CHN: Victory: 13 More Weeks of Unemployment Benefits;Congress Enacts and President Signs Bill Adding Domestic Items to War Funding
Jobless insurance, veterans’ education benefits, protection against Medicaid cutbacks, and disaster relief are top domestic priorities enacted by Congress last week. These items were attached to the bill extending funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that the President signed on June 30.
Backed by House and Senate leadership, these domestic provisions were initially opposed by the President and some of his allies in Congress. But the work of advocates and the bad news of growing unemployment strengthened the hand of the majority in Congress to hold firm for adding 13 weeks of extended unemployment insurance to the supplemental spending bill, at a cost of $8.2 billion over 10 years. Similarly, there were strong advocacy efforts to improve education benefits for GI’s, to help states cope with the aftermath of flooding and tornadoes, and to stall a set of Medicaid regulations that would significantly reduce benefits and/or increase state costs. The final vote on the domestic items in the Senate was 92-6 on June 26 (http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=2&vote=0016). The House had previously passed this package with a similarly overwhelming 416-12 vote on June 19 (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll432.xml). Such veto-proof majorities spared Congress from having to negotiate further reductions in their domestic priorities.
Although advocates feel very good about these victories, the President’s veto threats did cause Congress to scale back some of its original domestic proposals. Initially, both House and Senate approved a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for all those who had exhausted their state benefits, plus another 13 weeks in states with jobless rates above 6 percent. The second 13 weeks in high unemployment states was dropped to get the President’s support. Similarly, language was included to restrict the extended benefits to those who had worked for 20 weeks or more. Since many states with antiquated systems ignore a worker’s most recent 3-6 months of earnings, this provision will exclude some workers (disproportionately young and low-income) who really have well over 20 weeks of work. In other instances, states have approved UI benefits for low-income workers with relatively few weeks of work, but their benefits have also been low and of short duration. The federal extension would have only given such workers half of their state benefit after it was exhausted. Still, UI opponents made grossly exaggerated claims about how many weeks of UI could be received after only a couple of weeks of work, and the restrictions were included.
The 13 weeks additional weeks of UI benefits is extremely important because close to 4 million workers either have already exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits or will do so by March 2009. (For more information and state impacts, see the National Employment Law Center’s statement, http://www.nelp.org/docUploads/Updated%20Press%20release.doc).
The supplemental spending bill also delays the implementation of six different Medicaid regulations put forward by the Bush Administration, preventing them from taking effect any earlier than April 1, 2009, and thus allowing the next Administration to decide what to do with the proposals. These regulations would deny federal Medicaid funds to states for such services as transportation of students with special health needs to school-based health services, certain rehabilitation services, and some case management for children in foster care or others with disabilities. If these regulations are implemented, children and other vulnerable people will lose benefits, states will face greater expenses at a time when shrinking revenues are forcing state budget cutbacks, or a combination of both. Congress had also sought a moratorium on a regulation to restrict federal reimbursements for routine hospital outpatient services, such as vaccinations or annual check-ups, but that regulation was not included among the moratoria finally agreed upon. (For more information about the Administration’s proposed regulations, seehttp://ccf.georgetown.edu/index/cms-filesystem-action?file=policy/medicaid%20regs/overviewofmedregs.pdf).
The GI education benefit would provide in-state college tuition and a housing stipend to veterans who have served at least 36 months, at a cost of $63 billion over 10 years. Veterans have 15 years to use this benefit and can transfer an unused portion to a spouse or dependent.
The full cost of the legislation through the end of FY 2009 is $186.5 billion, of which $161.8 billion is for the FYs 2008-2009 costs of the wars. The domestic provisions for that same period cost $24.7 billion, and also include $2.7 billion for disaster relief for the Midwest and to rebuild levees destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.