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October 01, 2001
Congress Eyeing Additional Benefits
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ocrats want to include major new benefits for workers affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in an economic stimulus package benefits beyond what's proposed now for airline workers displaced after the tragedy, according to Congressional Daily.

One possibility, the Daily reports in a newsletter, is extending health-care benefits to displaced workers by expanding COBRA.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate's Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee, has begun discussions on crafting a
package that not only includes tax benefits for business, but provides "assistance to those who may have lost their jobs or are facing the possibility that they are going to lose their jobs," a spokesman said.

Amid reports that more than 100,000 New Yorkers face unemployment as a result of the attacks and about 700,000 more jobs have been affected, Democrats see an opportunity to enact temporary improvements to the unemployment insurance system.

The proposal would enhance worker benefits temporarily until Dec. 31, 2002, and would expand federal benefits to low-wage and part-time workers, and potentially others as well. It would also extend, with federal funds, benefits beyond the average of 26 weeks and may supplement those benefits.

It also may also help some states pay their portion of the benefits and provide funds to the Labor Department to help implement these changes, the memo said.

Other benefits under consideration that may appeal more broadly to Republicans include having the federal government pay for displaced workers' health coverage under COBRA and Medicaid, which Democrats estimate will cost between $10 billion to $20 billion.

To avoid increasing costs for employers, the National Association of Manufacturers says it would suggest Congress consider a sunset date and a federal assist, not full payment, for workers, according to Congressional Daily.

But the plan will not likely get a warm reception from Republicans. One key GOP leadership aide told the Daily that the Democrats' ideas were "beyond reality" and represent the "end of Democrats working in good faith" because it would not foster a quick and easy resolution to workers' problems.
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