We're all familiar with the old adage "every cloud has a silver lining." For months, the "fiscal cliff" loomed over the nation's economy like a huge storm cloud threatening to rain on our nascent economic recovery. While the last-minute agreement by Congress to detour us from the fiscal cliff was good news for everyone, it also represented significant positive outcomes for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the human resource profession. Now our task will be to preserve the benefits of this win.
Passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 averted—or at least temporarily deferred—a number of mandated actions that, according to some economists, could have plunged the country into another recession. Hence the dire "cliff" analogy first used by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke.
For SHRM and the profession, the good news is that the detour preserves some tax provisions that have been among our top advocacy priorities for many years. These provisions involve employer-provided benefits such as educational assistance, onsite child care and, for now, retirement funding options.
We have long struggled to protect Section 127 of the tax code. Section 127 allows an employee to receive up to $5,250 a year in tax-free employer-provided educational assistance. For the past decade, we have led the effort to preserve this important recruitment, retention and competitiveness tool.
As I said, that's the good news. The bad news is that, whatever Congress does, it can undo. In the next weeks and months, Congress must still grapple with a high-stakes issue that was only temporarily postponed by the Jan. 1 agreement: the $16 trillion federal deficit.
If not dealt with directly, this deficit could portend a devastating blow to our continued economic progress. To address the deficit, it's not inconceivable that Congress could focus on the tax treatment of employee benefits—specifically, benefits related to retirement savings and health care, which combined account for the largest potential annual revenue gain to our federal treasury.
As your advocate, SHRM will aggressively serve as a leader—as chair of the Coalition to Preserve Employer-Provided Education Assistance, and as co-chair of the Coalition to Protect Retirement—to preserve the tax-favored treatment of these employer-provided benefits.
Another legislative priority for us this year is immigration reform. The current system is broken, and it must be fixed to give U.S. employers access to skilled talent here and across the globe. We have been advocating for improvements in verifying an employee's eligibility to work in the U.S. and for a clearer path to employment for highly educated international candidates, particularly graduates of U.S. degree programs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Advocacy is a team sport, and SHRM can't fight these battles alone. We need you—a unique cadre of 265,000 front-line experts on our top issues. To learn more about how you can help, join us in Washington, D.C., or online during our Employment Law & Legislative Conference March 10-13. Also, check out information online about SHRM's Advocacy Team so that you can get involved.
We may no longer be headed for a cliff, but there are certainly still bumps in the road ahead. Together, we can make a difference with legislative outcomes.