Hennepin County considering layoffs, closings to prep for shutdown

Hennepin County commissioners are considering laying off about 80 employees and shutting down licensing centers, as they prepare for a looming state government shutdown.

The county service centers process applications for passports, drivers licenses, and birth certificates. If checks from the state don't come, residents may have to do without some or all of these services.

The board of commissioners Thursday received a bleak briefing on how the state's budget impasse would affect county services.

Board Chair Mike Opat said he's worried that the shutdown would shred the safety net for the most vulnerable families. He said nonprofits that administer government programs, such as group homes and work programs for the disabled, will hang in the balance if checks from the state stop coming.

"Instead of the developmentally disabled person going to their work site, they're going to sit home all day because the state program that pays for the van to get them to the shelter workshop isn't funded anymore," Opat said. "So that's going to be kind of a quiet tragedy that happens."

Hennepin County would also likely halt programs for the poorest and most vulnerable residents. That could include a nationally acclaimed model that has helped move families out of homeless shelters and into more stable housing.

Commissioner Gail Dorfman said that program has been crucial for helping families displaced by last month's tornado.

"We anticipate a whole new wave of family homelessness as a result of the tornado, and without this tool, it's going to be tough," Dorfman said.

But construction projects, including the Lowry Bridge, would likely continue, in order to avoid claims from contractors.

Other programs at risk include child-care assistance, treatment for chemical dependency, and housing for people with serious mental illness.

The board will meet again Monday to discuss next possible steps. Commissioners could take a vote Tuesday.