Tuesday, March 10, 2009

At Last, A Bit of Good News: The Stimulus Package Begins To Trickle Down

This is from the website www.medicareadvocacy.org

Read it all. It lends good insight into what we can expect from the Stimulus Package. I think the fact the Social Security is going to a) get a new computer center and b) hire a bunch more people to help loosen the application and appeals logjam is very encouraging. We'll see how it goes.


The fifth piece of legislation signed by President Obama after his inauguration was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-5 (signed February 17, 2009), often known as the Stimulus Act. The Act provides over $300 billion worth of investments in infrastructure, energy, information technology and human services. Much of the money appropriated in the Act must be spent by the end of 2010.

This week's Alert discusses health-related aspects of the Stimulus Act in addition to those discussed in our February 19, 2009 Alert, including details about the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) plans for distributing $250 cash benefits to most recipients of Social Security Act benefits.

One Time Cash Benefit

Division B, Title II, § 2201 of the Act provides for one-time stimulus payments in the amount of $250 for nearly everyone receiving Social Security benefits. The payments are scheduled to be sent out in May 2009 via direct deposit and paper checks. The stimulus payments will come in the same form as the person currently receives his or her regular Social Security benefits. SSA has asked that those who believe they were supposed to receive a stimulus payment, and did not, wait until June 4, 2009 to begin inquiring about their payments, as this will give SSA ample time to ensure all of the payments have gone out properly. SSA can be reached at 1-800-772-1213.

Persons eligible to receive the stimulus payments are those receiving Social Security (including disability payments) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Not eligible to receive the payments are those who do not reside in the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Greater Mariana Islands, persons who are not legal residents of the United States, persons whose benefits have been suspended for making false or misleading statements, Social Security beneficiaries who are minor children, SSI beneficiaries who reside in an institution controlled by the government or who receive benefits at a reduced rate because they live in a medical treatment facility, such as a skilled nursing facility or nursing facility.

Recipients of Railroad Retirement Act benefits and Veterans Administration benefits are also entitled to the $250 stimulus check. A person receiving a combination of any of these benefits will receive only one stimulus check. If both partners of a married couple are receiving benefits, each will receive a check. The Stimulus Act also provides for workers up to specified income levels to receive a "making work pay" tax credit, scheduled to begin in early April, with a maximum benefit of $400. A person receiving the $250 stimulus payment who is also entitled to the "making work pay" tax credit, will receive both the stimulus payment and the tax credit, however the payment and credits will be reconciled through tax filing to ensure a maximum combined benefit of $400.

The $250 is not considered income and will not be counted as a resource for ten months (including the month of receipt) in calculating eligibility for, or the amount of, benefits under any federal program or state program with some federal financing. This reference includes Medicaid, Medicare Savings Programs, and the Medicare Part D low income subsidy. The $250 will also not count as gross income for tax purposes.

Certain government retirees will get the $250 in the form of a tax credit, rather than a check. For them, the amount is not counted as income and will not count as a resource for the first three months (rather than the first ten months).
SSA has added a page to its website detailing all of the information regarding the stimulus payments at . SSA has also developed materials in English and Spanish that will be mailed in April to everyone who will receive these benefits.

Community Health Centers

Division A, Title VIII of the Stimulus Act provides $2.5 billion for health centers that serve 18 million low-income and special needs populations, including older people and people with disabilities. Five hundred million dollars is for grants to operate centers; $1.5 billion is for construction, renovation, equipment and the acquisition of health information technology; and $500 million is to address health professions' workforce shortages.

Veterans Administration Medical Facilities

Division A, Title X of the Stimulus Act provides $1.150 billion for medical facilities and nursing homes operated by the Veterans Administration.

Social Security Administration's National Computer Center

Division A, Title VIII of the Stimulus Act includes $500 million to replace Social Security's computer center, an undertaking estimated to cost a total of $750 million. The current computer center is 30 years old and expected to run out of storage space by 2012. Moreover, as advocates for beneficiaries with Social Security and related benefits - such as the Part D low-income subsidy - know, difficulties with the computer systems of various agencies cause delays and hardships for beneficiaries.

Social Security Administration's Disability Backlog

Division A, Title VIII of the Stimulus Act includes $500 million to help reduce SSA's backlog in processing disability applications. For FY 2009, SSA has more than 166,000 cases 850 days old or older. Because people with disabilities are eligible for Medicare 29 months after the onset of disability, some whose cases are in this backlog could be losing access to Medicare while they wait for their determination.

Government Accountability Office

Division A, Title IX of the Stimulus Act provides for $25 million in additional funding for the GAO to assist legislative oversight of the implementation of the Recovery Act. This money is in addition to increases in funding for the Inspectors General of each Department for which appropriations are made.
For more information, contact Patricia Nemore (pnemore @ medicareadvocacy.org) in the Center for Medicare Advocacy's Washington, DC office at (202) 293-5760.

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