Bush Seeks $3 Billion in Grants to Help Unemployed
President Bush yesterday called on Congress to approve $3 billion in "emergency grants" to states to assist workers who were laid off following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, including providing health insurance subsidies, CongressDaily reports. Bush also said that states should be able to use $11 billion in unused federal funds available through the Children's Health Insurance Program to help those affected by the attacks (Koffler et al., Congress Daily, 10/4). States could use the federal grants plan -- which coincides with a larger economic stimulus plan under consideration in Congress -- to pay up to 75% of displaced workers' health care premiums through COBRA for up to 12 months (Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 10/5). Under COBRA, employees who are laid off or leave their jobs can still keep their insurance coverage, but have to pay 102% of the premium, a cost that is often prohibitive for those without a steady income California Healthline, 10/3). The states could also use the grants for unemployment payments or job training (CongressDaily/AM, 10/5). The Labor Department announced yesterday that new claims for state unemployment insurance last week totaled 528,000, "the highest level in more than nine years" (Stevenson, New York Times, 10/5).
Speaking yesterday, Bush stated, "[HHS Secretary] Tommy [Thompson] said there's $11 billion available to help states to provide health insurance for low-income workers and their families in the S-CHIP program. It's an important opportunity for states to expand coverage to people whose lives have been severely affected by this Sept. 11 attack" (Bush statement, 10/4). To support the president's point, HHS yesterday issued a study, "Report on the Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability Initiative," that concludes that by 2006, "34 states are projected to spend less than three-fourths of their available funds," with 15 states estimated to spend 100% of available funds in 2006. Nine states are estimated to spend less than 15% of available funds in 2006. The 10-page report adds that the HIFA Initiative, first announced in July 2001, is "a promising new tool for states to use" to help reduce the number of uninsured by streamlining the approval process for Medicaid and CHIP waivers. (HHS Report on the HIFA Initiative: State Accessibility to Funding for Coverage Expansions, 10/4). But Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack yesterday criticized Bush's CHIP proposal, saying that using "existing" CHIP money to provide assistance would "take funds designed to provide coverage to low-income, uninsured children" and would "divert" them to recently uninsured adults (Families USA release, 10/4).
While both parties say they are in favor of a multi-billion economic stimulus package, the Washington Post reports that Democrats "swiftly rejected" the makeup of Bush's overall plan, saying it would "not provide enough money for individuals hurt by the economic slowdown." Democrats "are pushing" a $16 billion package strictly for health care subsidies (Kessler/Eilperin, Washington Post, 10/5). In addition, Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have proposed that the federal government subsidize 50% of COBRA premiums for all affected workers and their families for up to 12 months. They also want a "new state option to cover workers in small businesses and others who are not eligible for COBRA" through Medicaid (CongressDaily, 10/4). Pollack, echoing Kennedy's and Baucus' plan, said that Bush should provide "new federal funding" by subsidizing COBRA premiums and covering those ineligible for COBRA through Medicaid (Families USA release, 10/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.