A lot of unhappy letters are arriving this week at state workers’ homes, following the announcement of mass layoffs if the legislature can’t pass a budget by July 1.
In the State Office Building’s mailroom, it’s almost the end of the day. Jeremy Duncan and a co-worker are running letters through a postage machine. He’s been a mail courier for about 12 years. And he knows one of those white envelopes might be his.
“Layoff notifications. I’m sure I have one in there, too,” he says.
There’s a clock ticking closer to 3 p.m. on the wall. That’s the time the mail goes out.
“We’re waiting for a stay of execution type of phone call, huh?” he says. “That’s what it feels like.”
The phone call doesn’t come and, at 3 o’clock, several boxes are loaded onto a cart and wheeled to the mail truck.
In total, the state spent over $6,000 on sending the layoff notices–something they were contractually obligated to do. About 3,000 went to Anchorage, 1,100 to Fairbanks, and 3,000 to other places. About 2,500 were sent in Juneau. And it’s all because legislators haven’t agreed yet on a fully funded budget.
At Switzer Village, Cierra Kendrick opens her mailbox with a key.
“I’ve got what appears to the layoff notices for me and my partner and a couple of pieces of junk mail,” she says. “I just really hoped they would figure it out before it got this far.”
She works for the Alaska Department of Commerce and her partner works for the Department of Transportation. She had a meeting at work and knew the letters were being sent. She’s heard some of her neighbors are avoiding the mail.
“They just don’t want to. They’d rather wait until we hear something. They send someone to check the mail so they don’t have to see the letter,” she says.
If the legislature fails to pass a budget in time, a small number of workers could still come back. But there are a lot of unknowns and layoff details vary by department and division. The one thing that is sure, the government will be operating with less funding next year.
Kendrick says it’s been a stressful and confusing time for her family.
“Am I going to have insurance come August, depending on what they do? I have two high-needs kids that rely heavily on our insurance and we can’t afford to go without it,” she says.
State workers last day of work could be July 1. Their health insurance will last through the end of the month. After that, they won’t be covered. Summer was supposed be a special time for Kendrick and her partner.
“We are planning our wedding in July and that’s kind of been put on the back burner because those are expensive.”
Thankfully, they have already bought her partner’s dress, but they’re still trying to figure out how to pay for everything else.
“We’re budgeting for it but there’s only so much you can do. We may have to reevaluate and downsize,” she says.
The day-to-day expenses, Kendrick says, would be difficult to manage if they lose their pay. They also have two car payments. There are expenses like cable and internet.
“We may shut it off to save the 150 bucks,” she says.
The legislature’s budget negotiations are still ongoing. Kendrick says she’s tired of lawmakers waffling.
“It’s a game of chicken is all it is,” she says. “It’s ridiculous that a group of adults is playing a game like this. To them, there is no consequence. But it’s a make or break situation for a lot of people.”
For now, all her family can do is wait until a budget is passed or isn’t.
“It all depends on what pretty little pieces of paper we get in the mail and when they happen to get here,” she says.
Kendrick says she’s currently looking for other employment.