Aaron Regunberg: Governor Chafee Should Prevent DLT Layoffs

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Imagine a grocery store that consistently has long, hectic checkout lines. The cashiers work hard, but they’re so understaffed and there are so many customers to serve that, even on the best of days, delays are hard to avoid. In this situation, we’d all probably agree it would be a poor business decisionfor the grocery store to announce plans to lay off a significant portion of its cashiers. And our indignation would grow, I imagine, if—instead of a grocery store—the understaffed organization doing the laying off were an institution that performs vital public services, both for individuals in need and for the state economy as a whole.

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That’s why I expect we’ll be hearing more outrage from Rhode Islanders over the next month about the State Department of Labor and Training’s plans to lay off between 65 and 69 frontline workers in the areas of Unemployment Insurance and Workforce Development on July 28, when federal DLT support sunsets. This is such a patently bad idea it almost seems like something out of an absurdist Monty Python sketch. I can practically hear the comedy routine now:

“So let me get this straight. Rhode Island has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And over 62,000 Rhode Islanders depend on DLT employees to handle their unemployment claims and help them in their job searches, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And the number of unemployment claims being handled by these employees is still incredibly high, right?”

“That’s right—they processed over 27,000 claims in the first week of June alone.”

“So a lot of unemployed Rhode Islanders are already facing delays getting their benefits because of understaffing, right?”

“Oh, yes indeed; why, many unemployed are waiting on hold for hours, days even, just to get in touch with us.”

“And now you’re planning to lay off close to 70 of these frontline workers, guaranteeing an exponential increase in the delays Rhode Islanders must face to access their benefits?

“That’s right!”

“Despite the fact that these layoffs will likely hit specialized offices—like the one dedicated to processing military claims—the hardest? Meaning this will quite possibly create especially long delays for our heroes returning home from the Middle East, many of whom will need unemployment benefits as they rotate back into civilian life?”

“That’s right!”

“Even though you understand that these delays will hurt the economy of the whole state, blocking these much-needed benefit (and stimulus) dollars from flowing into local businesses?”

“Yes sir!”

“And you also understand that the State of Rhode Island, as a direct reimbursable employer, will be responsible for paying these laid off employees when they file for Unemployment Insurance, meaning taxpayer dollars will be going to these folks either way?”

“That’s right!”

“So, given all that, don’t you think it would be better to, you know, not lay off these 70 employees?”

(Punchline): “Oh, well, no…I mean, Chafee knows what’s best. If he says we’ve got to lay them off, we’ve got to lay them off. I’m sure he’s thought this through.”

Okay, so it’s not as funny as a good Monty Python sketch. But it’s definitely just as absurd. We’re in an unemployment crisis in this country, and things are particularly terrible here in Rhode Island. When you’re in a crisis, you don’t eviscerate the frontlines. You strengthen them. The unemployed in this state can’t afford these layoffs, and Governor Chafee has a responsibility to do what it takes to keep these employees serving those in need of assistance. Let’s hope he sees the light, before our state makes another stupid, stupid, stupid mistake.


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