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Hispanics Have Hopes, Concern About Stimulus Package

But David Ferreira, vice president for public relations for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, defends how the stimulus billions will be spent, saying much of it is “incredibly necessary.” Besides the social programs and construction, he says, the creation of a new Small Business Administration loan program will be especially beneficial to Hispanic businesses. In all, he says, “We’re going to monitor [the stimulus package] to make sure disadvantaged communities get the relief they need.”

Like Ferreira, a legion of local officials, interest groups, and lobbyists will watch how the stimulus plan is implemented.

“We like some pieces of it,” says National Council of La Raza (NCLR) policy analyst Catherine Singley. Tax breaks to individuals, which will boost a typical family’s paycheck by about $13 a week beginning in June through the end of the year, and expanded tax credits for families with more than three children will help Hispanics, she says. So will the plan’s $100–a-month boost in unemployment benefits.

Laid-off workers will also benefit from a provision of the stimulus package (supported by AARP) that subsidizes COBRA, a program that allows workers who lose their jobs to keep their health care coverage by paying the total full premium.

The stimulus will pay a 65 percent subsidy toward COBRA group health insurance premiums for certain laid-off employees and their families for up to nine months—half of the 18-month benefit period. The act will also provide money to states that want to extend unemployment taxes to part-time workers and don’t already do so.

Some Relief for Communities, Retirees
Singley says the package’s $2 billion neighborhood stabilization fund, which allows nonprofits to buy up foreclosed properties and put them back on the market, will also aid Latino communities. In addition, the stimulus provides modest increases to dozens of small programs that help older Latinos.

Among them is a $120 million boost to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which targets minorities 55 and older. The community-based program subsidizes employers who hire and train older workers for an average of 20 hours a week.

The measure also increases the budget for elderly nutrition programs by nearly $100 million and provides billions of dollars for health information technology and Medicaid and Medicare incentives to encourage doctors and hospitals to share computerized information about their patients.

Another measure (also applauded by AARP) is a retiree tax break. Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, retired and disabled veterans, and railroad retirees will get a one-time payment of $250, trimmed from $450 in the original plan, that will be sent starting in late May to those who had been eligible for benefits from November 2008 through January 2009. Older Hispanics will also benefit from expanded Medicaid and Medicare programs under the stimulus.

But the plan will do little to help them grow recession-shrunken savings and retirement accounts, says Mike Periu, financial analyst and editor of Periu says not enough stimulus money will go directly to the pockets of consumers to give the consumers and markets confidence—one of President Obama’s hopes for the plan—or to save plunging 401(k) and other retirement accounts.

“The key thing that retirees have to take away from all of this is that they have to adjust their expectations of what retirement is,” Periu says. “Many will have to look at other options: part-time work, freelancing, or postponing retirement.”

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