Help for Unemployed and Under Insured Workers in the Latest Economic Stimulus Package

See the latest on unemployment benefit extensions.

[2008 Stimulus Package] Continuing with my in depth coverage of “Your Money in the Stimulus” series, it is was good to see that the final version of President Obama’s economic stimulus package retained benefits for the unemployed, disabled and under insured. With millions of workers facing a prolonged period of unemployment and more lay-offs being announced every day, it is critical that workers are given support as they search for the few new jobs or re-train to develop new skills. In particular from an economic perspective, it is important for them to continue spending (within reason), have health insurance for their family and be able to pay the mortgage or rent on their home.

Under the $789 billion economic stimulus plan, which is soon to be approved by Congress, there are a number of measures and subsidies (in addition to worker and home owner tax breaks) to create new jobs and help workers hurt by the recession. Some that will put money directly in your pocket or subsidize your other costs include:

~ Extending and improving unemployment benefits by continuing (through December 2009) the unemployment benefits program (which provides up to 33 weeks of extended benefits) that was scheduled to begin to phase out at the end of March 2009 – thereby helping an additional 3.5 million jobless workers.

~ Increases unemployment benefits for 20 million jobless workers by $25 per week, and encourages states to modernize their user interface systems to keep up with the changing work force with expanded coverage.

~ Temporarily suspend the taxation of some unemployment benefits because every dollar in unemployment benefits creates at least $1.63 in economic activity, according to chief economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s

~ Increasing Food Stamp Benefits by over 13% to help offset rising food costs for more than 31 million Americans, half of whom are children.

~ Providing Health Insurance for Unemployed Workers by expanding coverage under the COBRA program to provide a 60% subsidy for COBRA premiums for up to 9 months.

What is COBRA and am I covered?

According to the Department of Labor : COBRA provides certain former employees, their spouses and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates. This coverage, however, is only available when coverage is lost due to certain specific events. Group health coverage for COBRA participants is usually more expensive than health coverage for active employees, since usually the employer pays a part of the premium for active employees while COBRA participants generally pay the entire premium themselves. To be eligible for COBRA coverage, you must have been enrolled in your employer’s health plan when you worked and the health plan must continue to be in effect for active employees (i.e. if your company goes bankrupt, you will not be covered). In any case always shop around to get the best coverage/rates.

~ Protects health care coverage for millions of Americans during this recession, by providing an estimated $87 billion over the next two years in additional federal matching funds to help states maintain their Medicaid programs in the face of massive state budget shortfalls.

~ Helping workers find jobs by spending $4 billion for job training including formula grants for adult job training, dislocated worker job training, and youth services (including funding for summer jobs for young people); $500 million for Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants to help persons with disabilities prepare for gainful employment; $500 million to match unemployed individuals to job openings through state employment agencies; and $120 million to provide community service jobs to an additional 24,000 low-income older Americans.

~ Provides a payment of $250 to Social Security beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and veterans receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the VA.

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