In a letter to U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 75 mostly Democrat congressional members asked for improved benefits and health insurance plans for contracted, non-teacher staff at school districts, including school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, school nurses, and security guards.
The letter sent on Tuesday starts by thanking Yellen for her commitment to ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, accessible health care. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), and over 70 others, including Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), wrote they are encouraged by the recent steps proposed by the Biden administration to fix the “family glitch.” ACA allows employees health insurance subsidies to pay for their own coverage that they can’t afford but denies the necessary credits to pay for their covered family members.
However, the letter urges Yellen to take further action by also giving contracted, non-teacher staff in schools access to quality health coverage.
“Considering the dire shortages of non-teacher staff in public schools, it is more important than ever to ensure these jobs have good benefits, such as health care, to attract and retain quality workers,” the letter states, adding that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010 required that employers provide affordable health coverage to employees working an average of 30 hours a week.
The congressional members note that recent Treasury regulations have since interrupted ACA to mean that educational intuitions must use the school year calendar as the basis for any determination as to whether an employee works an average of 30 or more hours per week. Where the ACA falls short, the letter says, is with private companies contracted through the school district, such as for transportation services. The letter points out that these companies are subject to a calculation that utilizes a 12-month calendar instead of the nine-month educational institution calendar.
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“Because of this loophole, these contractor companies are not required to provide employer-sponsored health benefits to their employees, despite these employees working full-time schedules during the school year and qualifying for employer-sponsored coverage if they worked directly for the educational organization they serve,” the letter states.
The letter provides the following example. An employee at an educational organization working 1,365 hours over a nine-month period would be considered to average 35 hours worked per week (1,365 hours worked over a 39-week span) and would be guaranteed employer-sponsored health coverage. But that same employee working for a private contractor would only be considered to have averaged 26.25 hours per week (1,365 hours over 52 weeks) and would not be guaranteed coverage.
The letter asks the Department of Treasury to issue proposed regulations specifying that an employee of a private contractor hired by a school district has the same right to health coverage as does an employee hired directly on by the district. The letter notes that the Department of Treasury intended to establish such regulations in 2015 but has yet to do so.
“School bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and other non-teacher school staff are vital to creating safe environments for, transporting, and feeding more than 25 million children every day,” the letter states.
A recent Economic Policy Institute report on the number of individuals employed as school bus drivers and custodians reports that employment fell by 14.7 and 6 percent, respectively, since the fall of 2019. The report adds that a main factor could be due to early retirements as many bus drivers and custodians are older and may fear falling ill.
“Ensuring that all full-time non-teacher staff in public schools have access to health care is not only necessary to ensure fairness for these essential workers, it will also help combat the staffing issues plaguing our schools and negatively affecting our children. We urge you to follow through on the agency’s 2015 commitment to fix this loophole,” the letter concludes.