Obamacare linked to increasing demand at Western Washington food banks

by: John Knicely Updated:

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The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is now being linked to a new group of people depending on food banks.  In the past three months the already stretched-thin Salvation Army Food Bank in Renton has seen an influx of a new type of client.

“What we're seeing is a lot of people who've had their full-time hours reduced to less than 30 hours,” said Capt. Chris Aird of the Salvation Army.

That coincides with companies reducing workers’ hours in anticipation of the new health care law.  The list of companies reducing hours to less than 30 hours a week includes Trader Joe’s, Dupont, IBM, UPS, Walgreens, Home Depot, and Time Warner Cable, according to Reuters/Wall Street Journal.

“That's exactly what happened to me,” said Emily Easter of Seattle.  “They don't let you work over 30 hours to keep you from getting benefits.”

Obamacare defines full-time work as 30 hours a week and threatens fines to companies if their health care doesn't meet certain standards for full-time workers.

As companies reduce workers’ hours to avoid the penalties, many workers have turned to the food bank to support their families.  Aird says workers tell him since they're making less money, they need to use it on gas to get to work instead of the grocery store.

“Most people would rather keep their job and put money in their gas tank,” said Aird.  “And swallow their pride a little bit and ask for help here at the food bank.”

“There has been bipartisan effort to change the issue with working hours.  Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) co-sponsored a bill to change the full-time definition to 40 hours. 

“The new health care law creates a perverse incentive for businesses to cut their employees’ hours so they are no longer considered ‘full time,’” said Collins. But that bill hasn't gone anywhere.