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Stimulus Package Includes HR Provisions

The massive economic stimulus package signed into law by President Obama Feb. 17, 2009, will have immediate and possibly long-term impacts on businesses and their HR functions. The goal of the stimulus bill is to create or save more than 3 million jobs.

The $789 billion compromise was developed by negotiators after the House and Senate passed their initial versions of the stimulus package (H.R. 1).The resulting final piece of legislation was posted online Feb. 13.

Many of the employment-related provisions were included in both the House and Senate versions. Much of the debate over the final proposal focused on the funding levels for provisions that will extend unemployment benefits and improve health care coverage for people who have lost their jobs.

Extending Unemployment and Health Coverage

The final bill includes a nine-month extension of a program that offers an additional seven weeks of unemployment benefits. Benefits would be increased by $25 per week.

A seven-week extension of jobless benefits, which provides unemployed workers up to 33 weeks of benefits, was set to expire on March 31, 2009, but the legislation will extend the expiration date until Dec. 31. The proposal would exempt the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits from federal income taxes.

The plan will appropriate nearly $20 billion to offer health insurance coverage to the unemployed under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The coverage features a 65 percent subsidy of the health insurance premiums for up to nine months for laid-off workers who qualify for the program.

Health Care Technology

The stimulus package will provide $19 billion to improve the nations health care information technology (IT) systems. President Obama has been a strong proponent of passing legislation to fund health care IT and has pointed to research that suggests that improved technology would reduce errors and streamline administrative processes.

Trade Protection for Jobs

The final legislation includes a provision that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits for at least 160,000 more workers who lose their jobs because of increased imports or because employers move those jobs offshore. The compromise measure would extend the job assistance to service sectors hit by international trade and to workers who lose their jobs during offshoring moves to any country – not just to nations with which the United States has signed free trade agreements.


The House and Senate negotiators removed all provisions that refer to the governments electronic employment verification system – known as E-Verify. The first House-passed version would have required any business that signed contracts with the federal government for programs funded under the stimulus bill to verify the work eligibility of their employees through E-Verify. In addition, the final version removed a five-year reauthorization of the E-Verify program. The program, which currently is voluntary for private sector employers, has been assailed by some business and employer groups as not being fully accurate and dependable.

The stimulus measure would require that businesses that receive funding under the governments Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) hire laid-off U.S. workers or show good cause before recruiting and hiring workers from overseas under the H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers.

Executive Compensation

The bill includes language that would place limits on the compensation packages that businesses receiving TARP funds can offer to their executive teams. The provision features a sliding scale that would place limits on compensation packages for the five to 20 highest paid executives, according to the amount of TARP funding the company has received.

Source: SHRM Online

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