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Obama Signs Bill Temporarily Extending COBRA, Unemployment Benefits; Longer Extension Being Considered

On March 2, President Obama signed the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 (summary here), a bill that will extend the 65 percent premium COBRA subsidy through March 31, 2010, and unemployment assistance benefits through April 5, 2010.  The Senate passed this bill after Republican Senator Jim Bunning finally abandoned his misguided efforts to block it. On March 10, the Senate passed the Tax Extender Act of 2009, legislation that would extend until December 31, 2010 the 65% premium COBRA subsidies and emergency unemployment insurance benefits.  The bill now has to be reconciled with the version

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Republican Senator Blocking Unemployment and COBRA Benefits

Inexplicably, Republican Senator Jim Bunning has held up a much-needed extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits.  Bunning has single-handily blocked a vote on a 30-day extension by being the only senator to oppose a unanimous consent motion to vote on the bill, which was passed earlier by the House. The extended benefits are scheduled to expire today.  Thousands may lose benefits because of Bunning — how many depending on how quickly Democrats can force a vote on the bill.  This callous disregard of the needs of working class Americans is outrageous, as are Senate rules

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Improvements for Employer-Provided Health Insurance

The Obama administration proposed new rules recently that should improve insurance coverage of mental health care for more those fortunate to have medical insurance through their jobs.  The rules implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). Under the rules, employers and group health plans generally cannot provide less coverage for mental health care than for the treatment of physical conditions.  More information is available from the Department of Health and Human Services. Of course, what millions of uninsured workers need right now is the healthcare

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Advice for Workers Losing COBRA Subsidy

One part of the President’s stimulus package early this year provided a 65% subsidy for COBRA health insurance benefits.  The subsidy, however, only lasts nine months, so it expiring for many people soon.  Unfortunately, Congress has failed to extend the benefit yet, though it may still do so early next year.  This NY Times article has very useful advice for workers about to lose the subsidized benefits.

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Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act Now in Effect; Extension for Unemployment Still Needed

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which was passed last year, goes into effect this weekend with regard to its ban on employment discrimination.  GINA prohibits employers from requesting genetic testing or considering someone’s genetic background in hiring, firing or promotions.  The EEOC’s new website is a good source of information on the Act. While Congress did well in enacting GINA, its effort to extend unemployment benefits was apparently poorly executed.  Although Congress lengthened the period for extended benefits, it failed to renew the extended benefit program beyond the end of the year.  Hopefully Congress

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Unemployment Extension Finally Passed

The Senate finally passed the extension for unemployment insurance last week, and it was promptly signed by President Obama on Friday.  The extension was originally passed by the House in September, but it had been held up in the Senate by Republicans.  The extension will provide 20 additional weeks of benefits for unemployed workers in North Carolina.  Some basic details are here, but more concrete information should posted on the ESC’s site shortly.

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President Signs Expansion of FMLA for Military Families

Last week, President Obama signed the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an appropriations bill that includes an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for military families.  Specifically, it broadens the scope of caregiver and exigency leave for military families.  Details should be available from the Department of Labor in short order.

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Labor Market Continues to Worsen

As our clients continue to tell us, the current labor market is an incredibly brutal environment for workers seeking work.  Nationally, the number of job openings per person looking for a job is at a record low.  Hopefully, the Senate will soon pass the 13-weeek unemployment extension that recently passed in the House.

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Employee Free Choice Act Update — Specter Edition

Senator Arlen Specter has released more details on the EFCA compromise he has been working on, and also declared his confidence that he had 60 votes for the bill.  Instead of the majority sign-up provision, the bill would provide for quicker union elections with some sort of equal-time requirements.  And, the binding arbitration would be adjusted to use baseball-style arbitration, i.e. the arbitrator has to pick one of the final offers of the parties.

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