SAFETY NET: Murray Announces Extension of Critical Federal Safety Net Programs for Washington State Families

Dec 19 2009

With Washington state budget outlook threatening services, Murray helps pass bill that extends unemployment insurance and COBRA tax credits, blocks cuts to physician payments under Medicare, and prevents low-income families from losing food stamps, Medicaid, and heating assistance

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voted to pass the fiscal year 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act which includes legislation that:

  • Prevents up to 230,000 Washington state residents from losing additional Unemployment Compensation,
  • Extends eligibility for a major tax credit for unemployed Washingtonians receiving health benefits under COBRA, 
  • Reverses planned cuts to state doctors who accept patients covered under Medicare, and
  • Prevents low-income Washington families Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, Medicaid, and home heating assistance

The bill passed the Senate today by a vote of 88-10 and the House of Representatives on Wednesday. As a member of leadership, Senator Murray worked to include the safety net extensions in the Defense Appropriations bill. The President is expected to quickly sign the bill into law.

Senator Murray issued the following statement after she voted to pass the bill:

“This bill provides timely and badly needed help to struggling families across Washington state. With our state budget outlook uncertain and unemployed Washingtonians still fighting to find work, many families have a difficult road ahead. We need to be there to ensure that they can access health care, pay bills, keep the heat on, and meet the needs of their children. It is in the spirit, not only of the season, but of good government that we are extending programs that protect the unemployed and uninsured and that prevent low-income families from losing support to help meet their most basic needs.”

A summary of safety net provisions included in the bill:

Unemployment Insurance

  • This bill will extend for the first two months of 2010 the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that gives extra weeks of benefits to help out-of-work Americans, the Extended Benefits program which provides additional benefits to Americans in high unemployment areas, and the Federal Additional Compensation program, which increases all unemployment benefits by $25 a week.
  • This bill includes a two-month extension of emergency unemployment insurance which will protect roughly two million out-of-work Americans.
  • Millions of jobless Americans struggle daily and even folks with jobs are seeing their paychecks stretched.  This bill takes action to ensure careful policy and the protection of Americans seeking jobs.
  • Without this bill, the three primary Unemployment Insurance (UI) provisions established or continued by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expire at the end of this year. That means, at the end of December, no new entrants would be allowed to claim benefits and existing recipients may only conclude their current tier of benefits.  

Health Care for Unemployed Americans

  • This bill extends eligibility for a health care tax credit for unemployed Americans receiving health benefits under COBRA. 
  • The tax credit covers 65 percent of the cost of those benefits, making health care significantly more affordable for unemployed Americans.  But the credit has been 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.

Ensuring Access to Medicare for Seniors

  • 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. 
  • This bill takes  an important step to make sure our physicians in Medicare do not face steep, unfair cuts in payments as we work to fix the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula once and for all.   

Protecting Access to 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. 
  • This provision 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. 
  • If the FPL in 2010 is lower than it was this year, some families who qualify for low-income assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps, Medicaid, and home heating assistance this year won’t qualify next year, even though they don’t see an increase in their income. 
  • This provision would prevent a decrease in the poverty level in 2010 and would hold the poverty level constant at the 2009 level so families don’t drop off critical safety-net programs if they don’t see an increase in their income. 
  • This bill helps low-income American families who do not deserve any added hardship in this recession, by making sure they remain eligible for programs to help get them through these difficult times.  Working together, we are going to move this economy in the right direction.