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The Affordable Care Act and Penn State: How Student Employees Will Be Affected

The bubble of Happy Valley seems so far removed from everything going on in Washington. When the government shut down last month, classes continued and we carried on. In fact, the biggest concern of many students was if the shutdown would prevent the Army men’s hockey team from traveling to State College for the first game at Pegula Arena. We forget that our government’s decisions can shape our day-to-day lives.

As it turns out, the new healthcare legislation will directly impact many student employees at Penn State in a major way. Though most of us have heard of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to Obamacare, many students are still fuzzy on the details of the bill designed to increase healthcare access for Americans.

For Penn State, this means instituting a regulation that requires university to provide health benefits for employees working at least 30 hours per week, effective January 1. This requirement, in theory, will prove very costly for Penn State, as many students will be added to the university’s bill. But the university is trying to find ways around it.

“We do know from an early analysis that the law as it stands will have a significant negative impact on the university budget if there is no mitigation… about $23 million,” said Susan Basso, Penn State’s vice president for Human Resources.

In response to this huge cost, the university plans to limit the amount of hours students can work to avoid paying for their health insurance. Under the new policy, student employees may work a maximum of 20 hours per week, leaving a 10 hour buffer window. This is bad news for RAs, who are clocked in at 20 hours per week, which effectively prevents them from taking on another on-campus job.

It was explained to UPUA Chair Anthony Panichelli that the antiquated labor-tracking system is to blame for the severity of these restraints. The system is unable to track employees working at multiple locations. The problem is irreparable for the time being so the restraints on student employees are precautionary and ensure that they will not work too many hours.

All the same, Basso stressed that all plans are still tentative.

“Regardless of what is decided, we must be able to comply with the law, but I assure you the team will be working hard to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned,” Basso said.

As a measure of communication between the administration and the student body, UPUA President Katelyn Mullen and Vice President Brenden Dooley met with Basso last Friday. The two voiced concerns about what the Affordable Care Act will mean for student workers.

Panichelli said this will be the first of many meetings because Mullen and Dooley remain committed to continuing the conversation.

“Since the plans are still preliminary, President Mullen and Vice President Dooley will continue to advocate for student interests with the intent of preventing a unilateral decision from being made before all efforts are made to accommodate students,” Panichelli said.

UPUA will discuss the matter further at this week’s public Steering meeting. But for now, it looks like students who rely on Penn State for jobs might be in trouble next semester as the residual effects of Obamacare take grip.

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