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Stimulus Act Benefits for the Unemployed

Stimulus Act Benefits for the Unemployed

Margot Carmichael Lester, Monster Contributing Writer

A number of provisions to help the unemployed are included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and here’s a list of some of the major benefits. Offerings vary greatly by state, so check with your local unemployment office to find out what exactly is available to you.

Increased Unemployment Benefits

The ARRA funds a new temporary Federal Additional Compensation program that suggests states up the unemployment benefit $25 per week for the period beginning February 22, 2009. States also may extend the number of weeks benefits are available from 13 to 20.

“Today, the average length of unemployment is 22 weeks,” says Brad Lazarus, principal at financial planning company Omega Advisors LLC in Chicago. “This extension adds up to thousands of dollars for out-of-work Americans who otherwise would receive nothing after the 13-week mark.”

COBRA Changes

There are two significant changes to COBRA health benefits in the economic stimulus package. One is a new COBRA subsidy, available to individuals who were covered under their prior employer’s health insurance plan and were involuntarily terminated from employment on or after September 1, 2008.

“Eligible individuals will now only be required to pay 35 percent of the COBRA premium under their prior employer’s health plan instead of the full amount,” says Timothy Tracy, Jr., vice president of Gerard B. Tracy Associates, an employee benefits consultancy in Westport, Connecticut. “This subsidy will terminate once the individual becomes eligible under another group health plan or at the end of the nine-month subsidy period.”

Another change allows qualified beneficiaries to elect coverage under a second special election period (the first being when they separated from their jobs), which skirts HIPAA’s pre-existing condition exclusion rules for gaps in coverage lasting more than 63 days.

“This is good news for people with a chronic medical condition who may have had to let their COBRA lapse, or couldn’t elect at all due to cost,” says Kelly Mason, a consultant with Workable Solutions, an Orlando, Florida-based COBRA administrator. “Ordinarily, these people could potentially find that their new health plan won’t cover their existing health problems until a period of time matching the length of their gap in coverage has passed.”

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