Recovery Act to Impact Social Services

In an effort to lead America out of a deepening recession, President Obama in February signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law.

NASW and its partner organizations applauded the dozens of provisions in the new law that will provide aid to low-income individuals and families as well as give money to states to prevent cuts in vital Medicaid assistance, education and other services.

NASW’s partner organization, the Coalition for Human Needs, noted that, for the most part over a two-year period, the new law will provide:

  • $ 20 billion in increased food stamp aid
  • $40 billion in increased unemployment insurance benefits
  • Nearly $25 billion in subsidies to help unemployed people retain their health insurance through their previous employer plan
  • $23 billion in tax credits available to low-income people even if their earnings are too low to owe federal income taxes
  • $14 billion for a one-time payment of $250 for recipients of Supplemental Security Income, Social Security and other retirement programs
  • $5 billion to allow states to respond to rising poverty by increasing aid through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

NASW Senior Government Relations Associate Nancy McFall Jean said it is important to note that the Obama administration has made it a priority to reinvest in long-neglected programs that provide a safety net for families in need.

“The administration has significantly increased funds for early childhood education, including Head Start and Early Head Start, food stamps, and other essential programs that are even more vital to families and children during this economic downturn,” McFall Jean said.

NASW sent out advocacy alerts earlier in the year to its members while the recovery stimulus bills were being scrutinized in the House and Senate. NASW noted in its alerts the need for members to contact their representatives and urge their support to fund such programs as Head Start and TANF as well as increases for unemployment benefits and job training, Title VII and VIII programs and care for veterans and older Americans.

When Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 24, he immediately addressed the nation’s dire economic conditions.

“We have lived through an era where, too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity, where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election,” he said. “A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.”

Obama said the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will, over the next two years, save or create 3.5 million jobs, with more than 90 percent of these jobs in the private sector. “Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids,” he said. “Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick.”

Social workers should also benefit from the $500 million earmarked in the new law that addresses shortages in the public health workfore. The funds will be used to recruit more people to work in underserved areas. The money will also be used to expand the Health Resources and Services Administration program that offers student incentives to work in such areas by offering loan repayments and scholarships.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the new law includes incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will also get more funding under the new law. It will include:

  • $1 billion for non-recurring maintenance, including energy projects, to address deficiencies and avoid serious maintenance problems at 153 VA hospitals
  • $150 million for a temporary increase in claims processing staff
  • $150 million for grants to states for extended care facilities
  • A one-time payment of $250 to disabled veterans receiving compensation and pension through the VA

The Recovery and Reinvestment Act also addresses the needs of hospice care patients and their families.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization noted the law includes a one-year moratorium on cuts in Medicare funding for the more than 4,700 hospice programs nationwide. The organization said the action will ensure that access to quality and compassionate end-of-life care will be maintained for the more than 1.4 million patients and their family caregivers who seek hospice each year.