Governor Nathan Deal’s budget proposal eliminating health insurance for approximately 11,500 part-time employees of the state’s public schools has caught the attention of many Georgia Baptists.
Different positions within the school systems would be affected, with the main example being bus drivers. That connection becomes more direct for bivocational pastors and other part-time ministry workers who work on buses primarily for the health insurance it provides.
“[The schedule] of driving a school bus is a win-win for me,” says Jimmy Evans, bivocational pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Newnan. “It gives me the chance to [perform ministry responsibilities] like making visits and attending funerals.”
In defending his action, Governor Deal said it wasn’t fair for bus drivers and cafeteria workers to get health insurance when thousands of other part-time school employees don’t. Evans cited a major difference in his position and the others, though.
Popping Vitamin C like candy
“When you’re driving 50-60 kids with colds around, you’re bound to catch it. I pop Vitamin C pills like candy on top of getting my flu shot every year but still get sick,” he says.
Western Baptist Association ministry assistant Cynthia Wilson, who has served as a bus monitor for ten years, says losing the insurance would lead to many quitting at a time when there is already a shortage of drivers. The likely result, she contends, would be drivers doubling up on routes and some children being on a bus for well over an hour before getting home. Evans estimates 80% of his fellow Coweta County drivers took their job primarily for the insurance.
“[The schedule] of driving a school bus is a win-win for me. It gives me the chance to [perform ministry responsibilities] like making visits and attending funerals.”
Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville echoed those thoughts in January, predicting that “80 to 90% of drivers in rural Georgia won’t drive” if the budget passes. And, the logic follows that a large amount of job openings would require a large amount of training for new bus drivers, making safety an issue.
As it stands, health insurance would be covered through the end of the year. The potential of what happens after, though, is what has both Democrats and Republicans speaking out against the proposal.
Evans began driving a bus just months after an April 2009 article in The Index highlighting pastors who drive school buses for the insurance. He has job skills and experience in other areas such as glasswork and laying carpet, but says he greatly enjoys the flexibility driving a school bus has brought, complementing his church work.
Loss of insurance means loss of medication
Evans, 55, is in good health but his wife has an underactive thyroid that requires daily medicine. Wilson is facing the possibility of no health insurance as her husband struggles with diabetes. “I don’t know how we’ll afford his medicine or doctor visits,” she says. “I’m praying the governor will be swayed [to change his position].”
“This is just one of those things that’s bad,” adds Evans. “There are a lot of bus drivers out there with health issues taking expensive medicines and if they lost their insurance it would be devastating.”