CHN: Congress Finalizes Economic Stimulus Package

After the Senate fell one vote short of the 60 needed to add provisions to the House-passed bill — including extended weeks of Unemployment Insurance (UI), providing low-income heating assistance, and adding energy-related tax breaks — Congress agreed to an economic stimulus package that followed the contours of the House bill.
The Senate was able to make one positive change to the final bill by adding to those eligible for the one-time tax rebates seniors, disabled veterans and survivors of disabled veterans. People in those groups receiving $3,000 last year from Social Security or veteran’s disability benefits may qualify.  On February 7, the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, H.R. 5140, passed the Senate 81-16 and the House several hours later, 380-34.  The President has signed the bill into law.  The estimated cost of the bill in 2008 is $152 billion.  Part of the cost will be recovered later when deferred business taxes are collected.

Democrats who tend to believe that the economy will worsen have indicated that they would be open to a second stimulus bill that contained some of their priorities, including an extension of unemployment insurance benefits beyond the usual 26 weeks, low-income heating assistance, and aid to revenue-strapped states to  help cover the cost of Medicaid, prevent other cuts in state services, and/or make improvements to infrastructure.  The Administration is signaling opposition to these measures.  Advocates were bitterly disappointed that measures such as extended unemployment benefits and a temporary increase in food stamps were not included in the stimulus bill.  Both would be especially helpful to low-income people and were judged by economists to be among the most effective options to get money into the economy quickly.

Stimulus rebate checks of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples plus $300 for each child under 17 will be sent beginning in May.  Those earning at least $3,000 a year, who pay payroll taxes but do not have an income tax liability, as well as the seniors, veterans, and survivors of veterans added by the Senate will receive smaller rebates of $300 for individuals and $600 for couples plus $300 for each child.  Rebates will only be issued to persons with a valid Social Security Number on their tax return.  Workers who have been issued Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers by the Internal Revenue Service will not be eligible.

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