Monday, March 15, 2010

Jobs & Employment

Jobs Bill Advances Past GOP Filibuster

A bipartisan bill that would provide tax cuts for businesses that hire unemployed workers cleared a GOP filibuster in the Senate Monday, opening the way for final congressional approval.

The Senate voted 61 to 30 to end debate on the measure. The Senate is expected to vote on final passage Tuesday or Wednesday, sending the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The $35 billion bill blends $15 billion in tax cuts and subsidies for infrastructure bonds issued by local governments with $20 billion in federal transportation money.

The Senate passed a similar version of the measure in February. The House made minor changes when it passed the bill, requiring its return to the Senate for approval.

Passage would give Obama a much-needed victory while highlighting Democratic efforts in Congress to address unemployment in the run-up to midterm elections this fall.

The bill contains two major provisions. First, it would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December and give employers an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year. The Social Security trust funds would be reimbursed for the lost revenue.

Second, it would extend highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and pump in $20 billion in time for the spring construction season. The money would make up for lower-than-expected gasoline tax revenues.

The Senate vote came the same day House Democrats unveiled a new bill designed to help small businesses that could be voted on as early as this week.

The House bill would exempt long-term investments in certain small businesses from capital gains taxes, and would expand the Build America Bonds program, which subsidizes interest costs paid by local governments when they borrow for construction projects.

The bill would also make it easier for the federal government to withhold payments from government contractors that owe back taxes.

The House bill was unveiled by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. The committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday. The House could vote on it by the end of the week.

Connecticut Would Waive Student Loans In 'Green' Jobs

Loan forgiveness programs aren't new - states use them to entice medical professionals to rural areas, steer teachers to certain subject areas and attract farmers to local agriculture.

The legislation comes as the White House is emphasizing the importance of green works and job creation. President Obama announced in January $2.3 billion in tax credits - to be paid for from last year's $787 billion stimulus package - that he said would create 17,000 green jobs. The money will go to projects including solar, wind and energy management.

Connecticut's proposal could break new ground. Trying to boost its work force in high-growth green technology, life sciences and health information technology, the state would annually forgive as much as $2,500 of federal and state education loans for up to four years, or 5 percent of loans, whichever is less.

To qualify, students must earn a bachelor's or associate's degree and work in Connecticut for at least two years.

The legislation, which would earmark $6 million, cites green technology, life science and health information technology because prospects are good for job growth in those industries and Connecticut is home to employers in fuel cell technology, pharmaceutical products and other high-tech industries, she said.

The bill is not a sure thing in the legislature. Members of the House-Senate Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement will decide by March 16 whether to bring it up for a vote. Retraining unemployed workers is the focus of another bill that would provide more immediate help to the jobless.

Loan forgiveness for massive medical school loans is succeeding in drawing doctors and other health professionals to underserved rural and urban areas.

David Bowman, a spokesman for the Health Resources and Services Administration, said the National Health Service Corps is budgeted for $142 million and has received $300 million in economic stimulus money.

Nearly 4,000 doctors, clinicians, dentists and other health practitioners use the program, and the number is projected to jump to nearly 5,700 by next year.

In Pennsylvania, an agriculture loan forgiveness program provided an average of $620 in loan forgiveness to 111 aspiring farm workers in 2009, up from 108 the previous year, said Keith New, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and American Education Service.

North Dakota has loan forgiveness programs to encourage teachers to work in shortage areas such as math, science and English and for workers in occupations in science, technology, engineering and math. Teachers who work at least one academic year in the state can write off $1,000 in student loans annually for three years. Workers in science, technology and engineering occupations can eliminate $1,500 annually for up to four years if they work in North Dakota at least one year.

Edward O'Connor, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Quinnipiac University, said Connecticut's proposal would fill a need. The Hamden, Conn., school will probably graduate 30 students who will work in pharmaceutical and biotechnology labs and clinical settings, up from 10 three to five years ago.

But an executive at UTC Power, the United Technologies Corp. subsidiary that manufactures fuel cells, said the market for new forms of energy - not legislation - will determine employment.

One hurdle to Connecticut's program is figuring out what green technology is.

Easier to define are life sciences, which study gene cells, tissues and chemical and physical structures of organisms, and health information technology that uses electronic records for medical or health information.

The proposed legislation defines green technology to include developing alternative fuels or new ways to generate energy and invent or design chemical products and processes to eliminate hazardous substances.

There is no widely accepted definition of green jobs or green employment, said Richard Clayton, chief of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' division of administrative statistics and labor turnover. The federal government is spending $7.8 million to help come up with a classification, he said.

City Asks Workers To Stop Wearing Deodorant

Change is in the air for Detroit city workers. City employees will be urged not to wear perfume, cologne or aftershave as a result of a settlement in a federal lawsuit.

Officials plan to place warning placards in three city buildings. The signs will warn workers to avoid "wearing scented products, including.... colognes, aftershave lotions, perfumes, deodorants, body/face lotions ... (and) the use of scented candles, perfume samples from magazines, spray or solid air fresheners."

The employee handbook and Americans with Disabilities Act training also will bear warnings.

The Detroit News reports the move stems from a $100,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit filed in 2008 by a city employee who said a colleague's perfume made it challenging for her to do her job.

US Senate; House-Senate Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement; The Detroit News

No comments: