;

Astrue told Lingle other states are facing the same issues. “;Once most states understand the unique federal-state relationship that underpins this critical workload, they have realized that including DDB-type employees in across-the-board cuts is counterproductive. ... No state is furloughing as many employees for as long as Hawaii.”;

Lingle responded, “;Failure to institute furloughs will leave Hawaii with little choice but to start massive layoffs of state personnel that could result in the shutdown of entire programs.”;