This week, Delaware County became the first in the Philadelphia region to institute furloughs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
About 400 workers — roughly an eighth of the county’s workforce — are included in the cutbacks, officials said Tuesday. The measure largely affects office workers who have been unable to do their jobs remotely.
Delaware County’s courthouse and government center in Media have been operating with a bare-bones staff since March 16, when orders suspending most county services were signed.
The furloughs do not affect any public safety departments, including the emergency call center, or the superintendents overseeing the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Staffers at Fair Acres, the county-run nursing home, also are exempt.
County Chief Administrative Officer Marianne Grace, in a letter sent to department heads Thursday, said the furloughs went into effect Sunday and are expected to “last a few weeks."
“Due to the economic impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the County of Delaware is implementing measures to ensure the financial stability of the county,” Grace wrote in the letter, obtained by The Inquirer. “Therefore we must make some difficult personnel decisions.”
Furloughed employees will not have to pay premiums for their health care insurance and are eligible to collect federal unemployment subsidies, which recently were expanded to $600 a week, according to County Council Chairman Brian P. Zidek. In some cases, he said, that would be an increase in salary for the furloughed workers.
“If we could save the county money and not impact service in any regard, and actually enable employees to make more money, we thought that made for a win-win all the way around,” Zidek said.
None of the other counties in the region has made a similar decision so far. Officials in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery Counties said Tuesday that there were no plans for furloughs.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney has said the pandemic will have a significant impact on the city’s budget and the potential to impact staffing and services. No employee layoffs or furloughs had been announced as of Tuesday. Kenney is scheduled to present a new budget proposal to City Council on May 1.
Delaware County Councilman Kevin M. Madden said that the decision to institute the furloughs was difficult for him and his colleagues, but that the pressure the pandemic put on county revenue gave them little choice.
“The reality is that all organizations are being impacted by this pandemic, and government isn’t excluded from that,” he said. “We had to be responsible to our ultimate boss, which is the resident and taxpayer.”
Madden said the decision was made after confirming that the furloughed employees would be eligible for federal unemployment subsidies. He stressed that there are no plans for layoffs.
“This is going to end, and at that time, we need to bring people back,” Madden said. “We’re doing this in a way that’s responsible for the taxpayer, given the shortfall in revenues.”
— Staff writer Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.