LONGVIEW, Texas (BP) — A church is closing the day care center it has operated for more than 30 years in response to requirements imposed by the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare”).
Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, said in a statement on its website, Feb. 12, that closing the day care “comes with much sorrow” and follows months of Mobberly staff “praying, researching and discussing the issue.”
Under the health care law, employers that meet a certain employee count threshold must provide full-time workers with comprehensive health insurance. Although the number of full-time Mobberly Child Development Center workers falls below the threshold, the day care is part of the church and the federal government includes church staff and day care workers when accounting for the total number of employees.
So the day care, which serves newborns through age 5, will close March 13.
Church leaders spent considerable time praying and evaluating options. In order to comply with the new regulations and keep the day care open, leaders determined there were four main options.
The Child Development Center could increase tuition to cover the cost of additional insurance, but they realized the increase would mean most of the families that currently send children to the center would no longer be able to afford the service. Also, Mobblery’s day care would not remain comparably priced to local day care centers that do not exceed the ACA threshold.
Another option was to separate the Child Development Center from the church as its own corporation in order to reduce the total number of employees. The church consulted two nonprofit attorneys, according to the statement, who advised against that option for several reasons, including a loss of property tax exemption, loss of control and the possibility of the Internal Revenue Service ignoring the restructuring.
A third option, the church said, was to reduce the number of teachers and classrooms at the day care, but teacher/student ratios are subject to state regulations, and “the past historical quality of the CDC was built around the teacher/student ratios used.”
The fourth option cited by leaders was to reduce the number of full-time Child Development Center teachers.
“Utilizing primarily part-time teachers has been tried by CDC leadership in the past and has led to instability and higher staff turnover,” Mobberly’s statement said. “We are aware of one other large day care operation that attempted to utilize only part-time teachers recently, and they have now changed their philosophy and hired multiple full-time teachers.”
Gregg Zackary, Mobberly’s senior associate pastor, told the TEXAN the Child Development Center operates under its own budget and its own leadership.
“The church does have a Child Development Center committee that oversees it in terms of big picture, and because of that link we do have some control,” Zackary said. “But it has its own director; it pays its own salaries; it pays most of its expenses.”
Workers at the center care for about 120 full-time students and about 40 after-school students.
The church provides space for the day care and does not charge for utilities or cleaning, Zackary said, “But in terms of their supplies and their workers and any insurance, it operates on its own budget.”
Zackary said his survey of other day care centers in Longview led him to believe Mobberly is not unique to not provide health insurance for employees. However, those centers are not affected because they do not exceed the total employee threshold.
The decision to close the day care has caused displeasure among parents who have placed children there.
“They’ve expressed their sadness because their kids got excellent care,” Zackary said, “and they’re disappointed that the Child Development Center has to close.”
Most families already have been able to find alternative care for their children, Zackary said.
The closure also has affected the center’s workers, including some who have served there for 20 years or more.
“We’re very saddened that they’re impacted,” Zackary said. “We have been able to work through the Child Development Center’s budget to provide severance for those workers based on their tenure and their pay rate to help ease the transition for them as they look for new jobs.”
Many of the workers already have been hired at other centers, Zackary said.
Though Mobberly Baptist is losing its influence on countless young lives, Zackary said the main mission of the church — to lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ — has not changed.
“This doesn’t impede us from continuing to fulfill our mission in many different ways,” he said. “Our goal is to continue the mission the Lord has given his church.”