State Targets Public School Employee Benefits for Cuts - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

3/17/03

State Targets Public School Employee Benefits for Cuts

A new health insurance program with Texas public schools is in jeopardy of getting cut. That means 600,000 public school employees will see a tremendous reduction in state money they receive to offset high insurance costs.

Now, families are having to re-think their spendings.

If state lawmakers cut the new health insurance program for public school employees, $600 million will be spared for the state. But the news of possible health insurance cuts is anything but refreshing to teacher Jan Pate.

Jan has five mouths to feed, and lots of bills to pay. "I've got a teenager who we will help buy a car. It's going to impact our insurance that's going up. Our house payment and insurance has gone up," Jan said.

One of the benefits of being a teacher in the state of Texas, a little extra money. "Last session, the legislature established health insurance program for employees," said General Counsel David Backus for Region 17 Educational Services.

Jan receives $83.33 cents in state money a month. Jan has the choice to use the money in different ways: additional pay or use it to offset high insurance costs. "My husband's insurance, his premiums have gone up the benefits went down so we're actually paying more and receiving less benefit. That $83.33 helped offset that because it went up $100 this time," she said.

That amount might get slashed in half because of statewide budget reductions across the board. So, instead of the $83.33 cents, she'll receive $45.83 cents a month.

Now, that money she relied on has to be made up somewhere and that means making big cuts within her own household budget. Jan says several teachers and other employees will be hit hard by the insurance cuts. Some employees receiving no money at all.

Backus says this is an effort to work on the Texas Education Agency's spending plan."I think the budget has to be balanced and education is one of the places obviously they have to look because it constitutes a large part of the state's budget," he said.

Jan says the state is sending the wrong message by making these health benefit cuts, and that cutting the health insurance program will send teachers packing, looking for another job.

The House Appropriations committee Friday voted unanimously to slash the program. The recommendation will be included in a budget bill the full house will vote on later in the legislative session. Lawmakers are pinching every state agency to alleviate the nearly $10 billion deficit without raising taxes.

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