States Identify $18 Billion in Projects “Ready to Go” To Aid in Economic Stimulus

Source: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Press release, January 30, 2008

State transportation departments could award and begin more than 3,000 highway projects totaling approximately $18 billion within 30-90 days from enactment of federal economic stimulus legislation, according to a survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The survey, conducted this week at the request of Congressional committees who are at work on the stimulus effort, drew responses from 47 of AASHTO’s members, including the District of Columbia. The state-by-state response is attached.
Press release includes chart.

Consumers Union Calls For Limits on Social Security Number Use & Availability Identity Thieves Have Easy Access to Social Security Numbers Which Leaves Consumers Vulnerable to Fraud

Source: Consumer’s Union, Press release, December 11, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The widespread use and availability of Social Security numbers puts Americans at risk for identity theft and should be restricted, according to Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

The group urged policymakers to take action to protect consumers as part of a public forum on the issue organized by the Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. Social Security numbers are particularly sensitive information because they can provide the key to unlocking a consumer’s financial identity.

See also:
H.R. 3046

Federal Jobless Benefits Will Stimulate the Economy While Helping Over Three Million Jobless Families Who Will Run Out of State Benefits This Year

Source: Maurice Emsellem and Omar Semidey, National Employment Law Project, February 12, 2008

Working families are bracing for major layoffs amid growing signs that the nation may be heading toward a serious recession. Despite their compelling concerns and strong evidence that federal jobless benefits will immediately stimulate the economy, the U.S. Senate recently came one vote short of the 60 votes needed to pass an economic stimulus package (Economic Stimulus Act of 2008) that included a 13-week federal extension of unemployment benefits. That leaves an estimated three million workers without any additional federal support when they run out of their 26 weeks of state jobless benefits this year.

Now, the attention shifts to Congressional efforts to promptly enact separate legislation to extend federal jobless benefits to help boost the economy. This paper makes the case for an immediate extension of jobless benefits and federal reforms to modernize the unemployment insurance program. It provides new state estimates of the number of workers who will exhaust their state unemployment benefits this year as well as a rebuttal to the argument of Bush Administration officials that unemployment has not reached high enough levels compared to prior recessions to justify an extension of jobless benefits. Underscoring the harshness of the downturn on long-established workers and the consequences of inaction by Congress for moderate-income families, the paper also finds that the unemployed include a disproportionately large number of older workers who are looking for work for longer periods of time in today’s struggling economy.

Issues Facing State And Local Government Pensions

Source: Rick Mattoon, Economic Perspectives, Vol. 31 3rd Quarter, 2007

At the turn of the century, many U.S. public pension funds faced a “perfect storm,” brought about by the confluence of unfavorable demographics, low interest rates that increased the present value of liabilities, declining investment returns from the stock market, and swelling ranks of pension benefit claimants. As state and local governments try to address these challenges and plan for the future, some analysts have begun to question whether traditional notions of defined benefit pension plans (where the retiree is guaranteed a monthly income for life) can be sustained. Many private sector firms have abandoned these traditional pensions in favor of defined contribution plans, whereby individuals are responsible for ensuring that their retirement plans are adequate to meet their retirement needs.

Meeting the Challenge: Improving Dislocated Worker Services in Ohio

Source: Jon Honeck, Policy Matters Ohio, February 2008

Policy Matters Ohio has today released a new report, Meeting the Challenge: Improving Dislocated Worker Services in Ohio. The report finds that Ohio’s rapid response program has failed to spend available federal WIA funds and that Ohio’s local workforce areas have served few individuals through their dislocated worker programs, providing intensive services or training to only 3145 individuals statewide in PY 2006. The report, authored by Policy Matters Ohio economist Jon Honeck, advocates that Ohio adopt three reforms: (1) set numerical targets for local areas to serve minimal levels of dislocated workers with intensive services or training and require corrective action plans for local areas not meeting the targets, (2) review local area procedures for determining eligibility for WIA services and develop rules that reduce barriers to WIA services, and (3) standardize and improve rapid response services to improve the flow of dislocated workers into one-stop centers for easier and quicker provision of services to workers.

See also:
Press release
Executive Summary

He Says His Agency Is At Fault: Record-Keeping Chief Says OSHA Lets Companies Underreport Injuries

Source: Kerry Hall and Ames Alexander, Charlotte Observer, February 11, 2008

Bob Whitmore is doing what few career government employees dare — publicly criticizing his own agency.

Whitmore, an expert in record-keeping requirements for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said OSHA is allowing employers to vastly underreport the number of injuries and illnesses their workers suffer.

The true rate for some industries — including poultry processors — is likely two to three times higher than government numbers suggest, he said.

What Public Employee Health Plans Can Do To Improve Health Care Quality: Examples From The States

Source: Aaron McKethan, Terry Savela, and Wesley Joines, The Lewin Group, January 2008

In recent years, health system stakeholders have experimented with a wide range of efforts to stimulate quality improvement, often combined with efforts to contain costs. In this report, the authors explore strategies that public and private purchasers are using to improve care quality, focusing specifically on the role that states play as employers providing health benefits for public employees and retirees. Examples of innovations used by state public employee health plans include: promoting provider adherence to clinical guidelines and best practices, publicly disseminating provider performance information, implementing performance-based incentives, developing coordinated care interventions, and taking part in multi-payer quality collaborations. This report can be used by public employee health plans and other large purchasers making strategic decisions about how to develop or coordinate quality improvement initiatives.

Donning and Doffing: The New Wave of FLSA Litigation

Source: Brian Walter and Cepideh Roufougar, IPMA-HR News, December, 2007
(Scroll down) (subscription required)

Throughout the state of California and the United States, police officers are demanding compensation for time spent putting on and taking off their police uniforms. This rash of “donning and doffing” cases is based on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court involving employees working in a meat processing plant. Courts all over the country are now facing the question: “What do police officers have in common with meat processing plant workers?” Public employers are anxiously awaiting an answer to this question, as the answer could cost employers and the public tens of millions of dollars.

The Union Authorization Card Majority Debate

Source: Henry H. Drummonds, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58 no. 4, Winter, 2007

This article sketches developments in the card majority debate and several related issues reflected in developing case law concerning the use of “salts,” “neutrality” agreements, and accretion clauses in union attempts to expand representation rights. It also briefly mentions other significant recent decisions that make it more difficult for unions to win, and keep, representation rights. … A major public policy issue faces the Congress, state legislatures, and federal and state labor boards. How is the ideal of employee free choice best actualized? The law is changing. From the union side one sees legislative attempts to win card majority recognition/certification rights and to avoid elections in which employers are free to campaign against unionization at all costs. And from the perspective of the NLRB’s General Counsel and the NLRB’s current majority, concerns for employee free choice create persistent questioning of long-assumed principles of card check recognition. For the private sector unions, especially, this issue may decide their ultimate fate as the percentage of represented employees shrinks toward the vanishing point.