Q, I know that Congress and President Biden recently approved a new law that adds significant money into improving vaccinations and other COVID-19 outreach, but I wonder what other provisions are in the new law that might help seniors.
A. Good question. The AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT of 2021 (“ARPA”), R. 1319, was narrowly passed on party lines in Congress and then signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. It directs a massive $1.9 Trillion Dollars into the economy to fund these stimulus payments and to provide other much needed help. It is a massive document that runs into hundreds of pages, and provides benefits covering families, employers, health care, education, and housing.
Here are some selected provisions that may be of interest to seniors:
Stimulus Payments. The ARPA provides $1,400 direct payments to individuals with up to $75,000 in annual income, and couples with incomes up to $150,000, with phase outs for higher earners. These payments will not affect eligibility for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income as long as any amount that pushes recipients above the program=s asset limits is spent within 12 months. Many of these payments have already been direct-deposited into tax-payer accounts.
Medi-Cal (Medicaid) Home Care. The Act provides more than $12 billion in funding to expand Medicaid Home and Community‑Based Waivers for one year. This funding will allow states to provide additional home‑based long‑term care services, which will help seniors from being forced into nursing homes. The additional money will also allow states to set up programs to increase care-givers- pay.
Nursing homes.. The Act supports the deployment of strike teams to help nursing homes that have COVID‑19 outbreaks. It also provides funds to improve infection control in those facilities.
Pensions. Many multi‑employer pension plans are on the verge of collapse due to under-funding. The law creates a system to allow plans that are insolvent to apply for grants in order to keep paying full benefits.
Medical Deductions. The law permanently lowers the threshold for deducting medical expenses. Taxpayers can now deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of their income. The threshold was otherwise set to increase to 10 percent under the 2017 tax law.
Older Americans Act. The ARPA provides funding to programs authorized under the Older Americans Act, including vaccine outreach, caregiver support, and the long‑term care ombudsman program. It also directs funding for the Elder Justice Act and to improve transportation for older Americans and people with disabilities.
Housing Assistance: It increases funding for housing assistance, with targeted assistance to low-income communities. Notably, it provides homeowner assistance to prevent foreclosures.
Utility Assistance: The law provides energy assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and water subsidies through a related program.
SNAP: It provides a 15% increase in SNAP food assistance benefits through September 30, 2021.
Child Tax Credit: The law expands the child tax credit so that qualifying families will receive a tax credit of up to $3,000 per child aged 6B17, and $3,600 for children under 6. This will benefit Agrand-parent@ families who are raising their grandchildren.
COBRA Health Insurance: The ARPA provides a new 60 day enrollment period and 100% coverage of COBRA premiums for individuals who lost (or lose) employment through September 30, 2021.
HCBS: It increases Medi-Cal (Medicaid) funding for Home and Community-based Services to enable more seniors in need to receive care at home.
Unemployment: It makes the first $10,200 of unemployment insurance received in year 2020 tax free for households with an adjusted gross income under $150,000.
COVID-19: It provides vaccines and treatment under Medicaid and CHIP without cost-sharing.
References: Here is the full text of the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” (H.R. 1319);
Kaiser Family Foundation. “Medicaid Provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act”