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Friday, June 4, 2010

Americans in need

For the past few weeks, Congress has worked on a jobs bill that includes a number of provisions to help Americans get back on their feet during this recession. Unfortunately, last week negotiators struggled to find the necessary votes to pass the jobs bill in the House. At the last minute, negotiators removed two key health care provisions that would have offered help to millions of low-income Americans and to jobless. The House approved the stripped down bill, 215-204.

Earlier versions of the bill would have extended a federal COBRA subsidy for newly unemployed workers through the end of the year and provided states with billions of dollars in extended federal aid for their Medicaid programs.

But many conservative members expressed concerns with how the overall bill – which included numerous other provisions – would increase the federal deficit. To appease these concerns, leaders in the House scaled back the bill and removed the federal COBRA subsidy provision and fiscal relief to states for Medicaid programs. Once the House passed the watered-down bill, they left for a 10-day recess – leaving millions of low-income Americans in the lurch.

Those who depend on this help won’t see any relief if the bill is left as is. However, next week Congress returns to Washington and the Senate will consider this legislation. This means we still have an opportunity to encourage senators to change the bill so that it addresses the needs of American families struggling to get by.

As we’ve previously noted, during times like these, it’s more important than ever to ensure that those who have been laid off have access to affordable health care. COBRA helps those who lose their job afford to keep their health care coverage for a limited amount of time. However, because Congress failed to extend COBRA subsidies, anyone who loses his or her job beginning this month, will not receive help to afford their health coverage. In this challenging economy, the subsidy is critical to protecting the health and well-being of Americans fighting to stay afloat as they look for new employment opportunities.

Federal assistance to state Medicaid programs – known as FMAP – ensures that states have adequate funding for Medicaid. Without extended fiscal relief, state policymakers will be forced to make devastating Medicaid cuts, including cuts to benefit packages and provider payment rates, and increases in cost sharing. In addition, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the budget cuts and/or tax increases that states will be forced to make without FMAP assistance could cost the economy up to 900,000 public and private sector jobs. If passed as is, the jobs bill could cause more people to lose their jobs.

The good news is that there is still time to urge Congress to do the right thing. It’s up to us to put the pressure on our senators and urge them to consider changing the bill so that the COBRA subsidy and FMAP extension are included.

Let Congress know that American families are counting on them to pass a bill that will help – rather than neglect – them during their time of greatest need.

Click here to get involved and send a letter to your senator.