LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: MAY 2021
Do you think the snow stopped for good this time in Vermont? Let’s hope so. This legislative update includes three important topics: health insurance changes within the American Rescue Plan Act that could save you money, utility bill relief resources, and more on the state’s unemployment program.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted into law on March 11th, 2021, includes provisions that will cut the cost of healthcare for many by lifting subsidy eligibility for Vermonters enrolled on a Vermont Health Connect plan and expanding COBRA access. Vermont Health Connect (VHC) is the state’s health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. ARPA now allows individuals buying their own health insurance to access subsidies (reduction in cost) if their income is up to 720% of the poverty line ($96K for single people or $192K for married people). Before ARPA, only Vermonters making less than 400% of the poverty line were eligible for subsidies. This change under ARPA will benefit a lot of Vermonters, so please spread the word. Visit the Department of Vermont Health Access website for further information.
ARPA also significantly changed insurance costs for lower income people. Anyone making up to 150% of the poverty line can now access the VHC silver plan with no premiums and vastly reduced deductibles. Before ARPA, low income Vermonters had to contribute some amount towards the premium of their plan. The contribution is now zero for premiums. Yes, zero. This also includes anyone who is currently on unemployment insurance.
Under current law, no one will pay more than 8.5% of their household income towards a benchmark insurance plan. In short, you can actually improve your quality of insurance coverage if you qualify for a VHC plan while paying less. A special enrollment period is underway from now until May 15, 2021, if you want to take advantage of these subsidies now available through VHC plans.
ARPA also includes significant changes to COBRA rules and coverage. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985) gives workers and their workers access to health benefits provided by a group health plan for a limited period of time after the voluntary or involuntary loss of a job. COBRA is usually cost preventative because the individual takes on the bulk of the premium cost to access the coverage. Under ARPA, the COBRA premium individuals do not pay any premium costs between April 1, 2021 and September 30th, 2021. This includes anyone who lost their job or had reduced hours as a result of the pandemic. In order to obtain COBRA coverage, reach out to your old employer for more information about your coverage options. It is important to note that this subsidy only covers premium payments. HOUSING COST & UTILITY BILL ASSISTANCE FOR RENTERS
Additionally, the state enacted the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) this year to offer continued support to renters struggling as a result of the pandemic. VERAP provides help with rental and utility (gas, water, sewer, trash removal, energy costs) assistance, including paying rent, past-due rent balances, utility and home energy costs, as well as other costs related to housing. For more information on eligibility and FAQ’s, please visit the Vermont State Housing Authority’s webpage here.
UNEMPLOYMENT - S.10 & PUBLIC HEARING
The House Commerce Committee is currently considering S.10 - a bill to make modifications to the unemployment insurance (UI) program. The short version of the bill is that it will freeze the tax rate for employers at the current level to avoid a significant increase in July based on current law. Employers pay a tax rate based on how much they use the unemployment system and their payroll costs. The unprecedented number of unemployment claims caused the unemployment trust fund to dip significantly which, under normal times, requires a tax rate increase to refill the fund.
S.10 also includes a new dependent benefit for UI claimants. Anyone with children under age 18 would receive a flat $50/week benefit once federal pandemic UI programs end. Vermont would join the rest of New England (minus New Hampshire) and 13 other states by adding this program to our UI system. S.10 looks like it may be amended to change the employer tax relief and perhaps drop the dependent benefit. I will be working hard to preserve the benefit as it is one of the only targeted ways we can support workers during the pandemic economic recovery, especially women who have disproportionately been on unemployment in Vermont this past year.
Our committee will be holding a public hearing next Tuesday, May 4th from 5-7pm on unemployment. This is your time to join us as employees or employers to discuss the issues facing the unemployment insurance program during the pandemic. Any and all feedback on ways the state could better support Vermonters is welcome. You can testify via Zoom or submit written testimony. More information can be found here.
Stay well and thank you for continuing to engage with the state legislative process.
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, State Representative Chittenden 6-2 (Old North End/New North End) email@example.com 802-448-0838 Social Media @staterepemma P.S. Gratitude to New North End resident Kienan Christianson and my UVM legislative intern Sierra Morton who provided the bulk of the research regarding the important health insurance information in this update.
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