District to cut employee hours, avoid health care mandate

Posted: 8:00 PM EDT Jun 13, 2013   Updated: 5:42 PM EDT Jun 14, 2013

One school district in the Lehigh Valley is cutting the hours of teacher aides, custodians, cafeteria workers and other support staff in an attempt to avoid giving them health insurance.

Starting in 2014, President Obama's Affordable Care Act requires employers with 50 full-time workers to offer health insurance to anyone working at least 30 hours a week or face a financial penalty.

"This was a difficult decision for the board," explained Jeffrey Dimmig, president, Southern Lehigh School Board.

Members voted on a new policy Monday night, capping the work of part-timers to under 30 hours a week, Dimmig said. About 51 district employees will have their time cut.

"It will affect instructional aides. It will also affect our cafeteria workers, and also some healthcare professionals," shared Dimmig. "Probably the largest group, about 40, are the instructional aides."

The move skirts the choice of giving those employees health care or paying a fine under the Affordable Care Act.  For Southern Lehigh, it all came down to the budget.   

"In our case, we would have to give them the same benefits as our teachers," added Dimmig. "That would incur to us a cost of $800,000."

It's an annual bill the district said it doesn't have the cash for. According to Dimmig, the only way around the mandate was to cut hours.

"We're dealing with decisions that were made there that obviously have a real impact at our level, and they're very difficult decisions," he said.  "This is one that no one on the board has been happy about."

School officials said the policy doesn't actually save the district any money. In fact, more workers may need to be hired to cover the cut hours. The change will be implemented when school starts back up in September.