By Patty Edwards Shaver

Shortly after President Obama took office in January, he announced the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) would provide COBRA premium assistance to workers who have been laid off since Sept. 1, 2008.

Many of these workers may have felt relieved at the news of paying only 35 percent of the cost of health care insurance. Family health care plans typically cost more than $1,000 per month. That’s a lot of money to pay out, especially with little or no income coming in.

Unfortunately, COBRA premium assistance is not applicable to everyone.

COBRA premium reduction does not apply to plans maintained by a church, a convention or association of churches, including church hospitals, schools and other religious organizations. That’s a double whammy considering these same workers will not collect unemployment benefits because their employer is also exempt from paying federal and state unemployment taxes.

Too many non-profit managers and employees are unaware that they will not receive unemployment benefits in the event of a layoff. That places them at a severe disadvantage as they cannot adequately plan for unemployment. It is not uncommon for many workers to remain unemployed six months to one year – or even longer. Where does this leave non-profit workers who have already sacrificed by working for lower wages than private sector workers?

When a religious organization takes on the role of employer, it also takes on the ethical and Christian duty of providing unemployment benefits just as private sector employers must do. If they do not, these employers should at least be required to inform newly hired employees that they are not entitled to unemployment benefits.

Unfortunately, it may be too late to fix this problem for those who are affected now. And although many non-profit employers would like to assist laid off workers, they simply lack the funds necessary to offer severance packages, pay for outplacement services or pay a percentage of COBRA.

Maybe this is a wake-up call.

It’s not too late to prepare for the next recession.
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