On April 15th, the House passed the Continuing Extension Act (H.R. 4851), to extend emergency relief for people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and a few other programs (unemployment benefits, COBRA, Medicare physician payments, satellite TV, flood insurance, and small business loans) for two months (generally through May 31). Unemployment benefits are extended until June 2. These critical programs - to help those out of work, stop cuts in doctors' Medicare payments that will limit health care for our seniors - expired at the end of March after three weeks of Senate Republican obstruction (the House passed the first version of this bill on March 17th, 2010). The bill was signed into law April 15, 2010.
Republican Senator Bunning, supported by some key Senate Republicans, blocked the extension of these provisions earlier this year, resulting in a two-day shut down of these programs that jeopardized unemployment benefits for more than one million Americans and furloughed thousands of highway and transit workers. This bill compensates Transportation Department employees who were furloughed during the lapse in the Federal highway, highway and motor carrier safety, and public transit programs.
The following programs are being extended:
- Unemployment Insurance: Extends unemployment benefits retroactively, including the increased payouts and longer duration of benefits from the Recovery Act, through June 2, 2010.
- Help with Health Insurance for Unemployed Workers (COBRA): Extends eligibility for the COBRA health insurance 65% subsidy for people who have lost their jobs through May 31, 2010 and provides transition relief for individuals who lost their jobs between March 31, 2010 and the date of enactment.
- Medicare Physician Payments: Extends current Medicare payment rates for physicians (preventing a 21% payment reduction) through May 31, 2010.
- Poverty Guidelines: Extends current provision maintaining 2009 poverty guidelines through May 31, 2010 (to prevent a lowering of the poverty line due to deflation in 2009).
- Flood Insurance: Extends the National Flood Insurance Program authorization through May 31, 2010.
- Satellite Television: Extends the compulsory copyright license used by satellite television providers through May 31, 2010.
- Small Business Loans: Extends two temporary improvements to the Small Business Administration's loan guarantee program, raising the percentage of loan amounts that the SBA can guarantee and allowing SBA to waive or reduce loan fees through May 31, 2010.
- Compensation for Furloughed Employees: Provides compensation for federal employees furloughed during March 1st and 2nd as the result of the lapse in expenditure authority from the Highway Trust Fund.