BAKERSFIELD, CA - Kern County will soon be feeling the impacts of the Affordable Care Act. Administrators say a provision mandating insurance be offered for temporary employees could cost the county millions and force pay cuts to hundreds.
At Probation's Juvenile Hall, dozens of temporary employees they call "extra help" man their posts, monitoring inmates.
"We rely on extra help for all of our four facilities," said David Kuge, Chief Probation Officer for the Kern County Probation Department.
Many work 120 hours per pay period, nine months a year without health benefits. But come January, the county will either have to provide insurance or cut these employees' hours.
"Basically, they will have their salaries cut in half," said Kuge.
The change comes as part of the Affordable Care Act that says any employee who works more than 59 hours per pay period must be offered health benefits. This could affect 90 to 100 workers at Probation.
"We're going to have to let them know now that this is what's going to happen," said Kuge.
But, probation is just one of many departments affected by the change.
"It will affect multiple departments, a majority of departments," said Eric Nisbett, Deputy County Administrative Officer.
Kern County Mental Health, Kern County Human Services, the Kern County District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Department all have extra help workers.
"For us, usually extra help in the outlying areas is beneficial in the desert if we have a shortage of deputy sheriffs," said Sheriff Donny Youngblood.
700 to 800 county workers will be affected. If the county provides insurance to all these employees, they estimate it will cost $3 million to $8 million. Probation estimates it will cost their department $1.2 million alone.
"That's a lot of money," said Kuge. "That's a lot of taxpayer money."
It's money the county doesn't have, which the County Administrative Office says means employee hour cuts are more likely.
"If you are going to pay them salary and benefits then we should just use full-time employees all the time," said Sheriff Youngblood.
The county wants departments to comply by July 1st, but the federal deadline is January 1st. If departments do not comply by then, there will be a fine that some departments are considering paying. That fine would be $2,000 per year per employee.
Some say complying could cost their departments millions, and paying the fine may be cheaper.
County Probation is considering paying this fine for its extra help employees. If Probation pays the fine it would cost about $200,000 versus the $1.2 million price tag that comes with insuring each one of their employees.
"I think it would be, for us, cheaper to pay the fine. We would save close to a million dollars just to pay the fine," said Kuge.
The same is true for all county departments. If the departments pay the fine it would cost the county $1.6 million, opposed to the $3 million to $8 million it would cost to provide health insurance.
The County Administrative Office said it is considering paying the fine, but it's unlikely.
Sheriff Youngblood said his department will comply with the law and avoid the fine.
"I don't know that violating the Health Care Act intentionally is really a good idea from an ethical standpoint," said Sheriff Youngblood.