House Passes Emergency Aid to American Survivors of the Haiti Earthquake Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.—(ENEWSPF)—January 26, 2010.  Today the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed, S. 2949, legislation to provide crucial assistance to American survivors of the earthquake in Haiti.  Following such events abroad, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) uses the Repatriation program to reimburse States for the costs necessary to provide temporary assistance for returning Americans including medical care, a flight home, and food assistance.

“As we help our friends in Haiti with their recovery efforts, we must not forget that the catastrophic earthquake also wreaked havoc on the lives of thousands of American citizens living in Haiti,” said Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY).  “This bill helps these American survivors return home, receive the critical assistance they need, and begin to rebuild their lives.”

“Nearly 45,000 Americans lived in Haiti before this devastating earthquake,” said Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott (D-WA). “While 14,000 of them have already been safely evacuated, many more still need help to return to the U.S. Increasing funding for the Repatriation Program will give countless Americans currently in Haiti the support they need for connecting flights, temporary lodging, food and medical assistance. I know we are all looking forward to their safe return, and I hope my colleagues in Congress will join me in supporting this effort.”

The bill also addresses an expected shortfall in the Qualified Individual (QI) program which helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries with incomes between $13,000 and $14,600 per year by paying their Medicare Part B premiums, which are currently $1,157 per year. Specifically, each state Medicaid program pays the premiums with funding supplied by the federal government.  These funds are capped, and when States hit their caps they can either continue paying the premiums with their own funds or stop new enrollment.  Twenty-two states now anticipate shortfalls in their federal QI program funding, and at least one of those has already announced that it is capping enrollment. This provision would cover all projected shortfalls in State QI programs by increasing the funds available in calendar year 2010 by $65 million.

 

Bill Summary

The Emergency Aid to American Survivors of the Haiti Earthquake Act

 

American Repatriation from Haiti Provision:

Currently, The U.S. Repatriation Assistance Fund (Repatriation Fund) is capped at $1 million. Americans are generally returning from Haiti on military transport to Air Force bases.  HHS uses the Repatriation Fund to reimburse states for both assistance and administrative costs for providing temporary assistance to returning Americans which includes cash, travel (flight home from the point of entry), immediate medical care, hotel/lodging, and food assistance. Those who receive aid are expected to eventually repay it — signing a promissory note when receiving services — but repayment can be waived in certain circumstances, such as hardship.

If legislation is not passed to raise the cap in order to accommodate the thousands of Americans still in Haiti, HHS must inform states that the Department will not be able to reimburse them for their costs and further action should be halted until the ceiling is removed or raised.  This legislation increases the cap to $25 million for 2010 which will allow HHS to assist all Americans in need of help returning to their homes from Haiti.

 

The Qualified Individual (QI) Provision:

The Qualified Individual (QI) program helps low-income Medicare beneficiaries with incomes between $13,000 and $14,600 per year by paying their Medicare Part B premiums, which are currently $1,157 per year.   Specifically, each state Medicaid program pays the premiums with funding supplied by the federal government.  These funds are capped, and when States hit their caps they can either continue paying the premiums with their own funds or stop new enrollment.  Twenty-two states now anticipate shortfalls in their federal QI program funding, and at least one of those has already announced that it is capping enrollment. This provision would cover all projected shortfalls in State QI programs by increasing the funds available in calendar year 2010 by $65 million.

 

The Medicaid Improvement Fund (MIF) Provision:

The Medicaid Improvement Fund (MIF) was created as a repository for excess savings generated by changes to the Medicaid program.  There are approximately $700 million in the MIF and this provision would remove $90 million of that to fund the Haitian repatriation provision and the QI funding provision.

 

Source: waysandmeans.house.gov