In Texas, College Officials Claim PTer Health Care Too Costly—Cut Course Loads Instead

By David Crowder

The figures aren’t in yet and it’s a story that is just starting to be told: full-time workers forced into part-time work and part- timers’ hours cut sharply because of the Affordable Care Act.

Standing behind the cash register, the manager of an El Paso Taco Cabana talked freely about how all his full-time workers had their hours cut to less than 30 a week last summer so the company wouldn’t have to provide them with health insurance this year.

“They’ve had to look for second jobs,” he said.

A Dillard’s sales clerk said he was working full time but has only been able to work 28 hours or less a week since last fall.

“Everyone they’re hiring is part-time now,” he said.

He’s 24 and majoring in marketing at UTEP, but he doesn’t plan to buy health insurance, even though it’s required under Obamacare.

“I’ll just go to Juárez if I get sick,” he said.

Lorenzo Reyes, the executive director of Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande, said his agency is seeing more people looking for second jobs in El Paso.

“We haven’t seen a report yet that reflects the local trends, but at the national level we have seen that part-time employment is increasing compared to last year,” said Reyes, whose agency works with the Texas Workforce Commission.

“The local data we have is information we’re collecting when we meet with the customers, and we have seen an increase in people looking for another part-time job,” he said.

Justin Nabhan is a UTEP business student and a restaurant manager who can’t mention his company’s name, but he knows that restaurant employees in general are being hit hard.

Most only make $2.13 an hour and live on tips, and with many seeing their hours cut, he said, they’re desperately looking for full-time work or another part-time job – or two.

For those experienced workers who have kept their full-time jobs or work enough part-time hours to be eligible for health care insurance, it can be a hardship, Nabhan said, because they have to take it and pay for it.

“It’s $300 or $400 a month no matter what, and if you turn down your insurance, you turn down your job, because the company has to be sure everyone gets insured,” Nabhan said.

Art Diaz, a full-time marketing and management lecturer at UTEP, said he has been following national reports on the impact of the Affordable Care Act and has come to a difficult conclusion.

“This is a disaster,” he said.

While some workers for larger companies and even small ones that provide benefits haven’t seen their premiums jump sharply, many others have.

“An employee may like it because he’s getting more coverage, but they’re having to pay $700 to $800 a month, and that will eat up your disposable income fast,” he said.

Many of his students who work to pay for their education and living expenses are complaining about being cut to 28 hours.

“They’re saying they couldn’t pay their bills at 40 hours, so now they’re having to get a second job,” Diaz said. “That is the new trend.”

But it’s not just restaurant workers and sales clerks who are feeling the squeeze.

Universities and community colleges that rely heavily on part-time faculty have had to make the hard choice of cutting the number of classes they teach because the schools can’t afford to offer them health insurance.

That includes El Paso Community College, said Carina Ramirez, president of the college’s faculty association, and EPCC’s executive director of human resources, Liz Olguin-Ryan.

“They’ve had to cut a lot of hours, and it’s been pretty devastating to some of our adjunct instructors,” Ramirez said. “It’s also hard on some of our disciplines as well, because they can’t find enough faculty to teach the classes.

“It’s really a shame.”

Full-time faculty at El Paso Community College pay nothing for their health insurance.

The college’s 400 full-time faculty pay nothing for their health coverage. But many adjunct or part-time instructors were used to working more than 30 hours a week, and that would have entitled them to a 50-percent subsidy on health coverage.

“We couldn’t afford to pick up 2,600 people,” Olguin-Ryan said. “There is no budget for it. They (the state) gave us a month and a half’s notice last year, and there was no time to try to budget for it.”

Instructors who had been teaching more than three classes a week and would have been entitled to subsidized coverage were cut back to three or less, giving them the option to buy into the college’s coverage only if they paid the full cost themselves.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Olguin-Ryan said, adding that the college did create an unprecedented 65 new full-time faculty positions to cover the lost hours.

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