Senate Democrats

H.R. 4851, the Continuing Extension Act

Summary

On March 25, 2010, Senate Majority Leader Reid moved to proceed to H.R.4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010.  The legislation would extend unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility for unemployment health care benefits, including extending benefits retroactively so families will receive the benefits that were suspended when these programs expired earlier this month.  The legislation would also extend the 2009 poverty guidelines, along with other important programs that families and communities depend on for stability and security. 

Specifically, H.R.4851, the Continuing Extension Act, would:

·         Extend economic safety net provisions, including unemployment insurance and COBRA health care assistance; and

·         Extend other programs, including expired or expiring health care measures, the national flood insurance program, and compensation for highway program employees.

Measures included in this bill would be considered emergency spending. 

The Senate is scheduled to consider H.R.4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010, the week of April 12, 2010. 

Background

Senate Democrats have consistently worked to ensure the seamless provision of unemployment benefits and other critical economic safety net provisions as our economy continues to recover.  Unfortunately, Democratic efforts to advance legislation to provide for both a year-long and temporary extension of these benefits have been obstructed by Senate Republicans.

In February, opposition by Senate Republicans blocked Senate passage of the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 (H.R.4691), a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits COBRA tax credits, and other important measures.  The delay, led by Senator Jim Bunning, caused tens of thousands of Americans to go without their unemployment checks.  Senate Democrats have worked tirelessly to overcome the Republican filibuster.  Senate Democrats asked for an agreement to extend unemployment benefits and other expiring provisions numerous times during the six-day stand-off with Senator Bunning and his fellow Senate Republicans.  Senator Reid even offered Senator Bunning a chance to introduce an amendment to address his concerns, but he refused in order to further delay the payment of benefits.  H.R.4691, the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, was agreed to in the House by voice vote on February 25, 2010.  Ultimately, the legislation passed the Senate on March 2, 2010 by a vote of 78 to 19. [Roll Call Vote 32]  President Obama signed the legislation into law on March 2, 2010 (P.L. 111-144). 

In March, Senate Democrats fought again against Republican filibusters and partisan obstruction to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits and COBRA tax credits through the end of the year for jobless Americans.  Although the Senate passed S.A. 3336, the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act (AWSBRA) on March 10 – which included these long-term extensions of unemployment benefits and health insurance tax credits – the bill was not able to move through the legislative process before the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 expired in early April. While both chambers of Congress continue to work to resolve differences between the Senate-passed bill and the House-passed bill, a second short-term extension of these programs became necessary to ensure continued coverage to help the unemployed.  In the last week of March, SenatorsReid, Durbin, Stabenow, Baucus, and Reed asked for unanimous consent to pass the Continuing Extension Act of 2010, but Republicans refused tomove forward on this urgent legislation.  Instead, the benefits expired in early April and thousands of families have been forced to go without their benefits because of the political posturing and delay by Senate Republicans.

This week, Senate Democrats are again fighting to extend benefits for jobless Americans against the opposition of Senate Republicans.  According to the National Employment Law Project, nearly 1 million jobless Americans will lose their unemployment benefits by the end of April if the benefits are not extended.  [National Employment Law Project, March 2010

Major Provisions

Extension of Economic Safety Net Provisions

Unemployment Insurance Extension

The Continuing ExtensionAct would extend federal unemployment benefits through May 5, 2010.  These unemployment benefits expired on April 5, 2010, after a one month extension was implemented by the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 (H.R.4691). 

Prior to the expiration, an unemployed worker could receive up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits provided by the state in which they were employed.  After the state-provided benefits were exhausted, the worker could qualify for 34 more weeks of benefits provided by the federal government.  If that person was unemployed in a state with an unemployment rate above six percent, they qualified for an additional 13 weeks of benefits also provided by the federal government.  Unemployed workers in states with an unemployment level over 8.5 percent qualified for an additional six weeks of benefits also provided by the federal government. 

In addition, until the recent expiration, the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost of state Extended Benefits programs which provide an additional 13 or 20 weeks of benefits for unemployed workers who had exhausted regular state benefits and Emergency Unemployment Compensation. 

Last year the Recovery Act increased weekly unemployment benefits by an additional $25 per week.   This legislation would retroactively extend these provisions. 

Extension of COBRA Premium Assistance

The legislation would extend the 65 percent COBRA continuation coverage subsidy for terminated workers through April 30, 2010.  The subsidy was originally enacted as part of the Recovery Act and was expanded later in 2009. 

Medicare Physician Payment Update

The Continuing ExtensionAct would delay, through April 30, 2010, a scheduled 21.2 percent cut in Medicare physician payments.

Extension of 2009 Federal Poverty Guidelines

The legislation would keep the 2009 federal poverty guidelines in place through April 30, 2010, to avoid a reduction in eligibility for poverty-based programs.  A reduction would otherwise occur because of the decrease in the average cost of goods that results from the economic downturn.  This provision would allow all currently eligible individuals to remain eligible for poverty-based programs. 

Other Provisions

Extension of Exceptions Process for Medicare Therapy Caps

The Continuing ExtensionAct would extend the therapy caps exception process through April 30, 2010.  Current law includes annual per beneficiary payment limits for all outpatient therapy services provided by non-hospital providers. 

Electronic Health Record Clarification

The legislation makes technical corrections to the definition of a hospital-based eligible professional, which was originally included in the HITECH Act, part of the Recovery Act.

Extension of National Flood Insurance Program

The Continuing Extension Act of 2010 would extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through April 30, 2010.  The extension would be retroactive.  The NFIP was created by Congress in 1968 to help property owners protect themselves from the risk of flooding.  More than 20,000 communities participate in the program. 

Satellite Home Viewer

The legislation would extend the copyright license and communications regulatory framework used by satellite television providers through April 30, 2010.

Please note the Senate passed S.3186, the Satellite Television Extension Act of 2010, on March 25, 2010 by unanimous consent.  The bill was passed by House of Representatives the same day.  President Obama signed the legislation into law on March 26, 2010. [P.L. 111-151]  This law reauthorized the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act of 2004 through April 30, 2010. 

Highway Programs

The Continuing Extension Act of 2010 would provide compensation to any federal employee that was furloughed due to the lapse in SAFETEA-LU which occurred in March 2010.   The compensation that would be provided would be based on the employee’s standard rate of compensation and the funds would be derived from the Highway Trust Fund.

Legislative History

On March 16, 2010, H.R.4851 was introduced in the House of Representatives.  On March 17, 2010, the bill was agreed to by voice vote. 

The legislation was placed on the Senate Calendar on March 19, 2010. 

The Senate is expected to begin consideration of the legislation during the week of April 12, 2010.  The Senate is scheduled to vote on a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R.4851 on Monday, April 12, 2010.

Expected Amendments

The DPC will distribute information on amendments as it becomes available to staff listservs.

Administration Position

On March 12, the White House released its Statement of Administration Policy in support of H.R.4851:

“The Administration strongly supports enactment of legislation that is important for the economic security of American workers and their families. Accordingly, the Administration supports Senate passage of H.R.4851, which will extend access to health care benefits for workers who have lost their jobs and extend unemployment insurance benefits for millions of Americans who are looking for work.”

Resources

Senate Democratic Policy Committee, “S.A. 3336, the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act,” available here.

Congressional Research Service, National Flood Insurance Program:  Background, Challenges, and Financial Status, available here.

Congressional Research Service, Temporary Extension of Unemployment Benefits:  Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08), available here.

Congressional Research Service, Health Insurance Premium Assistance for the Unemployed:  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, available here.

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