HONOLULU - Hawaii will lose money if Gov. Linda Lingle insists on including federally funded workers in her plan to force unpaid leave on state workers.
The Republican governor had accused Hawaii's Democratic congressional delegation of making false statements when they said the furloughs would cost the state money, but an official for the Social Security Administration said Wednesday that Lingle is the one who's mistaken.
''If Hawaii doesn't use the money, we would have to direct it to another state that could use the funding,'' said Gus Villalobos, director for the Center for Disability in the San Francisco regional Social Security office. ''We're really concerned that they just don't understand the impact of the program, especially when it's 100 percent federally funded.''
The three-days-per-month furloughs of 52 employees and consultants for the state Disability Determination Branch amount to a loss of $1.9 million over two years, according to a June 17 letter to Lingle from U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono. The branch helps process disability claims.
The state Department of Human Services, which oversees the branch, confirmed on Wednesday that Hawaii won't receive as much money from the federal government if the furloughs go through.
''The guy with the Social Security Administration, he's right. We won't be reimbursed as high,'' said Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the department. ''Even if we aren't reimbursed as much, the idea is that all state employees should share this burden.''
In all, Lingle is trying to save $688 million through the furlough plan to erase most of a $729 million budget shortfall over the next two years.
Lingle has said she wants to include federal employees in the furlough to be fair toward all the state's workers. The governor claimed Hawaii's four Democrats in Congress were wrong when they wrote her a joint critique of the furlough plan.
''I don't think they have a full understanding of the situation,'' she said at a news conference last week. ''They say that we will lose federal money if we furlough some employees, and that's not a true statement.''
Lingle justified the furloughs by saying Hawaii is hiring six new federally funded employees in the same branch, which she argued would attract additional funds to make up for the loss from furloughs.
That's not true, Villalobos said.
Those new positions - one of which has been filled - were budgeted for the federal fiscal year that started Oct. 1, to handle increased workloads caused by a higher number of disability claims.
''There was no tie between the furlough and these hires,'' he said. ''This is anti-stimulus, it really is. Not being able to allow people to get the benefits they should be getting is really preventing the state from being able to get additional federal money.''
At least one other state, Arizona, has exempted federally funded employees from furloughs, Villalobos said.
State governors have the authority to decide whether to accept or reject this kind of federal funding, meaning that no one else can force Lingle to take it, he said.