UNION, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy came to Union High School on Wednesday afternoon to sign the New Jersey Education Association’s (NJEA) long-sought Teacher Health Care Benefits Reform Bill.
Murphy, who had pledged support for Ch. 78 relief during his campaign and had called for it publicly several times since, praised the parties for coming together to achieve a positive outcome. “With our state facing historic public health and economic challenges, it is more important than ever that we ensure access to high-quality, affordable health care for our educators, while also ensuring cost-savings for our taxpayers,” said Murphy. “I am proud to sign this bill into law and at long-last provide relief for our educators from Chapter 78.”
“This is a great, great day for UTEA (Union Township Education Association) members and all of the NJEA,” said UTEA President Ann Margaret Shannon. “We’ve worked a long time on this, marching in front of the statehouse, wearing our red shirts, talking to our legislators. We are extremely happy. This will save the board and our members so much money. It will really make a difference.”
The landmark legislation will implement a new health benefits plan designed to produce more than $1 billion in annual savings for property taxpayers and educators as it preserves quality health care for teachers and other school employees.
Sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Joe Cryan and Senator Linda Greenstein in the Senate, the reforms are the result of a cooperative working agreement with Marie Blistan, the President of the New Jersey Education Association, resulting in annual savings of approximately $600 million for local governments, $400 million for educators and $40 million for the state, according to a NJ State Democrats press release.
“When every Republican in the Legislature and every Democrat in the Legislature and the governor of the state agree with the state’s largest public employee union on health care reform that protects high-quality benefits and saves everyone money, that may just be the most surprising political story of the year,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan. “But here we are, because that’s exactly what happened. Because of how we all came together, our schools are stronger, our members are more secure, and our communities are in a better position as we face the serious challenges ahead.”
Senate President Sweeney attended the signing with Sen. Joe Cryan. The Senate passed the bill 34-0 on March 19, just as New Jersey was entering the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. “Now, more than ever, it is important that we find ways to produce savings for taxpayers and educators,” said Sweeney.
“This is good for teachers and other educators who perform such an important role in educating and guiding students,” said Cryan. “It comes at a critical time when school systems will make health care more affordable for them at a time when they are experiencing financial demands and higher costs for medical services. They deserve quality care that they can afford.”
“I want to thank the Governor and the Senate for passing this bill,” said Union Board of Education President Nancy Minneci. “It’s long overdue. Our teachers have been paying way more than they should have for many years. It’s discouraging to get a raise, but every year bring home less and less money. I applaud this. It will retain our great teachers and entice more to come into our profession.”