Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Economic Stimulus Bill Alters Workplace Requirements

The March 2009 Issue of HR-News has an interesting article on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which includes several important provisions affecting employees in the workplace, such as:

Expansion of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) to provide health coverage to individuals who have lost their jobs.  This includes a 65% subsidy toward a qualified individual’s health care coverage premium for up to nine months.  Additionally, employees who had initially declined coverage would have an additional 60 days to elect to receive the subsidy.

Expansion of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that is currently available on an elective basis for employers hiring individuals from one or more of nine targeted groups.  ARRA expands the WOTC by creating two new categories of individuals eligible for the credit: 1) unemployed veterans; and 2) disconnected youth who begin work for an employer in 2009 or 2010.

Modifications to the Unemployment Compensation Program through a variety of measures such as extension of benefits, increased dollar amount of benefits per week, and incentives for states to modernize their unemployment compensation programs.  Workers will now have until December 31, 2009 to receive benefits, as opposed to the previous cut-off date of March 31.  To receive modernization funds, states would have to, inter alia: 1) adopt an “alternative base period;” 2) grant unemployment compensation to workers for “family related needs,” including domestic violence, the illness of a family member and relocation of a spouse; and 3) grant unemployment compensation for those seeking part-time work.

Extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for two years for employees who lose their jobs as a result of increased imports or off-shoring to foreign countries.

Limitations on Executive Compensation for the highest paid individuals in companies that receive financial assistance from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Limitations on H-1B Visas for organizations that receive funds under the TARP or certain federal loans.  These employers would be prohibited from obtaining H-1B visas for two years unless they have first taken good faith steps to recruit U.S. workers for the jobs in which the H-1B visas are sought.  TARP beneficiaries would be required to offer such jobs first to any equally or better qualified U.S. workers who have applied.

HR-News is an excellent, and free, newsletter covering a variety of employment topics.  For a more in-depth article on the stimulus provisions, please click here.

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