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The last thing a working North Platte woman needed was to have her hours cut. She was already working less than 40 a week.
But that’s what happened. A few days ago, she learned that her hours are now reduced to 28 per week.
The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of job reprisal, is one of 10 or so Mid-Plains College part-time workers who will lose considerable hours, and pay, in North Platte and McCook.
They include adjunct teachers, advisors, clerical workers and maintenance workers – often they hold two or more of those jobs at the same time, working 2-3 part-time jobs at the college, working as much as 39 hours a week.
The woman, who has a graduate degree, doesn’t know how she will make ends meet. Her kids qualify for reduced lunches at the public schools, which she said is a shameful situation.
Like many businesses around the country, college officials blame Obamacare – the federal healthcare reform.
The cutbacks are all-too-common in North Platte and all over the country. Companies nationwide are cutting hours of part-time employees to fewer than 30 a week, so the company doesn’t have to provide health insurance.
The provisions of Obamacare require companies with 50 or more employees to provide a health insurance plan to a full-time worker, and they defined full time as 30 hours or more a week. If a company doesn’t provide the insurance, the company has to pay a fine of $2,000 per employee.
That stipulation is a key part of the Obamacare program, to make sure everyone in the U.S. has affordable health insurance. The success of the vast reform package rests on everyone’s health care being insured.
But companies, leery of expenses and extra work, are cutting back hours instead of helping more people get insured.
Many companies said the requirement would cripple their profits, Sen. Mike Johanns said.
Wal-Mart is one of the major company that has been making adjustments. Wal-Mart now hires only part-time workers at most of its stores across the country, according to recent surveys by Rueters news service and reports by Forbes magazine.
Angry Wal-Mart workers protested in June at the company’s shareholders meeting in Bentonville, Ark. They said they could hardly make ends meet with the hours and pay they’d been getting.
With the cuts, it will be impossible, they said.
In response to complaints from businesses, on July 1 President Barack Obama's administration issued a one-year waiver on penalties for employers who do not comply.
The waiver didn’t change anything at the community college, where cutbacks had been planned since earlier in the year.
“The federal government has backed off on some of the penalties, but the bulk of requirements are still in place,” North Platte Community College business manager Mike Steele told college faculty at a meeting on Aug. 20.
Steele said the college has set 28 hours as the hours-per-week for part-time workers.
North Platte Public Schools
There will be no impacts this year at the North Platte Public Schools, now that the government issued the waiver and postponed the penalties, Business Manager Stuart Simpson said.
Simpson said the hours of a few para-educators; secretaries and maintenance workers might have to be cut in the 2014-15 school year, but that depends.
If they worked more than an average of 30 hours during the weeks of the school year in the base year, also known as the “look-back year” – from Aug. 1, 2012 to July 31, 2013, they will see some reduction in their hours.
Simpson said the hours-per-week for paras are averaged over each week that school is in session, including partial weeks of Thanksgiving, spring break and parent-teacher meetings.
Elsewhere around town
North Platte business owner Mark Wilkinson of Wilkinson Development said he is looking into his options.
Wilkinson said businesses might share part-time workers. He said McDonald’s and Holiday Inn Express are putting something in place. The worker works at both places, putting in more hours overall, but remaining in part-time status at each company.
“That’s probably the trend,” Wilkinson said.
At Steele Construction in North Platte, some employees will be hired as sub-contractors instead of put on the payroll, owner Scott Steele predicted.
Still, the situation is depressing for workers who are affected.
“I have a masters degree and I live in public housing,” another community college part-time instructor said, echoing the plight of millions of educated people who cannot find a good job.
The next step of Obamacare is unclear.
The massive reform affects one-fifth of the national economic. It has stutterstepped into existence in the face of harsh criticism. Requirements and deadlines have often been delayed.
Critics point to the sheer size of the program -- the bill itself stacks up 7-feet tall, and there are thousands of details that have to be worked out before provisions can be implemented.
And, even though the business penalties are now waived for another year, penalties still apply to individuals who do not purchase health insurance.
Ideally, states were told to set up Internet marketplace exchanges by Oct. 1 where people could conveniently shop for health insurance. But that wasn’t a firm requirement. If states declined to set up an exchange, the federal government would create the exchange marketplace.
More than half the states, including Nebraska, declined to set up an exchange, creating another big job for the federal government.
Sen. Mike Johanns hailed the one-year delay for businesses. Like most Republicans, he said the entire law should be repealed.
“This news is further evidence that the new government mandates…are too costly and too burdensome," he said when the mandates were announced.
Johanns said it’s time for the White House to wave the white flag and begin working to unwind “this tenuous law and replace it with something that will actually lower insurance costs for hardworking families.”
What that would be, Johanns didn’t say.
This report was first published in the Aug. 18 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin. (Don't just hear about it, read the Bulletin's print paper.)