Increases Unemployment Figures Underscore Need for Broad Democratic Stimulus Package
Congresswoman Shelley Berkley today pointed to new unemployment figures for Nevada as the latest evidence of the need for Congress to quickly pass a broad economic stimulus package. The results show Nevada's statewide unemployment rate topping nine percent for December of last year. As a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Berkley helped to craft portions of the stimulus package that would extend unemployment benefits for job seekers in Las Vegas and across the nation. H.R. 1, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is scheduled for consideration by the full House of Representatives this week."Growing numbers of Nevadans are relying on unemployment assistance as their only source of income and these men and women will get extra help under the Democratic stimulus plan," said Berkley. "That is why we need to come together in Congress, pass this broad package and get it to President Obama for his signature." The Ways and Means stimulus package passed last week with Berkley's support would extend unemployment insurance benefits through the end of 2009 and increase the benefit by $25 per week. The extension would provide critical assistance to approximately 3 million people through 2009, while the benefit increase will help nearly 20 million unemployed workers. Also included is an extension designed to help families maintain their health coverage even when a job is lost. "Our plan provides subsidies to help unemployed families maintain their healthcare coverage during the economic downturn that has gripped the Las Vegas Valley. Nevadans who have a lost a job should not also have to lose their insurance. That is why we are extending COBRA benefits so that individuals can maintain affordable coverage and access to their regular doctor." The package assembled by Berkley and her colleagues also provides tax relief to 95% of Americans through the "Making Work Pay" tax credit."Democrats are delivering a tax savings of up to $500 per taxpayer or $1,000 per married couple under our bill," said Berkley. "This tax credit will help put more money in the pockets of nearly 950,000 Nevadans at a time when families are struggling just to cover the basics like food and rent."The "Making Work Pay" tax credit would cut taxes for more than 95% of working families in the United States. For 2009 and 2010, the bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $500 for working individuals and $1,000 for working families.
Summary of Unemployment Insurance Provisions
* Encourage Unemployment Insurance (UI) Modernization
The proposal, similar to legislation passed by the House in 2007, would provide up to $7 billion to reward and encourage States enacting specific reforms designed to increase UI coverage among low-wage, part-time and other jobless workers, as well as provide an additional $500 million in UI administrative funding.
* Continue the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program
The current federally-funded extended unemployment benefits program (which provides up to 33 weeks of extended benefits) is scheduled to begin to phase out at the end of March 2009. The proposal would use general revenues to extend the program through December 31, 2009.
* Increase UI Checks by $25 a Week for Jobless Workers
The proposal would provide federal funding to increase both regular and extended unemployment benefits by $25 a week through calendar year 2009. (The current average unemployment benefit is roughly $300 a week.)
* Short-Term COBRA Subsidy for Involuntarily Terminated Workers
The proposal would provide a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA continuation premiums for up to 12 months for workers who have been involuntarily terminated (and their families). This subsidy also applies to health care continuation coverage if required by states for small employers. To qualify for premium assistance, a worker must be involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. The subsidy would terminate upon offer of any new employer-sponsored health care coverage. Workers who were involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008 and enactment, but failed to initially elect COBRA within 60 days as required by law, would be given an additional 60 days to elect COBRA and receive the subsidy. In these instances, benefits would be prospective only.
* Access to Medicaid for Unemployed Workers
The proposal would provide states the option of offering coverage to unemployed workers through their Medicaid programs, with the federal government matching 100 percent of the costs of benefits and administration. States could offer coverage to individuals who are unemployed and uninsured and fall into one or more of the following three categories:
o individuals (and their dependents) who receive unemployment insurance benefits or who have exhausted unemployment insurance benefits;individuals (and their dependents) who have income below 200 percent FPL ($42,400 for a family of 4) and are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid or CHIP;
o individuals (and their dependents) receiving food stamps who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
In all cases, the individual must be involuntarily separated from employment between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2010 and remain unemployed.
* Extension of COBRA for Older and Tenured Workers
The proposal would provide COBRA-eligible workers who are 55 and older, or have worked for an employer for 10 or more years, the ability to retain COBRA coverage, at their own expense, until they become Medicare eligible at age 65 or secure coverage through a subsequent employer.