July 29, 2014

Stimulus law helps retirees, unemployed

The economic stimulus package, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, contains provisions that will provide retirees with one-time payments of $250, extend unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks, and subsidize employee-paid health-care insurance for laid off workers participating in COBRA.

Railroad Retirement and Social Security annuitants will be receiving a one-time $250 payment — a separate check delivered the same way the regular benefit is delivered. That $250 one-time payment will not be considered as taxable income.

Additionally, the economic stimulus package extends unemployment benefits – including those paid under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) – for an additional 13 weeks.

For more information, including eligibility, contact the Railroad Retirement Board via its automated hotline at (800) 808-0772.

Also, the stimulus package provides a subsidy to help unemployed workers pay the costs of health-care insurance extended under COBRA, which stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1986.

That law gives employees, retirees, spouses and dependent children losing coverage under employer health-care plans the right to temporary (18-36 months) continuation of health coverage at group rates. Under COBRA, participants must pay for those health-care insurance benefits.

Under the economic stimulus package, workers laid off since September 2008 are eligible to receive, for a maximum of nine months, a 65 percent federal subsidy toward their payment of COBRA-extended health care insurance.

Government officials warn, however, that until the 65 percent federal contribution kicks in, unemployed workers electing COBRA continuation should continue to pay their premiums in full so as not to lose coverage. The federal government will be providing details shortly on how to apply for the 65 percent subsidy.

For more information on COBRA, go to the following Department of Labor Web site: www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_consumer_cobra.HTML.

You may also refer to the COBRA section of the current health-plan description book or contact United Health Care at (888) 445-4379.