Two weeks after the Texas Legislature convened its 85th biennial session, the Texas State Employees Union on January 23 called on the Legislature to raise state employee pay by $6000 a year.
The union at a media conference released data from the state Health and Human Services Commission showing that 6000 state employees are currently receiving food stamps because they aren’t being paid a living wage; furthermore, 30,000 children of state employees qualify for public assistance health care programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“It’s hard to see so many of my co-workers struggle to make ends meet,” said Anthony Brown, treasurer of TSEU and an employee at the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services. “They work hard to make sure that elderly people on Medicaid in nursing homes receive quality care, but some of my co-workers have children on Medicaid because they’re not making a living wage.”
“We need a $6000 a year raise for every state and state university worker now. We can’t wait another two years,” said Brown referring to the fact that the Texas Legislature only meets once every two years.
One of the Legislature’s main responsibilities is to appropriate money for the state budget. During the appropriations process, the Legislature sets employee salary and benefit levels.
During the last session, state employees received small raises but those raises only covered the increased contributions that employees pay into their pension fund. Many state employees actually saw their take home pay go down last fall when premiums for dependent health care insurance increased.
The high premium for dependent health care coverage has caused many state employees to drop or forego their dependent coverage and apply instead for public assistance such as Medicaid.
As a result, 30,000 children of Texas state employees qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Texas Health Insurance Premium Payment program. The Medicaid program alone has 23,740 children of state employees on its rolls.
“Those public assistance benefits are costing the tax paying public $119 million a year”, said State Representative Donna Howard, whose inquiry to the state Health and Human Services Commission uncovered these facts.
The number of state employees who qualify for state health care is startling, but what’s even more startling is the fact that thousands of state employees are struggling to put food on the table.
“Two weeks ago, I applied for food stamps,” said Yolanda White, a member of the TSEU executive board, who works at the Lufkin State Supported Living Center, a residence for people with intellectual disabilities.
White, who has worked at the State Supported Living Center for 14 years, makes about $27,000 a year.
“Many of my co-workers are on food stamps and Medicaid,” said White. “Many of us need help taking care of our families.”
White said that it’s not right for hard working people like herself and her co-workers to be on public assistance.
“It’s time to bring state employee pay up to a living wage. We shouldn’t have to struggle when we work hard every day,” continued White.
Rep. Howard called on the Legislature to make state employee pay a priority issue for this session.
Brown said that legislative inaction on raising employee pay would be fiscally irresponsible.
“It makes no sense for lawmakers to be penny wise and pound foolish.” said Brown. “By short changing state workers on their pay, (lawmakers) are having to turn around and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on public assistance programs.”