Idaho governor orders 1% budget cut due to coronavirus

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday ordered a 1% cut in state agency spending because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.

He also directed the Idaho Department of Labor to make it easier to file unemployment claims as thousands of workers have lost their jobs in recent weeks as businesses have shut down.

“There's hardly a part of the social safety net that we have that's not having a lot of challenges,” Little said, “and we're trying to address that.”

His actions Friday followed his decision Wednesday to issue a statewide stay-at-home order as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Idaho has 205 cases and three deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally on Friday afternoon.

The Republican governor said the 1% cutback doesn't apply to health care workers and will save the state about $40 million.

He also ordered a $40 million transfer into emergency funds to fight the virus while the state waits for an expected $1.25 billion from the federal government that's part of a $2.2 trillion rescue package passed by Congress on Friday to help the nation deal with the economic fallout caused by the virus.

Little said the combined $80 million from the budget cut and emergency transfer would help the state get through until the federal money arrives. He said the state money will buy medical supplies that include protective equipment for healthcare workers, ventilators, test kits, lab supplies and hospital beds.

Officials didn't have an amount of the expected budget revenue shortfall. Idaho's budget for the current fiscal year, which ends this summer, has already been set by the Legislature that adjourned last week. But it was based on a better economic outlook.

Idaho's constitution requires the state to end the fiscal year with a balanced budget, and Little said the budget cut is aimed to do that.

“Sales tax numbers are down, particularly for big-ticket items,” he said. “You can imagine what the personal income and corporate income tax are doing.”

Public schools, which are closed across the state, are not exempt from the 1% cut, Little said, noting their closure is resulting in some savings.

He said he didn't anticipate a cut in services to Idaho residents, though the situation with the 25,000 state employees isn't as clear. Little said some agencies have seen workers sidelined due to closures forced by the virus. Idaho State Parks, for example, has closed campgrounds.

The number of Idaho residents filing for unemployment benefits jumped to about 2,000 a day starting in mid-March after averaging 146 a day since Jan. 1, the Idaho Department of Labor said. More than 13,300 people filed claims last week, a 1,200% increase over the previous week, and the largest the state agency said it has ever recorded. Some callers were hitting the 55-minute hold time limit and being automatically disconnected on Thursday.

“It's all hands on deck,” said Jani Revier, the agency's director.

Idaho's unemployment rate had been around 3% for more than a year, and Little said it was looking to hit 2.7% before the virus. Officials expect that number to become markedly worse but didn't have an estimate.

Little made his comments at the Statehouse, which is now closed to the public due to the virus. Instead of using his ceremonial office for the news conference, he used a large auditorium to allow for social distancing.

how about this: Jeremy Field of the U.S. Small Business Administration also spoke at the conference. He said there are a number of ways small businesses are being aided that are outlined on that federal agency's website.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms lasting two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.