by Korey Clark
It's unlikely the authors of the Affordable Care Act ever imagined the law would lead public-sector employers to restrict the number of hours part-time employees can work to avoid having to pay for their health insurance as the law requires. But state and local officials say that's exactly what's happening in cities, counties, public schools and colleges across the country. The work-hour restrictions have impacted police dispatchers, prison guards, substitute teachers and part-time professors, among others. Mark D. Benigni, superintendent of schools in Meriden, Connecticut and a member of the American Association of School Administrators' governing board, said the ACA was having "unintended consequences for school systems across the nation." But he suggested those consequences were unavoidable. "Are we supposed to lay off full-time teachers so that we can provide insurance coverage to part-time employees?" he said. "If I had to cut five reading teachers to pay for benefits for substitute teachers, I'm not sure that would be best for our students." President Obama has already twice delayed enforcement of the ACA provision subjecting larger employers to tax penalties if they fail to provide insurance coverage to employees who work an average of 30 hours or more per week. And the administration said last month it was also going to ease the coverage requirements for such employers. But many public employers said they'll still keep their work-hour restrictions in place because their part-time worker obligation under the ACA, which kicks in next year, will be based on the hours their employees work this year. Public employers seem more in need of a break than their private-sector counterparts. Since the ACA was signed into law in March 2010, the private sector has added over eight million jobs, while the public sector remains 698,000 jobs below its March 2010 level, according to the Labor Department. And as Daniel T. Tanoos, school superintendent for Vigo County, Indiana, pointed out, while corporations can pass along their additional costs to consumers, school systems have "no way to increase prices as a private business can." The public-employer, work-hour restrictions have only emboldened critics of the health reform law. U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Arkansas), for instance, said the authors of the law wanted more people to have insurance. "What did they get? No insurance and less pay. Genius! That's a genius federal program right there." (NEW YORK TIMES, STATE NET)
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