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THE SEASONAL ISSUE AND WHY IT MATTERS by Kathleen Bitetti

Health Care Reform has revealed many related and intertwining issues that affect those who don't fit into mainstream job patterns.

In the past on this blog, I've talked about the concerns of artists with
"Combination Income Sources
," and how the 2004 Independent Contractor Law Change will hurt them and the creative economy. Now, I'd like to focus on those people who don't fit into preexisting notions the State uses to define employment "norms."

For instance, many artists who live on Cape Cod work seasonally, but the Cape's "season" no longer fits into the State's related definition. Massachusetts says "A seasonal employee is one who works for a designated seasonal employer for a duration of not more than 16 weeks
during the seasonal period." In reality, the Cape's season is now 20 weeks, not 16.

I expect the same holds true for artists who do seasonal jobs in the Berkshires and artists working seasonal jobs in other parts of the Commonwealth.

So why is this so important? These artists and other individuals who work the 20-week season have been, and are being, blocked out of programs that are based on income tests.

For example, MassHealth says many are not eligible for programs to help the working poor. Among them: the various MassHealth Programs, the Health Safety Net (formerly known as the "free care pool") and the new program, Commonwealth Care.

Again, this is all because the State doesn't define them as seasonal employees. That means MassHealth is multiplying their monthly income by 12, even though they're only doing that work for less than half a year. Often, these people are unemployed for much of the year and must make their seasonal earnings stretch throughout the whole year. As well, I suspect that many are also applying for, and being denied, for other income-tested programs, such as fuel and housing assistance.

So, clearly, it's time to reexamine — and revise — the definition of what seasonal employment is in Massachusetts today. We must reflect more accurately the changes in "seasonal" employment patterns and what they mean for people in that line of work.

Kathleen Bitetti
Artist
Executive Director
Artists Foundation
www.artistsfoundation.org
www.healthcareforartists.org
www.artistsunderthedome.org

This program aired on February 18, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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