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Full-Time to Food Stamps: Obamacare Hits The College Student

College students across the nation share with The College Fix how Obamacare has already hurt their bottom line – long before the new health care mandate even takes effect.

When Mary Porter enrolled last year at East Central Community College in Rolla, Mo., she landed a job at a fast-food restaurant and worked full-time for minimum wage to pay the bills. Things were looking up for the budding college student, who had grown up a ward of the state’s foster care system.

But earlier this year, Porter’s hours were cut. Her employer cited the Affordable Care Act as the reason, she told The College Fix.

“Then they told us that they couldn’t afford to pay us health insurance,” said Porter, 22, who is no longer allowed to work more than 25 hours a week.

“Everybody was upset, and they still are upset. All the students I know are talking about it. I am working so hard in my job, but I have to go to the government, although I don’t want to. I got on food stamps because I couldn’t afford to eat.”

A “hiring” sign still hangs in front of the sandwich shop where Porter works, though she begs every week for extra hours.

“I thought food stamps were for people who don’t have jobs, but I have a job and I bust my butt everyday, and I have to have food stamps,” she said.

Porter joins a growing number of students who face reduced hours and a cut in income as a result of the new healthcare law, a.k.a. Obamacare. While the law has not gone into full effect, businesses of all sizes and industries, from Sea World to Trader Joe’s to Home Depot, have begun to restructure in anticipation of the new legal climate. According to a report last week from Investor’s Business Daily, more than 300 employers have already cut employee hours or begun to phase out full-time staff.

Additionally, U.S. Labor Department data indicates that workers in low-wage industries, such as those jobs frequented by students, clocked shorter than ever workweeks over the summer.

Spenser Kniep is one such student.

In January, 21-year-old Kniep was a newly married sophomore at Butler Community College near Wichita, Kansas. In addition to his school load, he worked 30 hours a week for Subway. Then his store announced that due to the pending health insurance mandate, all non-managers would be capped at 15 hours weekly.

“It was really hard,” his wife, Amara Kniep, also 21, told The Fix. “That’s a huge pay cut. We live in an apartment and rent is our biggest expense. All of a sudden, my husband went to making $100 a week. But they were still hiring.”

Kniep opted to leave school. Three months after the part-time cut, he became one of the fortunate ones: he found full-time employment as a property inspection subcontractor. As for health insurance, Kniep can stay on his parents’ policy until he reaches 26. His wife, however, a student at Wichita State who works part-time for a non-profit, is not insured.

“At least for me, it’s not going to be worth it,” she told The Fix about signing up for government-subsidized health insurance. “Based on what I know about Obamacare, I think it is going to be a detriment to our society.”

“I’ve taken several economics courses during college and found nothing to support the theory that it will improve our economy. The law is going to bring about large setbacks to many families and businesses. Obviously, many people will have to start working multiple jobs if companies are trying so hard to cut down their full-time staff.”

Meanwhile, confusion about upcoming changes in healthcare law continues.

According to an August report from the Commonwealth Fund, just 1 in 4 young adults are aware of the health insurance exchanges open Oct. 1. The Obama administration is marketing the new coverage options persistently: their campaign includes a video contest with the goal of recruiting young people to purchase health insurance.

Whether the campaign is successful remains to be seen.

Emily Klug, 22, a psychology and sociology major at the College of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo., is another Obamacare victim.

Klug’s university offered her a work-study program over the summer, which she turned down in order to accept a full-time summer job for a national retailer. This would have allowed her to pay for the coming year of college, as well as save for grad school. Shortly thereafter, Klug learned that her employer had modified their policies: she would only be allowed to work part-time.

“Their maximum limit happened to be the same one as the Obamacare classification for full-time,” she told The Fix.

She spent the summer working 20 to 25 hours weekly, unable to save for grad school.

“I’m not happy with it,” Klug added, regarding the Affordable Care Act. “I feel that it’s unconstitutional, and an infringement on my rights. I’m not looking forward to either buying insurance or paying the fine. I will probably be paying the fine. It’s my personal choice. That’s what I object to most in Obamacare – my personal choice is removed.”

In Rolla, Porter celebrated one year of independence from custody this summer, but she worries constantly about the future. Just coming off a shift at work, she spoke with The Fix about her childhood in foster homes and her plans for higher education.

She wants to become a teacher herself, but is frustrated with her options and doesn’t see a way to get off food stamps. According to a study this month by Investor’s Business Daily, 80 school districts have confirmed that Obamacare prompted recent cuts in the hours of school district employees.

“They’re shutting all the businesses down,” Porter said. “I want to make the most of myself. But all the people are having to rely on the government. We are a free people, we want to earn money. I don’t think it’s right.”

“Who wants to sit at home and get a check from the government every month? I don’t. We talk about political stuff a lot at work, but nobody knows what to do – what can we do? It’s the government, we can’t do anything. And it’s getting worse.”

Fix contributor Sarah Greek – Thomas Edison State College.

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