Citizens call PEIA increases ‘unsustainable’ in Charleston forum 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

A crowd of several dozen concerned citizens attended a forum hosted by the Public Employment Insurance Association (PEIA) board this past Monday night. 

The PEIA board is considering a proposal to raise rates on state and local workers who belong to the insurance plan. Proposed raises on rates include a 10.5% increase for state employees, a 13% increase plus a new spousal surcharge for local government employees, and a 10% increase for non-Medicare retirees. No benefit cuts are being considered. 

Larry Deitz, a deputy in the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, spoke in opposition to the proposal. “I’m coming into this thinking, ‘Why should I believe much of what you’re saying?’ Because there was no honesty before,” he began. 

“What’s frustrating is it’s been an absolute nightmare dealing with issues that PEIA screwed something up,” he told Board members, describing a situation involving his daughter which he says is a result of PEIA’s decision not to properly cover her medical expenses. “It’s costed me thousands of dollars. I’m working overtime to make sure my daughter has her health care.”

Deitz closed by saying, “I’m sure everybody’s minds are already made up, I get it, but I wanted to say my peace.” 

Dr. Steven Eshenaur, executive director and health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, summed up his concerns in one word: “unsustainable.” He said, “We cannot sustain these types of raises and keep a balanced budget.”

Monica Mason, the executive director for the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority called the proposed increases “extremely disturbing.”

Executive Director of the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority Monica Mason addresses PEIA board members at the Culture Center in Charleston Monday evening. Photo by RealWV.

She believes the spousal surcharge alone will cost their 200 employees $1,700 annually.  Arguing the increases would inhibit their ability to recruit and retain workers, she called them “an undue financial hardship for our employees.”

Joe White, executive director School Service Personnel Association, said the meeting felt familiar. “This does bring back memories of last year and the year before,” he said. “We was saying this same thing last year and the year before.”

White conceded that the PEIA board is a tenuous position due to the passage of Senate Bill 286 this past winter, which raised rates by 25%. These new increases are in addition to those raises for the coming fiscal year. 

“I don’t envy y’all where you’re sitting,” he said to the board. “Pretty much your hands are tied. This last piece of legislation tied the governor’s hands too.” White then called on the board members to talk to policy makers and urge them to make changes to the law. 

PEIA representatives (L – R) Michael Cook, Jason Haught, Brian Cunningham, Mark Scott, Geoff Christian, and Amanda Meadows hear comments during a public hearing at the Culture Center in Charleston Monday evening. Photo by RealWV.

In response to questions about the proposed raises, Governor Jim Justice recently said that he planned to propose another 5% pay raise for state employees this year. However, Senator Eric Tarr, who is Chairman of the Finance Committee, responded that the state might not be able to afford another pay raise.

After all those who signed up to speak were finished, PEIA Director Brain Cunningham gave concluding remarks, saying, “Thank you for being here and expressing your concerns. Have a great night.”

The final opportunity to address the PEIA board is on a virtual listening session this Thursday, November 16, at 6pm. To participate, click here.

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