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Regional & National

Federal cuts could cost state more than 5,000 jobs

August 30th, 2011 10:36 pm by Lucas L. Johnson II

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee agencies would have to cut more than 5,000 jobs if Congress reduces the state's federal funds by as much as 30 percent.

Deep federal spending cuts are required under the recent debt-ceiling agreement in Congress. A special bipartisan committee in Congress has been tasked with crafting a compromise $1.5 trillion, 10-year debt reduction package.

Tennessee Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes earlier this month told state agency heads to submit two sets of plans: one for how they would cut 15 percent of federal aid, and another for reducing those funds by an additional 15 percent.

In his letter, Emkes wrote that national credit rating agencies have asked the state to present plans on how it will respond to the cuts in federal funds, which make up about 40 percent of Tennessee's $30.8 billion annual budget.

Tennessee agencies' plans were released Tuesday. In the worst case scenario, 5,131 positions would be eliminated.

Those with the most proposed cuts are the Department of Human Services with 1,595 positions, and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities with 1,152.

Susan Sizemore, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, said the agency doesn't plan to make any changes unless it's absolutely necessary.

"And then it would be in a phased in approach, if at all," she said of the job cuts.

Missy Marshall, spokeswoman for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, said the goal of the department is to not drop anyone.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a bio refinery tour in Vonore, Tenn., on Tuesday that he doesn't expect federal aid cuts to be as much as 15 percent.

"I think it will be more program related," said the Republican governor. "But I think it's good for ... anyone running a department in Tennessee to know their numbers and know their priorities. And this is a good step to do that."

Carla Aaron is the spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services. She said a loss of 882 positions from the department would hurt because it would impact those staffers who work directly with children and their families.

"We hope it's not nearly that daunting," Aaron said. "We're trying to keep children safe."

If a 30 percent federal cut is required, Tennessee's expanded Medicaid program wouldn't lose staffers, but it would have to make $2.2 billion in cuts, which could mean a loss in benefits for many enrollees.

TennCare Bureau spokeswoman Kelly Gunderson said the agency has made reductions over the years and is hoping to avoid making more.

"At this time, it's just a hypothetical scenario," she said of agency's plan for federal cuts.


Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.

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