December 21, 2009

CARDIN HAILS THE EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS, COBRA TAX CREDITS AND OTHER PROGRAMS TO HELP AMERICANS DURING TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES

Defense Appropriations Bill Provides Support for Our Troops and Americans in Need

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) participated today in an early morning vote that finalized funding for our military and the Defense Department. In addition, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2010 providessupport for Americans unable to find work in this difficult economy with an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, COBRA tax credits, and transportation-related job programs. It also prevents a drop in the federal poverty level reverses planned cuts in physician payments under Medicare. The bill passed by a vote of 88-10 and now goes to the President for his signature.
 
"The brave men and women who serve in our Nation's military are the finest in the world. Their sacrifices and those of their families help keep us all safe from harm. While I remain skeptical of sending additional troops to Afghanistan, I will ensure that all of our fighting forces, wherever they serve around the globe, have the safest and most advanced equipment available and highest quality support services and benefits commensurate with their great sacrifice and duty," said Senator Cardin.
 
Unemployment Insurance Extension
 
The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2010 includes a two-month extension of emergency unemployment insurance which will protect roughly two million out-of-work Americans.   Maryland's unemployment rate rose in November to 7.4 percent from 7.3 percent. It was one of 14 states where unemployment levels increased. Thirty-six states saw drops in their unemployment rate.
 
 "Our national economy may be showing early signs of recovery but slowing job growth is not enough. Maryland's unemployment rate rose last month even while a majority of states saw decreases.  Extending unemployment benefits will have an immediate impact on our economy. It's also the right thing to do while individuals and families are still hurting and jobs are still scarce," said Senator Cardin.
 
Without this bill, the three primary Unemployment Insurance (UI) provisions established or continued by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - Emergency Unemployment Compensation, the Extended Benefits program and the Federal Additional Compensation program - would expire at the end of this year. That means, at the end of December, no new entrants would have been allowed to claim benefits and existing recipients would only have been permitted to conclude their current tier of benefits.  
 
COBRA - Health Care for Unemployed Americans
 
"When you are looking for work, the high cost of health coverage can become a burden that wipes out savings or eats away unemployment benefits. So I'm pleased we were able to extend the health care tax credit for unemployed Americans receiving benefits under COBRA," Senator Cardin said.
 
The tax credit covers 65 percent of the cost of those benefits, making health care significantly more affordable for unemployed Americans. The credit is available only to those who lose their job prior to January 1, 2010 and only for 9 months. Under this legislation, Americans who lose their job in January or February of 2010 will be eligible for the credit and all Americans eligible for the tax credit will receive an extra six months of the credit.
 
Protecting Medicare:  
 
"Congress has a responsibility to protect seniors and their access to quality medical care by preventing devastating cuts in reimbursements to providers from taking effect. Ensuring the stability of Medicare is an important step forward on our current path toward a universal, affordable, quality health care," Senator Cardin said.    
 
This bill includes a provision to reverse planned cuts in physician payments under Medicare. The provision ensures that doctors do not suffer a reduction in payments for their services, which will keep those services available to seniors in Medicare and military personnel insured in the TRICARE program.  Without today's action, Medicare providers would have seen a 21 percent cut in their Medicare payments. 
 
Other Provisions
 
Safety-Net Programs:  This bill includes a provision to protect access for low-income American families to important programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, Medicaid, and home heating assistance.  It would work to prevent a drop in the federal poverty level.  To keep up with the rising cost of living, the federal poverty level (FPL) threshold is adjusted for inflation each year.  Unfortunately, due to the crisis in the economy, this year Americans saw slight economic deflation.   As a result of the formula used to calculate FPL, this economic deflation could also lower the poverty level. 
 
Transportation:  This bill includes a two-month extension of federal highway funding to ensure important repairs to U.S. roads and bridges continue unimpeded.  This provision will prevent shutdown of the Federal Highway Administration and construction projects across the nation.