By January 20, 2016 Read More →

WV lawmaker, teacher argue online over PEIA cuts

This screencap from Twitter shows portions of a recent exchange between Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, and a Berkeley County teacher.

This screencap from Twitter shows portions of a recent exchange between Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, and a Berkeley County teacher.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The frustration among teachers and other public workers surrounding the budget cuts made to the Public Employees Insurance Agency isn’t new. But recently, one local teacher had a conversation with Del. Eric Householder (R-Berkeley) over social media that has ignited backlash over the issues with PEIA.

State and public school employees and retirees in West Virginia are facing higher co-pays and deductibles after the PEIA approved a series of benefit cuts last year. Due to this cut, customers of PEIA will pay about $40 million more for health care this year.

After approving the cuts, board members voted to send a letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and all members of the Legislature urging them to come up with funding in the 2015-’16 state budget to offset the cuts.

 

Local and state legislatures have been proposing several ideas to help with the cuts but local teachers like Gina Pratt, a Title I teacher at Back Creek Valley Elementary, are feeling the overwhelming pressure of what these budget cuts really mean.

After attending a meeting hosted by the Berkeley County Education Association, Pratt and other teachers like herself were urged to contact their local legislators in order to stand up and speak out about the effects of the recent cuts.

Pratt thought that instead of sending a email or letter that may not even be seen, she would reach out to them on Twitter.

Pratt said only two local delegates have acknowledged her tweet that read, “Put additional funding into #PEIA #BerkeleyCounty Teacher.”

“Del. Michael Folk clicked the heart on Twitter (meaning he liked the Tweet) and Del. Eric Householder was the only one to respond,” Pratt said.

Pratt said she believes this is because many of the other local legislators aren’t as active on Twitter, but she said she was shocked at what happened next.

Householder’s response to Pratt’s initial tweet asked her where she proposed the additional funding should come from. Pratt’s response was, “I could ask you the same question. Where will we get the extra money for the increase? Cigarette tax, maybe?’

Householder’s response deemed the cigarette tax idea inadequate, saying that it has been declining and that the tax brought in $100 million last year.

Householder continue his tweets with, “Your question: Where will I get extra money for the increase? An answer: Maybe working summer school?”

“Or maybe a reduced retirement contribution?” “Or find a part time employment in the summer?”

Pratt said initially she was taken back by Householders response.

“I was shocked. More so shocked because it’s not just teachers. He doesn’t even understand. It’s police officers and all public employees. Would he tell them to get a summer job?” Pratt said.

Pratt said she has had a part-time job for 15 years but the effects of the cuts have been significant for her and her fellow teachers.

“I’ve always crunched my budget but now I am in more of a pinch,” Pratt said.

Pratt said she fears if the issues with PEIA aren’t resolved, it will cause teachers to “jump ship” and go across state lines.

“With us being in the Panhandle it would be so easy for teachers to go over to Winchester or Loudoun County and then our students of West Virginia and here in Berkeley County won’t have the best teachers that they can have,” Pratt said.

Householder reached out to The Journal with the following statements. “I take my responsibility as your delegate very seriously and always welcome any communication from my constituency,” Householder said.

Householder said he is also frustrated with the problems PEIA faces as well.

“I do not wish for any of our state’s hard-working teachers, of which my wife is one, to face any unnecessary financial hardships. However, as a private sector employee, there have been many times in my life that I have had to set priorities for my household expenses, cut back on spending, and yes, even obtain a second job. I absolutely do not want this for any of our state’s teachers, but a decrease in household income is something that many West Virginians have faced. That being said, I am fully committed to helping to find a solution to the PEIA problem,” Householder.

Householder said he reached out to Pratt directly to resolve the issue and it was all a misunderstanding. He added that with only being able to use 140 characters on Twitter that it doesn’t make for good conversation or a proper place to talk about issues such as this. Some of Householder’s tweets have since been deleted.

Staff writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182, or at Twitter.com/KmarshallJN.

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