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Does the latest COVID Bill Signed By the President Help You?

Earlier in the month, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to address many of the challenges caused by the pandemic. There are also a number of other things happening at the federal and state level that may have an impact on the cancer community. Keep reading for details . . .

National News

  • Unemployment Benefits: Until now, workers who refused work because of concerns about exposure to COVID-19 could not qualify for unemployment benefits (UIB). New guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor adds this reason as a way to qualify for UIB, and requires states to set up a way to pay out retroactive UIB. You can find links to your state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency with Triage Cancer’s Chart of State Laws. The system to qualify for retroactive UIB will take time to set up. As information is available, we will update you here.

 

  • Federal Income Tax Filing Deadline Extended to May, 17, 2021: The Internal Revenue Service announced that the federal income tax filing date for the 2020 tax year is extended to May 17, 2021, without penalties and interest. The extended deadline helps those who need extra time to prepare their return or pay taxes owed. However, for many individuals, there are reasons to file tax returns as soon as possible:
    • If you are eligible for a refund, filing your tax return may be the only way to get it.
    • Many tax-related benefits either require you to file a tax return, or filing a return gets you the benefits faster:
      • Economic Impact Payments (EIP) – “stimulus check”
      • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
      • Child Tax Credit (CTC)
    • State income tax filing and payment deadlines vary and are not always the same as the federal deadline. You can check with your state's tax agency here.
    • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) provides free help with preparing your tax return if you qualify.

 

  • Homeowners: Borrowers with mortgages backed by the federal government (e.g., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD/FHA, VA, or USDA) can request “forbearance,” a pause on payments through June 30, 2021. There are also some protections against foreclosure (loss of your home). Learn more about these protections and options here.

 

  • Renters: Renters may be protected from eviction if they have been or are unable to pay their rent through June 30, 2021. There are state and local protections and financial assistance programs too. Learn more about the federal eviction moratorium and local options here.

 

American Rescue Plan:

The President signed into law a large plan aimed at helping families and stimulating the economy as we continue to fight the coronavirus. Here’s a look at what is in the law:

  • Direct payments of $1,400 to individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples up to $150,000. This is the third Economic Impact Payment (EIP) since the pandemic began. Individuals also receive an additional $1,400 for each dependent claimed on their tax returns, including adult dependents. The federal government has already started sending these direct payments. Find information here.

 

  • Federal Unemployment Benefits are extended through September 6, 2021. During this time the federal government will add $300 per week to the amount paid by each state. The previous round of extra federal unemployment payments expired the week of March 14, 2021.
    • If you received unemployment payments in 2020, the first $10,200 will not be considered taxable income for households with incomes under $150,000 (i.e., a tax waiver).
      • Note: If you already filed your taxes for 2020, the IRS has asked that you wait for further guidance rather than file an amended return.

 

  • Child Tax Credit for 2021 is increased from $2,000 to as much as $3,600 for children under age 6, and as much as $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17, for individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. For the 2021 tax year, these payments will be made in advance to families. The IRS will provide advance payments between July and December 2021, hopefully monthly, to the tax filer who claimed the child on their 2020 tax return (note: If the 2020 taxes have not been filed, 2019’s will be used).

 

  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for 2021 is increased from $530 to $1,500 for workers without children. The income limit is raised from $16,000 to $21,000, so 17 million workers with low incomes are expected to qualify. This increase in the EITC will result in lower taxes for many workers in lower-wage jobs, especially cashiers, food preparers and servers, and home health aides. A worker earning around $13,000 per year could pay $900 less in taxes this year.

 

  • Voluntary paid leave extended: Employers who voluntarily provide paid leave to their employees can qualify for tax credits through September 30, 2021. If your employer participates:
    • Paid leave can be taken for time needed to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, recover from vaccine side effects, or if you are waiting on results of a COVID test.
    • If you are taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and your employer participates in this voluntary paid leave program, all 12 weeks of FMLA leave may be paid. Learn more about the FMLA with Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
    • Learn more about voluntary paid leave in the COVID-19 section of CancerFinances.org.

 

  • Increased funding for programs that help families
    • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, post-partum women and children. This law increases the amounts given to families in 2021.
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Food Stamps: amounts to individuals and families are increased by 15% through September 2021.
    • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): increased utility assistance for home heating and cooling costs for low-income households. You can find your state’s LIHEAP program here.
    • Funding for a water assistance program. Each state will receive funding and then provide assistance to low-income families with high water bills.
    • Rental assistance programs funded in each state. States will create programs and distribute assistance. Families spending 50% or more of their income on rent will be prioritized.

 

  • Health Insurance
    • COBRA is a federal law that allows eligible individuals to keep their existing employer-sponsored health insurance coverage after experiencing a “qualifying event” like leaving or losing their jobs. One challenge with COBRA is that the monthly premiums may be expensive. The American Rescue Plan includes a program to pay 100% of COBRA premiums for those eligible for COBRA if they involuntarily lose their job (or have their hours reduced and are no longer eligible for employer sponsored health insurance).
      • The subsidy begins April 1, 2021, and ends September 30, 2021
      • Benefits end earlier if the worker’s maximum period of COBRA coverage (usually 18 months) ends or if the worker becomes eligible for Medicare or another group health plan
      • Workers who had been eligible for COBRA coverage, but declined, will be offered a second chance to elect COBRA, which would begin April 1, 2021. People in this situation will not have to pay any back premiums. Workers who elected COBRA and then ended coverage before their maximum period of coverage ended, are also eligible to reenroll starting April 1, 2021. Workers can keep the COBRA coverage through the period they would have originally been eligible for COBRA.
        • Ex: A worker who became eligible January 1, 2020, but declined could elect COBRA on April 1 2021, but it would end 18 months from January 1, 2020 = June 30, 2021.
      • Employees eligible under there state COBRA law, or “mini COBRA,” are also eligible for this premium subsidy.
      • The details for this program are still emerging, so stay tuned for more.

 

    • Increased financial help is available for people buying health insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplaces for 2021 and 2022:
      • Households above 400% Federal Poverty Level (FPL), about $51,000 for an individual or $106,000 for a family of four, would have premiums for silver plans capped at 8.5% of their household income. For example, a family of four earning $110,000 would have a maximum premium of $9,350 for the year, or about $780 per month.
      • Individuals who have lower incomes and those collecting unemployment benefits in 2021, may qualify for a free silver plan.

 

Visit www.HealthCare.gov to see what plans are available to you. For more information about the state Health Insurance Marketplaces, read our Quick Guide to Health Insurance Marketplaces.

 

 

This new law is large, and we will learn many details in the coming weeks and months as federal agencies and state governments react to it. Triage Cancer will continue to provide you with updates in this blog section.

 

Medications Under Medicare’s 6 Protected Classes Stay Protected:

Earlier this year, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) considered a proposal that would allow health plans to reduce coverage of certain drugs in Medicare’s 6 “protected classes.” These protected classes include antineoplastics, used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. If the new policy was enacted, people with Medicare may have had limits to accessing these drugs. CMS has announced that it will not move forward with the proposed changes, leaving the protections in place.

State News

A new California law entities workers up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to take time off to get vaccinated, isolate themselves from potential exposure to the coronavirus, or deal with the effects of COVID-19.

A new law allows the South Dakota Farm Bureau to offer a health insurance program to its members. This health coverage option is not subject to state or federal rules, and could deny people coverage, or charge them more, if they have preexisting conditions like cancer.

A new law in New Jersey legalizes marijuana for individuals over age 21, but licenses for stores to sell marijuana are probably still many months in the future. Possessing or using marijuana is still illegal under federal law, even though some states have legalized it. Learn more with our Quick Guide to Medical Marijuana.

As always, we will update you next month with any developments. Stay tuned next month with some information about pending legislation at the state and federal level that may be legislative advocacy opportunities for the cancer community. Have questions that we didn't answer here? Feel free to check out our materials and resources, and get help from our recently launched Legal & Financial Navigation program. 

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Monica Bryant
mb@triagecancer.org