SOMA Leaders to Host Rally Oct. 19 Against ‘Huge’ State-Approved Health Insurance Increases

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Elected officials in South Orange and Maplewood will be holding a rally on Wednesday, October to protest “huge” rate increases in health benefits for local municipal and school workers that were approved by the State Health Benefits Commission.

As reported in, “New Jersey’s State Health Benefits Commission in September voted 3-2 to approve rate hikes of more than 20% on health plans that cover more than 800,000 state and local government workers, including a 22.8% rate increase on premiums for local and county governments.”

Local officials say that the increases will make it impossible to balance local budgets without massive tax hikes by towns and school districts — and/or massive service cuts and layoffs.

“The drastic and unprecedented rate increase approved by the State Health Benefits Commission is wildly irresponsible and an affront to county, municipal, and school board officials along with our dedicated public employees,” said South Orange Village President Sheena Collum in an email to local media.

“We need the Governor and Legislature to act now,” said Collum. “There was no transparency in this process and no representation of local officials in any discussion of rate increases of this magnitude which will ultimately be passed along to our overburdened taxpayers and our public employees who will also be absorbing this cost. The alternative is layoffs and cuts to important services. Coming out of the pandemic, the timing of this couldn’t be worse.”

Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis was equally outraged.

“The lack of transparency or any representation from local and county stakeholders in this decision is very disappointing but its impact to our residents and public employees is potentially devastating,” Dafis told local media. “Even before considering the rest of our budget (and irrespective of school district and county tax portion impacts), this alone translates into a 1.55 tax point increase on the average assessed home in Maplewood at a time of high taxation and inflation. The increased Chapter 78 employee contributions to offset some of that will lower the net pay of our employees creating morale issues and economic instability in working class homes already struggling to make ends meet.”

Dafis said that “[t]he other option is massive layoffs which will lead to significant reduction of services to our highly-taxed residents. This is not good government or governance and we urge the Murphy administration and the NJ Legislature to act immediately. We recognize health costs have gone up, so we ask to be treated similarly to state employees at a 3% premium increase.”

Dafis concluded, “Furthermore, this situation underscores the completely unsustainable condition of our unaffordable and inequitable healthcare system in America. The time is now for Congress to pass Medicare for All. While healthcare companies continue raising premiums and fattening their bellies, over a million Americans died of COVID due to lack of access to affordable and quality basic healthcare. What more is it going to take?

“The rate increase in South Orange alone amounts to over $500,000 with the employer side of the bill being equivalent to a property tax increase of 1.37% before the Board of Trustees even begins public budget workshops,” said Collum. “The municipality is only 27% of the overall tax bill and our partners in Essex County government (16%) and the South Orange/Maplewood Board of Education (57%) will be seeing similar impacts.”

“What we want is parity and equal treatment of a 3% premium increase in a deal struck by the Murphy Administration only for some state employees,” Collum added. “If it takes a rally to bring attention to this issue, so be it. Our taxpayers need to know where these hikes are coming from and that their local officials are doing what we can to stop it.”

The rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, October 19, in Spiotta Park in South Orange, NJ.

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