Twenty-two states plus Puerto Rico will receive more than $6 million in federal funds to improve security in their unemployment insurance programs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This is the fourth consecutive year that such awards have been made.
The Department of Labor today announced that $6,008,840 will go to 22 states to improve their information system technology. The money will fund programs that
Make it easier to apply for unemployment
Reduce fraudulent unemployment claims
Keep client’s personal information more secure
“Data security improvements implemented with the help of these funds will strengthen the integrity of our state unemployment insurance systems,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Emily Stover DeRocco. “It is more than reasonable that tax-paying workers and employers expect states to continuously improve the performance of their UI systems.”
The awards will promote the use of National Institute of Standards and Technology guidelines to identify and eliminate weaknesses in Unemployment Insurance (UI) systems. These upgrades will make it possible for the states to be security certified and receive accreditation of their security precautions.
This year’s awards go to Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.
The average award is $261,253.91. However, individual awards vary from $25,000 in Wyoming to $583,637 — more than half a million dollars — in Colorado.
States with the highest awards include California with $494,500, Georgia with $571,726, Iowa with $439,940, and New Hampshire with $474,659. Puerto Rico received $355,500.
States with the lowest awards include Alabama with $99,508, Illinois and Kentucky each with $100,000, Indiana with $122,129, North Dakota with $48,845 and South Carolina with $94,955. A complete listing of states and awards is available from the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Part of the funds are earmarked to correct specific security concerns in several states that were identified through the Federal Information Security Management Act audits conducted by the Office of the Inspector General.
Some of the security enhancements include risk management, contingency planning and improving incident response capability. Others will enhance data center security and data integrity or provide security training and awareness.
In some states, the funds will be used to upgrade hardware and soft ware to increase system security and IT security documentation.
“Unemployment insurance plays a critical role in helping workers persevere through tough times,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “This funding will boost states’ efforts to secure UI systems against fraud and ensure that those in need receive assistance.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, Unemployment Insurance benefits businesses, communities and the economy, as well as providing a welcome cushion for workers and their families. Unemployment Insurance was created in 1935 under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to ease the effects of the Great Depression, when millions of Americans were out of work. The plague of unemployment meant that people couldn’t buy good or services, which contributed to the economies downward spiral.
Unemployment Insurance is a federally mandated program administered by the states. Regulations and benefits vary slightly from state to state. The program is supported by taxes paid by employers.
State Unemployment Insurance programs provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own, as long as the workers meet certain other eligibility requirements set by state law.
In general, to collect unemployment benefits, one must file weekly or biweekly claims. Any earnings or offers of work should also be reported. In many states these claims are filed by mail or telephone. In some cases, workers can file unemployment claims online.
In order to be eligible for unemployment, a job-seeker must be able to work and actively looking for work. If requested, they must appear at the Unemployment Office on the date and time scheduled. Failure to report may result in benefits being denied.
Job-seekers who file for unemployment are usually required to register with the state employment service. Generally, workers who are 100% disabled do not qualify for unemployment insurance, although in some states they may qualify for short-term disability pay.
A law recently signed by President Bush will affect Virginia employee benefit plans.
Health benefits are a major issue for anyone seeking employment these days. The Mental Health Parity Act or the MHPA bill was originally signed into law in 1996. It included a sunset clause which allowed it to expire on September 31, 2001. The law has been extended five times since then, which extended the expiration date. Under this latest extension signed by the president, the MHPA is now extended through December 31, 2007,
Today group health insurance plans cover more than 150 million people in the United States.
Under the MHPA, any group health insurance plans offered to employees must cover mental health treatments such as visits to a licensed therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist at the same rate as other treatments. They also include stays in mental hospitals or the mental health wing of a hospital for ailments as diverse as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Rehab for drug and alcohol abuse should also be covered.
Before the MHPA, it was common for many group health insurance plans to set generous limits on medical treatments and not so generous limits on mental health treatments. For example, a limit of $90,000 or more per year for ordinary medical treatments, while giving mental health plans annual limits as low as $5,000 or $10,000 was acceptable. Under the current law, group health insurance plans must regard and fund mental health treatments just as they do any other treatments.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration or EBSA was created to enforce the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. At that time the agency was known as the Pension and welfare Benefits Program. That name was changed to the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration in the beginning of 1986. In 2003 the agency was upgraded to sub- cabinet level which is overseen by an Assistant Secretary of Labor.
Under a recent ruling, workers in Virginia may not have to worry about the cost of funding mental health treatments.
This will have a positive outcome for Virginia employee benefit plans. This is due to a ruling by the Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the ruling applies to over 150 million workers in the United States.
The Mental Health Parity Act, or MHPA was recently extended through December 31, 2007. Previously, the original bill has a “sunset clause” written into it, when it was signed into law in 1996. This meant that the bill would expire on September 31, 2001. After 5 amendments, the expiration date has been extended.
It is now illegal for the amount of coverage on an employee benefit plan to differ for medical and mental health conditions. Simply put, coverage for mental health must be treated in the same way as cover for other medical conditions including surgery.
However, it is important to note that this only applies if the plan covers both mental and medical conditions. It doe not mean that all group health insurance plans must cover mental health treatments. Workers would be well advised to check their plans to be sure both are covered before filing claims for treatments.
In the past, it was legal for group health insurance coverage to place a limit of, for example, $250,000 on the treatment of medical conditions, whilst only allowing $15,000 for the treatment of medical health conditions.
This is no longer the case.
Treatments covered for mental health are diverse and should meet most workers’ needs. They include a stay in a mental health wing of a hospital. This might be for depression, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. It also includes visits to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other licensed therapist. Stints in rehab for drugs and alcohol abuse are also included.
Under the Trade Act of 1974, certain employers can get additional help with their unemployment insurance benefits if their employees have been unemployed because of an increase in imports. That means if there is an increase in the competition from the outside world, and this affects the competitiveness of an employer or their business health and they have to let people go as a result, then the federal government kicks in and helps those employees with their unemployment and will also help them to get another job as quickly as possibly.
That is a win win for both the employer and the employee. Called Federal Trade Assistance, not all employers can get this designation, but if you are an employer who has been hurt by international imports and competition, it is worth looking into. One major manufacturer in Virginia recently just got the Federal Trade Assistance, according to the Governor, Timothy M. Kaine—the Norfolk Ford Assembly Plant.
What the Federal Trade Assistance will do for workers—and the employer—and this Ford plant is provide a wealth of money to help with health care benefits while the people are unemployed, extended jobless benefits, and perhaps most importantly of all, for training to help that person find another job, perhaps even a new career.
The way it works is that even companies that provide parts and services to this Ford plant can also obtain these Trade Act unemployment benefits for their workers, should they get unemployed too as a result of Ford’s economic downturn at its Virginia plant.
The process like this gets into gear when the governor of the state, as well as the employer (Ford in this case), and the United Auto Workers Union, all got together and petitioned the federal government to be part of this federal assistance program.
Just when you thought it was safe to stop talking about unemployment insurance benefits, I’m back. Or as Jack Nicolson says in the “Shining”—“I’m baaaaaaaaaack!” We forget to mention a few of our odds and ends U.S. territories, Districts of Columbia and other areas of the United States that also have employers, a U.S.-based employment labor law system, and plenty of employees to make this system a living breathing part of an employer’s everyday life.
As for one of these so called U.S. territories, the U.S. Virgin Islands, employers on this tropical paradise have to follow the rules of an unemployment insurance system as would many of their counterparts in the continental United States. That means that any employer, for instance, who employers someone in the Virgin Islands must keep records on how much that employee works, how much they earn for that time, and so on—for at least the last five years that the employee has worked for you.
Not only that, employers must be willing to open up many other parts of the personnel records and business records if asked by the Virgin Islands employment authorities. So employers in the Virgin Islands—like every other employer we’ve met so far—is well-motivated to keep very accurate and up to date records on their employees, whether that be their exit interview forms, their resumes, their employment applications, their absence reports, what have you.
And continuing along, as with other employers stateside, employers in the Virgin Islands have to report themselves to the Virgin Island unemployment insurance system as soon as they are up and running. The reason—so the authorities can determine what your tax status will be. If you are found liable, they will then open an account for you and expect quarterly reports from you on employee wages.