The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which was signed into law on Feb. 22, 2009, invests $787 billion in bringing real relief to struggling Americans and jump-starting our economy. AARP strongly supported this bill because it includes many important policy initiatives that will benefit Americans age 50+, including: a$250 economic recovery payment that will help over 25 million seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities; an extension of unemployment benefits and health care for those who have lost their jobs; help for struggling homeowners; an increase in funding for the Social Security Administration to address the disability claims backlog; funding to make homes more energy efficient; and changes to improve our health care system, including health information technology, added research funding, and nurse and primary care training.
Key Vote Highlights
AARP designated ARRA a “key vote” because our members will, in the short term, benefit from a mix of tax credits, aid to retirees and the unemployed, and incentives for spending. These provisions include:
· Economic Relief Payment: A one-time payment of $250 for individuals and $500 for couples to nearly 55 million Americans who are eligible for Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Veterans’ and Railroad Retirement benefits. The money will be distributed as an extra Social Security check or automatic deposit depending on how individuals typically receive their benefits. Beneficiaries should receive their relief payment by June of 2009. For more information, go to www.ssa.gov /payment.
· Worker Relief Payment: A “making work pay” provision means that workers will get an additional $400 in 2009. Most people will receive this as a payment of $7.70 a week in their paychecks. Others will get it when they file their 2009 tax returns. This credit starts to phase out if you earn $75,000 a year (for an individual) or $150,000 (for couples).
· Unemployment Assistance: A $25 increase in unemployment benefits, and an extension of benefits for an additional 26 weeks. In addition, unemployed workers will not have to pay tax on their unemployment benefits up to a certain amount.
· Energy Assistance: A weatherization assistance program that will help over 1 million low-income families make their homes more energy efficient, with such improvements as sealing windows and adding insulation.
· Homeowner Relief: An increase in the loan limit for FHA-insured reverse mortgages to $625,500, permitting greater numbers of older homeowners to tap the equity in their homes to refinance unaffordable mortgages, pay medical bills, or help meet daily living expenses.
· Affordable Health Care: A provision that will allow all workers who lost their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008 and Jan. 1, 2010 to keep their company health insurance for nine months by paying only 35 percent of their COBRA premiums instead of 100 percent.
· Health Care for Vulnerable Families: Funding to help states so they can continue to provide health care for our nation’s most vulnerable families.
· Nutrition Assistance: An estimated $79 funding increase per family of four in food stamps as well as an increase in funding for senior nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels.
· Social Security Improvements: An increase in funding for the Social Security Administration to help ensure that older Americans and people with disabilities receive their checks and to address the backlog of disability claims.
· Digital TV Transition: An increase in funding to ensure all those requesting DTV converter box coupons receive them and to provide hands-on-assistance to vulnerable elderly, low income, rural, and disabled Americans who need help activating their converter box.
Over the long term, our members and people of all generations will benefit from provisions such as health information technology, comparative health treatment research, and health work force training, which are critical building blocks for reducing the skyrocketing cost of health care and improving the quality of health coverage. They will also benefit from efforts to strengthen our communities with safe and accessible transportation options. Specific provisions include:
· Electronic Medical Records: Funding to enable doctors and hospitals to develop electronic health records, which will improve health care quality by reducing costly medical errors and help doctors and patients track symptoms and treatments.
· Health Research: Funding for health research to compare different kinds of treatments and find which ones work best for which patients. This research will empower patients by giving them more and better information so they can make better decisions with their doctors.
· Medical Training: Funding to train more primary care physicians and nurses to improve the quality of health care and create a 21stcentury health care work force.
· Safe Transportation: Funding to repair roads and bridges and increase access to public transportation by putting new buses, vans, and rail cars on the streets and tracks. Communities may also use funds to “complete” their streets so that pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and drivers can travel safely, regardless of age or ability.
Next Steps: Relief for Homeowners
While AARP believes the economic recovery bill will provide real relief for struggling Americans and stimulate our ailing economy, we still need to assist the millions of homeowners facing foreclosure. We believe we can’t address our broader economic challenges without first resolving the current foreclosure crisis.
That’s why we’re urging Congress to support the “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” legislation that would enact Bankruptcy Code changes to allow judges to modify mortgages on primary residences in Chapter 13 proceedings. This measure would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the mortgages of struggling borrowers and provide them with sensible loans that will be affordable and sustainable to save those most at risk of losing their homes.
This legislation and other efforts that allow families to stay in their homes while paying off their debts are critical to our economic recovery.