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McDonnell Orders 29-Hour Limit for Part-Time State Employees

Virginia struggles with health insurance requirement

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Virginia agencies are reducing part-time employees' hours until officials figure out how to comply with federal health insurance requirements regarding those who work more than 30 hours each week.

Gov. Bob McDonnell ordered agencies to cut back part-time employees to no more than 29 hours each week to avoid triggering a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires health insurance coverage be provided to those who work more hours.

But officials are unsure how the law affects some employees, such as the more than 9,000 adjunct professors at community colleges. They also aren't sure how reducing employees' hours will affect services.

“We're trying to get a really good grasp of who we have, what are the jobs they're doing, if they're working more than 30 hours, is it necessary, why?” Secretary of Administration Lisa Hicks-Thomas, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

State officials estimate that providing basic health benefits to part-time, hourly employees who work at least 30 hours a week would cost from $61 million to $110 million, if their families also are covered.

A recent survey showed agencies have nearly 7,400 wage employees who work more than 30 hours each week. Many of those -- nearly 1,500 -- working in the Virginia Community College System.

Department of Alcohol Beverage Control spokeswoman Rebecca V. Gettings said the agency will have to adjust weekly schedules to comply and continue adequately staffing state liquor stores. Part-time employees, including clerks and cashiers in the state's liquor stores, account for almost two-thirds of the agency's workforce.

Local governments are facing similar challenges for their employees and workers in state-supported local positions.

“We are trying to come up with alternative plans in each situation and try to find a way to get the hours under the threshold or otherwise find ways to cover the work,” said Chesterfield County Administrator James J.L. Stegmaier.

Those positions include workers at local community services boards, who provide critical services to disabled Virginians and those with behavioral health conditions.

“I don't know how this is going to be resolved,” said Mary Ann Bergeron, executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. “This impacts especially those people who are working as care providers for (Medicaid) waiver services. I think they're going to be hard hit.”

It remains unclear how the state directive affects employees who have another source of health insurance coverage, such as from a spouse or another job. Also unclear is how the potential expansion of Medicaid or the creation of a federally run health benefits exchange would affect the change.

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