School bus drivers employed by a district may qualify as full-time, and thus get access to health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act, because they work at least 30 hours a week based on a 9-month school year calendar.
But drivers and other support staff working for contractors might see those same hours calculated based on a 12-month calendar and, as a result, can't get ACA benefits.
This week, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking her to close that loophole in the regulations.
"We write to urge you to take further action to ensure non-teacher staff in schools - such as custodians, school bus drivers, security guards, school nurses, cafeteria workers, and others - have access to quality health coverage," the letter stated. "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."
Large Employers and ACA Coverage
According to the legislators, when Congress passed the ACA in 2010, the law called for large employers to offer affordable health coverage to employees working an average of 30 hours per week or face penalties. Treasury regulations call for school districts and other educational institutions to consider those full-time employees, based on a 9-month calendar. But an employee working that same amount of time for a private contractor would be calculated using a 12-month calendar, so they don't count as full-time.
"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 covered if they worked directly for the educational organization they serve," the letter stated.
The letter urges the Department of the Treasury to draft proposed regulations clarifying that an employee working for a private contractor has the same right to coverage as a worker employed directly by a school district. Apparently, the department had stated its intention to do something like that in 2015, but hasn't done so yet.
Concerns About Shortages
The letter indicates that the number of people working as school bus drivers dropped by 14.7% since 2019 - but asserted that it should be growing with the school-age population.
"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," the letter stated.
The letter, signed by a total of 75 legislators, was praised by Sean M. O'Brien, president of the Teamsters Union: "Teamster school bus drivers and other school employees are being denied health care coverage due to this ACA loophole. The Teamsters join with Rep. Norcross and Sen. Markey in demanding that the Treasury Department do the right thing and fix this now!"