PITT COUNTY - Substitute teachers are seeing a reduction in their work hours because of the Affordable Care Act, school officials said.
Under the ACA regulations, employees who work more than 30 hours a week, or 130 hours a month, are considered full time. This means of the more than 1,000 substitute teachers in Pitt County, 200 of them are deemed full-time employees.
According to the ACA, any employee who is full time must be offered insurance through their employer, regardless of whether they enroll or not. Pitt County School officials said that could cost the school system $1.1 million.
Earlier this week, Pitt County substitute teachers received an email saying they are no longer allowed to work more than three days a week. School officials said that has since been changed to 90 hours a month.
"It was horrible. It was just, my stomach sank so deep," said Amanda Peaden, who was working at the Falkland Elementary School five days a week.
Peaden is married and is a mother of two.
"Our hands are tied. We face very stiff, large penalties if we don't adhere to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act," said Brock Letchworth., the spokesperson for Pitt County Schools.
Those penalties can go two routes.
One is called the 95-Percent Rule, which states if 95 percent of eligible employees are not offered insurance, the IRS will penalize the school system $2,000 per employee, minus 30 employees.
Letchworth said that penalty would be in the millions of dollars. If substitutes count as employees, it could be about $7 million.
The other route is called the Inadequate Coverage Penalty, which states if the school system reaches 95 percent, but some employees that they missed purchase insurance on the exchange and get a tax credit for it, the penalty is $3,000 times the number of employees who purchase and receive tax credits. That could result in $600,000 in fines, said Letchworth.
Letchworth said the school budget is looking at an increase of about $1 million for next year, so the board decided even an additional $600,000 in fines is not worth it.
Letchworth said an additional problem is that the data used to decide if the school system is in compliance began in October 2013, when many of the substitutes were working 40-plus hours a week. The compilation of that data ends in October of this year.
"We've got to balance the hours of folks who are over 40 hours or right at 40 hours per week, so their average is not over 30 when we get to October," said Letchworth.
That means substitutes like Peaden, who may have already reached their limit, may not be able to fill in at schools in need. In turn, full-time additional support staff may be required to teach classes.
Letchworth said substitutes who fill in for a prolonged period of time may be unable to work for the same amount of time after their stint is up. For example, if a substitute fills in for a teacher on maternity leave for three months, s/he may have to take three months off.
Many teachers NewsChannel 12 spoke with said they have their own insurance, so they're wondering why this is still affecting them. Letchworth said the school system cannot chance those people from being dropped from their insurance, or deciding the school's insurance is more suited for them. It would cost the school system $5,500 to insure each employee.
After this October, the substitutes may be allowed to work more, up to three-and-a-half days, or 28 hours a week, said Letchworth.