Thursday, February 19, 2009

Seniors, disabled people explain how stimulus money will help

From Newsday. The Coalition on Human Needs, which is an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable people, has information on its Web site about how stimulus money will help the most vulnerable Americans..

Sixty-eight-year-old Elizabeth Thiesen of Freeport has been scouring news accounts on the federal stimulus package, tracking the fate of a small payment tucked away in it for seniors and the disabled - first proposed at $450, then revised downward to $300 and finally $250 as the measure wound its way through Congress.

"I get SSI [Supplemental Security Insurance], so it's a lot of money," Thiesen said. "Maybe I'll buy a pair of winter boots."

Thiesen might prefer a pair of summer sandals by the time the check arrives, but she can expect that $250 by early June, the Social Security Administration says.

The one-time $250 "economic recovery payment" will be delivered to nearly 55 million recipients of Social Security, SSI, Railroad Retirement and veterans disability compensation benefits, under a $14-billion provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed this week by President Barack Obama.

It will be a separate one-time payment, not included in the regular monthly payment; it will be delivered in the same way as the regular benefit is, whether by check, direct deposit or debit card payment.

The recovery payment is one of several direct benefits that will soon begin to flow to individuals under the act, once federal agencies sort out what's in it and set their administrative wheels in motion. Unemployment benefits will be boosted by $25 a week, starting "within a matter of weeks," said Matt Anderson, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget.

A $400 "Making Work Pay" tax credit will add a small bump to moderate-income paychecks by spring. Food stamp allotments will see a 13.6 percent increase starting in April. And most workers laid off since September 2008 will be eligible to extend their employer-provided health insurance through COBRA with 65 percent of the cost picked up by the federal government for nine months - once it figures out how to put that subsidy in place.

In the meantime, recently unemployed people already receiving COBRA should continue to pay their premiums in full even if it is a strain, said David Neustadt, a spokesman for the state Insurance Department. They will eventually receive an offer to sign up for the subsidy program and will receive a rebate or credit for the federal share of their premiums dating back to when the bill became law this week.

Those $250 checks for seniors are intended to pump money into the local economy, but Thiesen now thinks she won't go shopping after all.

"If it was more, I would have bought clothing, because I am badly in need of it," she said. "...But I have asthma, and the electric will be soaring over the summer, so I will probably put it aside to pay the air-conditioning bill."

Later she mused she might put it toward a cheap computer, with some help from her kids.