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Retirees in Action

   Jim Carr  A message from PEF Retiree President Jim Carr

Spring ushers in signs of hope

New York, like the rest of the world, is still grappling with the crushing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With tens of thousands New Yorkers dead from the virus, and countless more struggling with personal crises, everyone is looking for a ray of hope beyond vaccinations and a new president in the White House.

With more than a $15 billion projected state budget deficit, state legislators and the governor are facing some difficult choices to protect our economy and public health.

To complicate matters, the governor is operating under a recent cloud of accusations, investigations and calls for him to resign or be impeached.

PEF retirees are fighting the proposed state cuts that were highlighted in the Communicator and on the PEF website in March. I want to thank PEF’s statewide and regional Political Action Committees and legislative staff, and all of our retirees who wrote, emailed or called their elected representatives to protect our state benefits, as well as state jobs and services. The budget is due April 1, so if you haven’t made your voice heard yet, there is still time! Just click here to visit our letter-writing page.

In March, Congress passed a third round of COVID-19 relief, called the American Rescue Plan, and President Joe Biden signed it into law the next day, which is good for our state budget, our union, small businesses and workers who are struggling because of the economic impact of this pandemic.

What’s in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan?

The legislation contains economic stimulus payments of $1,400 to individuals or couples based on their income. People receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Veterans Administration (VA) and Railroad Retiree benefits would automatically receive the payment, even if they don’t normally file tax returns. If you haven’t received yours yet, check the IRS’s “Get My Payment” page.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives $7.5 billion to improve the process of distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccines, including help to state, local and tribal health departments.  An additional $46 billion is provided for testing, contact tracing, diagnosing and monitoring the pandemic, on the federal and state levels.

Funding to support the public health workforce is bolstered with $7.6 billion, including resources for community health centers for vaccine distribution and testing. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC received $1.75 billion to improve surveillance of new COVID-19 strains.

Emergency pandemic unemployment assistance is extended until Sept. 6, and more self-employed and part-time individuals could qualify for benefits. Up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits is exempted from federal income tax in 2020 for households earning less than $150,000 a year.

The total number of weeks of benefits is extended to 74 for individuals who are not able to return to work safely.

Tax credits to businesses that offer paid leave to their employees are extended to Sept. 30. That includes offering family caregivers the same leave available to parents and workers who need to care for themselves.  However, the bill does not require businesses to offer paid leave.

The 15 percent increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is extended.

The Community Supplemental Food Program — food packages for seniors — is receiving $37 million to keep it available until Sept. 30, 2022

Older Americans Act programs, including nutrition services, home- and community-based services, vaccination outreach, social isolation and caregiver support, are receiving $1.4 billion.

Emergency rental assistance and other relief for the homeless receive $30 billion. And another $10 billion is available for mortgage assistance.

Half a billion dollars is provided for the deployment of “strike” teams to nursing homes with diagnosed or suspected COVID-19 resident or staff cases.  An additional $200 million will strengthen infection control and the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19 in skilled nursing facilities.

A two-year increase in Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies is provided to help people afford health plans in the ACA marketplaces. People with incomes above 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($51,520 for an individual) would qualify for subsidies so they would not have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their annual income in health care premiums.

COBRA subsidies would be available through the end of 2021 to help workers who have been laid off or furloughed. Medicare-eligible individuals on COBRA would be reminded to transition to Medicare to avoid Part B late-enrollment penalties.

Severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans can get federal assistance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The funding is approved for all of these beneficial programs for people and our economy. How wisely and effectively they are used depends at least partly on each of us.

It has been a frustrating time for many of us trying to schedule our COVID-19 vaccinations, but the vaccine’s availability and the eligibility to receive it are now being rapidly extended, so get your vaccination and encourage your family, friends and neighbors to get theirs too. Start here to check eligibility and find vaccination sites near you.

Please continue to stay safe, informed, involved and engaged in your PEF Retirees Chapter.  We are all looking forward to the days when we can hold in-person meetings and events again, and if we are all very careful, that might happen later this year.

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