AMHERST (CBS) – The University of Massachusetts Amherst announced Thursday they plan to furlough hundreds of employees this fall due to projected budget losses of $168.6 million.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy released a statement on Thursday announcing “nearly 850” AFSCME Local 1776 workers will be on indefinite furlough effective Sept. 13.

Among those affected were dining hall workers and residence hall operations staff. The furloughed workers will retain their UMass benefits, including healthcare, while still being entitled to unemployment benefits.

“We were told that if we did not accept ‘temporary’ furloughs our members would be laid off and lose all benefits,” AFSCME Local 1776 wrote on their Facebook page. “We realize the University is facing a financial crisis however, despite the efforts of all the UMass unions to negotiate alternative cost saving measures the University refused to consider anything other than furloughing people off.”

Subbaswamy stated that the decision to furlough hundred of workers was made to offset the unprecedented challenge presented to the university by COVID-19.

“We project a $168.6 million loss in the campus’s operating budget, presenting our campus with one of the greatest financial challenges in our 157-year history,” Subbaswamy said.

Subbaswamy explained that the deficit was calculated partly from a $67.4 million loss in housing and dining revenue, $30.6 million loss in tuition revenue and a $20.9 million reduction in other revenues (including grant and contract overhead income).

“Additionally, the Board of Trustees has directed the campus to budget for a contingency equal to a 10% hold-back in our state appropriation allocation ($36.7 million) due to uncertainties in the state budget, as well as other factors, including further potential pandemic-related losses or additional expenses throughout the year. We also project an increase in expenditure of $13 million in virus testing, safety, isolation and quarantine measures,” he said.

Some permanent layoffs are expected, but UMass aims to lessen the number of layoffs by having “discussions with other staff labor unions with the hope of reaching an agreement that prioritizes temporary reductions in hours and furloughs.”

However, even with the recent cutbacks, Subbaswamy said it will still be operating at a budget deficit of $20.3 million.

“We will continue to forcefully advocate with the state and federal governments for support to help stabilize the campus budget and prevent more personnel cuts to make up that deficit,” he said.

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