U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Bob Casey (D-PA) this week introduced legislation to extend the improved Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) --a critical federal program for displaced workers and retirees -- for an additional 18 months. The improved HCTC was passed to help workers who have lost their jobs to foreign trade purchase health coverage.
"If Congress passes wrong-headed trade agreements, we cannot turn our back on the workers who have been affected by them," Brown said. "Our economy is on the rebound, but we must extend HCTC to ensure that workers looking for new jobs and retirees that need health coverage for themselves and their families can still afford to purchase it."
"I've heard from hundreds of retirees at Delphi still struggling to regain their footing after their pensions and healthcare benefits vanished into thin air. Without the Health Care Tax Credit, many trade-affected workers and retirees might not be able to afford health coverage," Brown continued. "Since 2003, the Health Care Tax Credit has allowed more than 146,700 displaced workers, retirees, and their family members to purchase private health insurance that they lost when their jobs disappeared."
"In West Virginia and across the country, thousands of workers have lost their jobs and health care because of unfair trade practices. These workers still have to pay mortgages, put food on the table, and take care of their families," Rockefeller said. "In West Virginia, I've seen how important the tax credit can be, and we need to do all that we can to make sure that all our nation's displaced workers have access to affordable health care."
"No state was hit harder than Michigan by this economic downturn, and this tax credit is critically important to families who lost their jobs and pensions because of the recession," said Stabenow. "We must extend the health coverage tax credit so that men and women who were laid off or forced to retire early can continue to afford health insurance coverage for their families."
"The Health Coverage Tax Credit is critical to help displaced workers and retirees pay for health insurance," said Casey. "Since 2002, 40,000 Pennsylvanians have utilized this tax credit to purchase quality healthcare coverage. This legislation will extend this benefit and provide much needed relief to those who have lost their jobs to foreign trade."
Typically, the HCTC covers 65 percent of a workers' premium. In 2009, the coverage was increased to 80 percent as part of the Recovery Act. Brown successfully secured a temporary extension of the improved HCTC in the final hours of the last Congress, but the program will expire on February 12th without a longer-term extension.
The HCTC helps trade-affected workers, select groups of retirees, and their families purchase private health coverage to replace the employer-sponsored coverage they lost. Among other groups of workers, this provision would assist Delphi retirees who have yet to receive pension or healthcare benefits from their former employer, General Motors. Since 2009, the number of displaced workers and retirees using the HCTC has more than tripled, increasing from 14,000 to approximately 50,000.
In late December, thanks to Brown and U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-17), Congress approved a six-week extension of the HCTC. Brown fought to extend the program for 18 months, but the Senate only cleared a six-week extension, leaving it up to the new Congress to reconsider the issue.
Earlier this month, Brown visited the Mahoning County One-Stop to call on Congress to re-extend both the HCTC and improvements to the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. TAA is a package of training and reemployment services designed to help workers--who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade--develop the skills they need to find new jobs.