A new program called Southern Illinois Works will enhance employment opportunities in some 20 Illinois counties. Southern Illinois will benefit from a $250,000 National Emergency Grant to boost training and development in 20 counties.
Days ago, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the grant to establish Southern Illinois Works (SI WORKS), a program to promote employment in the largely rural southern half of the state. While Northern Illinois, including the vibrant Chicago area, has a rosy employment outlook, workers have often struggled to find well-paying jobs in the southern part of the state.
“Talent development strategies that are focused regionally, rather than locally, expand workers” employment and advancement opportunities,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco. “The SI WORKS team will identify and target growing industries’ competency and skill needs, and design talent development strategies to educate and prepare Southern Illinois’ workforce to succeed in the 21st century economy.”
The U. S. Department of Labor grant was officially awarded to the Southern Illinois Workforce Investment Board to support the creation of SI WORKS, a new strategic partnership. SI WORKS will help laid-off workers to quickly transition into new jobs, often providing the training for them to move into new industries.
The mission of SI WORKS is to develop plans to establish an innovative regional economy that is competitive with that in other parts of the state. The program will accomplish this by creating a “robust healthcare system that utilizes the area’s talent and growing population.” SI WORKS will work to reduce plant closures and employee lay-offs, and minimize the impact when they do occur.
This grant is made possible through the Regional Innovation Grants program designed to assist state workforce agencies and local workforce investment boards, and their strategic partners, in the design and development of regional strategic plans. The mission of the programs is to develop workforce talent to meet the demands of the economy in the 21st century.
This was just the most recent of a series of National Emergency Grants awarded by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. In September, a $3 million grant went to provide temporary jobs and benefits to workers in parts of Minnesota ravaged by flash floods.
More than 400 workers laid off by Micron Technology, Inc. in Boise, Idaho received assistance through a grant of more than $2 million. The U.S. Department of Labor immediately released $847,538 of the grant to assist workers dislocated by the layoffs. The total grant is for $2,010,277.
“This $2 million grant will provide these Idaho workers with skills training, career counseling and other employment services to help them find and succeed in new jobs,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced a grant of more than $1.2 million to assist some 246 Rhode Island workers who were displaced by layoffs at the Brooks Eckerd corporate offices in Warwick. The layoffs are due to acquisition of Brooks Eckerd by Rite Aid.
Two grants totaling more than $1.94 million went to benefit workers in Massachusetts and Missouri. The emergency grants helped provide a number of job resources to workers who are unemployed due to plant closings. In addition, the DOL has ruled that these workers are eligible for additional assistance under TAA, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
Regional Innovation Grants are a part of the National Emergency Grant program. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, National Emergency Grants (NEG) are discretionary awards by the Secretary of Labor. The grants temporarily expand service capacity at the state and local levels through time-limited funding assistance in response to “significant dislocation events.” When a layoff, plant closing or other event creates a need beyond what the state can reasonably be expected to meet, the state may apply for an Emergency Grant. In order for a state to qualify, any discretionary funds available at the state level must be included in the state’s resources.
If we had to list the priorities of this blog, I don’t know if we could do it. There’s of course the federal minimum wage issue (which we have a lot to talk about tomorrow), there are all of the state minimum wage issues, not to mention family and medical leave issues, health care issues, worker safety issues and safety poster requirements—and we haven’t even listed workers’ comp yet. So no, all of these topics are just as important as the next. It’s like trying to pick a favorite child out of your sons and daughters.
It just so happens, though, that the next topic is near and dear to my heart—health care benefits—but don’t be getting any ideas that I like talking about it more than the federal minimum wage or the FMLA federal labor law poster. It just happens to be next on my list of things to talk about.
Now that I have that all cleared up, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it—the state of Illinois’ legislature just passed a bill that would make dramatic and important changes to the way that health care benefits are done in the state. If this law gets signed by the governor of Illinois, it would prevent health care insurance companies from rejecting claims made by people who got hurt while they were drunk or high on drugs.
The law was already passed by both the House and the Senate in the state, so it is a matter of time before it hits the governor’s desk. It would be interesting to see just what sort of effect this law would have on the health care insurance premiums of employers in Illinois. I would suspect it would not make them any cheaper. At the moment, Oregon just passed a similar law earlier in the month, and Washington DC, Maryland, Delaware, and Indiana have similar laws.
When the stresses of family life become significant, you may need to take some time off to focus on the situation at home. Whether it’s the good news of a newborn, or the difficult news of a serious illness in the family, it may require some extended time off. There is a program available to protect your job if that happens.
The Illinois FMLA law is there to help you, and it’s in sharp relief right now between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, when the focus is on the family. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year under certain conditions.
What are some of those conditions?
- The serious medical problem of you or a member of your immediate family.
- The birth of a child.
- Adoption, or bringing a foster child into the home.
When you are away from the job, the medical coverage you receive through your workplace can continue. However, when you are on unpaid leave, the payroll deductions must come from some other source. The employer will pay the amount and consider it an advance on future wages. When you return to the workplace, you will find that those weeks at home will now be showing up as medical premium payroll deductions on your paycheck. It is useful to have a signed agreement in place with your employer for this complicated legal situation.
There are steps you and your employer must take in the process. The employer must notify you about your status, and that notification must be in writing. You, in turn, must follow the instructions the employer outlines in order to maintain your job status in good standing. It’s important to remember that time on active military duty counts towards total employment for FMLA purposes.
Illinois is one of those states that abide by the federal FMLA program. Some states have chosen to create their own, somewhat different, versions of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Workplaces should display the Illinois FMLA poster outlining the program’s basics.
Illinois employee benefits plans will be impacted by a recent ruling. This ruling, made by the US Employee Benefits Security Administration, impacts employers who have health insurance plans that cover mental health treatments. The US Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is a federal agency that monitors compliance with pension and health insurance laws.
The ruling EBSA issued recently impacts Illinois employee benefits plans because the Mental Health Parity Act, also known as MHPA, has been extended. The Mental Health Parity Act has been a law since 1996, and even though it was to expire at the end of September, 2001, the law’s expiration date has been extended 5 times.
The Mental Health Parity Act requires group health insurance plans that cover mental health treatments not place a lower payment limit for this coverage than for other coverages, such as surgery. For instance, in the past group health insurance plans could set lifetime surgery benefit maximum of $250,000 but place the mental health treatment benefit lifetime maximum at $15,000. MHPA makes this kind of disparity illegal. Now, if $250,000 is the lifetime benefit maximum for surgery and other treatments, then this same amount has to be the lifetime benefit maximum for mental health treatments.
MHPA also applies to annual benefit limits. The annual benefit maximum established by the group health insurance plan for surgery and other medical treatments must be the same amount allocated for mental health treatments. These treatments can include visits to counselors such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists. Other mental health treatments included are mental hospital stays for conditions such as schizophrenia and depression. In addition, covered treatments also may include stays in rehab centers to treat drug and alcohol dependency.
MHPA only applies to group heath insurance plans that include treatments for mental health conditions. The Mental Health Parity Act does not mandate that mental health treatments be included in all group health insurance plans.
A bill putting mental health insurance coverage on a par with surgery and other medical procedures has just been extended to the end of 2007.
The ruling by an agency that monitors compliance with health insurance and pension laws applies to 150 million workers nationwide, and has a dramatic influence on Illinois employee benefit plans.
The law is the Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA, passed originally in 1996, and was just extended through a ruling by the U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). Benefits under the bill are now valid at least through December 31, 2007.
Mental health treatment includes the following:
Visits to a psychologist, licensed therapist, or psychiatrist.
Stays in rehabilitation facilities for drug or alcohol dependencies.
Stays in mental hospitals or the mental health sections of hospitals for such ailments as schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The law does not mandate that all health insurance plans include treatment for mental health. What it requires is that, if an existing health plan already includes mental health benefits, those benefits cannot have a lower limit on payments than those for medical and surgical treatment.
Annual caps on benefit amounts must be equal. In other words, mental health coverage must be the same as the limits – whether lifetime or annual – of other treatments. The coverage may not put a lower lid on mental health coverage. For example, before the advent of the law, a plan could clamp a lifetime benefit limit of a quarter of a million dollars for medical/surgical treatment, but just $15,000 for mental health care. Under the MHPA, however, any plan putting a $250,000 lid on medical care must put the same among on mental health treatment.
The ruling by EBSA was released without attention. In essence, it continues the MHPA through the end of 2007. The MHPA has been amended five times to extend its original “sunset clause” expiration date beyond September 31, 2001.