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    Posted January 21, 2010

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Federal Public Policy Take Action Updated

Tell the Senate to Extend Unemployment Benefits!

Both unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless and the COBRA extension to help unemployed workers maintain health care coverage expired on Sunday, February 28, 2010. Benefits ran out for nearly 1.2-million Americans and that number could grow to almost 5 million nationally by June, according to the National Employment Law Project.

These are safety nets that help many Equity members make ends meet while they are out of work and provide a lifeline for millions of other Americans who are long-term unemployed.

In the days leading up to the expiration, the U.S. Senate failed to pass an extension of unemployment benefits as part of its $15 million jobs creation package. The Senate also failed to pass continuation of the federal subsidy of COBRA. Some Senators tried to pass a 30-day extension to provide the Senate more time to consider the job creation package and a more robust unemployment benefits package, but it is being held up in Congress. Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning continues to block the legislation, objecting to its ten-billion-dollar price tag and whether to fund it through existing stimulus money or new money.

A continued delay in extending these benefits will have devastating consequences for both workers and the struggling communities hardest hit by the recession. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a group of 31 senators urged quick passage of an extension for both programs to provide "vital safety net coverage for America families." Equity is asking you to do the same.

The full Senate is expected to act to resolve the dispute this week and they need to hear from you!

What You Can Do

Go to www.senate.gov, click on Senators at the top left, choose your state, click on the Senator's web address and send an email. You can find their DC phone number there as well. Cut and paste the sample letter below or say it in your own words:

I urge you to take quick action on renewing federal unemployment benefit extensions, including the COBRA subsidy. While the House has taken the first step in passing a bill extending these provisions until June of this year, I urge you to extend these provisions until the end of 2010. With long-term unemployment continuing to rise (currently at an all-time high of 40 percent of all unemployed) and periods of unemployment lasting longer than ever before, keeping our unemployment safety net is more crucial than ever.

Please, act now and make sure that millions do not face continuing joblessness coupled with an end to benefits that have kept us afloat so far.

Thank you for your public service.

For a look at the state-by-state estimates of workers who will lose Federal Unemployment Benefits in 2010 due to the expiration of the ARRA click here

For more information on the extension to federal COBRA subsidy previously signed into law, read below.

The following information has been provided by the Equity-League Trust Funds.

For more information, visit: www.equityleague.org

As you may be aware, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("ARRA") provides for a 65% COBRA premium subsidy for a period of up to 9 months for certain eligible employees who were involuntarily terminated from employment during the period from September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2009, and their eligible family members. Legislation signed by the President on December 21, 2009 extends the ARAA COBRA subsidy in three important ways.

1) The period of assistance has been extended through February 28, 2010. The eligibility period for the COBRA subsidy for assistance eligible individuals has been extended through February 28, 2010 (it had previously been December 31, 2009). An individual (and his or her eligible family members) will now be eligible for the COBRA subsidy if the individual becomes eligible for COBRA due to involuntary termination of employment occurring between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010 (rather than December 31, 2009). For instance, an individual who is involuntarily terminated and loses coverage effective February 28, 2010, who becomes eligible for COBRA starting March 1, 2010, may be eligible for the COBRA subsidy, provided that he/she satisfies the other requirements for the subsidy.

2) The length of the COBRA subsidy period has been extended to 15 months. The length of the COBRA subsidy period for assistance eligible individuals has been extended for an additional 6 months - to a total of up to 15 months (as compared with the previous limit of 9 months). This includes newly eligible individuals (and their family members), individuals who are within their original 9-month subsidy period, and individuals whose original 9-month subsidy period has expired.

Individuals who are still within their original 9-month subsidy period (and continue to be eligible for the subsidy) do not need to do anything to take advantage of the additional 6 months of the subsidy. They may continue to pay 35% of the applicable COBRA premium for a total period of up to 15 months. (However, as a reminder, the subsidy will end earlier if the individual becomes eligible for other group health coverage or Medicare, or if the maximum COBRA period otherwise expires).

If an individual's original 9-month subsidy period expired and he stopped paying COBRA premiums upon expiration of the subsidy, he will have the opportunity to pay back premiums (at the reduced rate of 35%) and continue the COBRA subsidy for a total of six additional months (for a total period of up to 15 months). However, in order to qualify for the extra 6 months of coverage, you must pay any back COBRA premiums due - at the subsidized rate. Such back premiums must be paid by the later of: a) February 17, 2010, or b) 30 days after you receive notice of the payment due.

If, however, you are an eligible assistance individual and paid the full COBRA premium for a period of coverage after the initial 9 month COBRA subsidy period, you will be entitled to a credit for, or refund of, the excess amounts paid for the 6 month extended coverage period to which the COBRA subsidy applies. So if an individual continued on COBRA upon expiration of the 9-month subsidy period by paying the full premium rate, he/she will receive a credit for the overpayment by paying a reduced amount for COBRA coverage until the credit is exhausted, or by reimbursement of the overpayment if coverage is not continued. (Again, as a reminder, the subsidy will end before expiration of the 15-month period if the individual becomes eligible for other group health coverage or Medicare, or if the COBRA period otherwise expires).

Note that nothing changes the total duration of COBRA coverage (whether that is a total of 18 months or more), or affects the early termination of COBRA coverage when an individual fails to timely pay COBRA premiums, becomes covered by another group health plan, or becomes entitled to Medicare.

3) Involuntary terminations as late as February 28, 2010 can qualify, even if COBRA coverage does not commence until March 1, 2010. The extended COBRA subsidized coverage applies for eligible assistant individuals (and their eligible family members) whose qualifying event is an involuntary termination of employment that occurred between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010, even if the COBRA coverage does not commence until after February 28, 2010.

At this point, we are awaiting the release by the Department of Labor of model notices and application forms for the new benefits. More information regarding these items and other aspects of the new law will be posted on the Equity League Funds' web-site as we receive them.

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