Housing pays $40,000 in payroll due to ACA rules

Kimberly Wethal, Editor-in-Chief

A partnership between University of Wisconsin-Whitewater University Housing and the Police Services Campus Service Officer (CSO) program, brought about by the changes in student hours under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is rounding out its first year.

Terry Tumbarello, associate director of University Housing, said the partnership has worked really well.

“When I was looking at changes we were going to have to implement, it became clear to me that duty was going to have to change and be modified,” Tumbarello said. “I didn’t want there to be no coverage after 1 a.m., so I approached University Police.”

The partnership, which deploys CSOs in overnight positions, is a remedy to a decrease in hours that Resident Assistants (RA) were considered “on call.” Prior to changes in the ACA’s employer insurance requirements which took effect in January 2016, all student workers were capped at a maximum average of 30 hours per week.

Hours for student workers in the spring 2016 semester dipped down to 25 because the federal legislation required an employee working more than an average of 30 hours to receive health insurance from their employer, for which undergraduate students are not eligible, then-Human Resources and Diversity Director Judi Trampf said.

Although the average number of working hours is still at 25 for most student workers, RAs are now down to 15 hours a week as their maximum, down from 20 they had in prior years, Tumbarello said.

RAs are paid mainly with the incentive of free housing and dining plans, but receive little to no spending money for their work.

“Certainly it would be my preference not to cut the position from 20 to 15 hours,” Tumbarello said. “We cut the position to 15, really 14 hours a week, because we want students to work outside jobs to get additional funds if they chose. The reality is, we could have left the position as is and not changed anything, and what would have changed is our RAs would have only been working five hours a week elsewhere in other offices instead of ten.

“We just felt that wasn’t enough income for them,” Tumbarello added. “RAs make a good wage, but their primary source of income is room and board, so they don’t get a lot of spending money. Room and board is great, but if you want to go out to a movie tomorrow night, room and board doesn’t get you very far.”

For University Housing, this meant in order for them to stay compliant with the ACA, the number of hours that RAs were “on call,” previously from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in case a resident needed assistance in the middle of the night, dropped to a shorter shift of 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Enter the CSO program. UW-Whitewater Police Services Chief Matthew Kiederlen was approached by Tumbarello with the idea to create a partnership where the CSOs would take over as the providers of assistance when the RA’s hours were up.

The partnership has two CSO workers out on patrol during the early morning hours, with one stationed in Goodhue Hall, monitoring radio transmissions and surveillance systems.

The partnership has worked well so far, Kiederlen said, as they’ve been able to hire more CSO positions and place “additional eyes and ears on the community.”

“More interaction with residents, more interaction with housing is a good thing for our campus service officer program,” Kiederlen said. “It’s worked out really well. We’ve had some sideline benefits we didn’t expect … it’s really worked out as a good match.”

Punch to the pocketbook

The partnership doesn’t come without a cost to the University Housing Department, as the department subsidizes $40,000 in CSO payroll to make up for the reduction of RA working hours.

It’s the cost of keeping a person awake – prior to January 2016’s reduction of hours, RAs were considered to be “on call,” even if they were asleep, Tumbarello said.

“We’re spending close to $40,000 a year in CSO payroll to have coverage throughout the night when the reality is, is that most of our RAs were sleeping,” Tumbarello said. “There’s been significant financial burden, that ultimately the residents pay for that … even though the partnership has worked well.”

The $40,000 in additional CSO payroll is now 30 percent of the program’s approximate $132,000 operating budget.