from the New Mexico News Connection - A statewide news service for New Mexico
Albuquerque - A bill to extend fiscal relief for New Mexicans relying on programs like unemployment, Medicaid and COBRA failed to pass a procedural hurdle Wednesday. The bill is being revised for another try, but it could be leaner than before, and that could be bad news for low-income or unemployed New Mexicans. Comments from Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. Bill HR 4213 failed to pass a procedural vote in the Senate Wednesday, leaving many unemployed and low-income New Mexicans in limbo. Lawmakers will try again after revising the bill, which includes money for states for things like Medicaid, unemployment insurance and COBRA. COBRA helps people keep and pay for their health insurance after losing a job. Ron Pollack directs health care consumer group Families USA, and he fears that the COBRA subsidy might not make it into the final bill, "That's going to mean that people, when they lose their jobs, are probably going to lose their health care coverage."
Pollack says that's because without the subsidy, the average COBRA premium consumes more than 84 percent of the average unemployment check, and in 11 states it's actually larger than the average unemployment payment. In New Mexico, the average COBRA premium, after the subsidy, is 380 dollars a month. Without the subsidy, it's 1,086 dollars.
Pollack says opponents of the bill who want to see some of the spending reduced out of anxiety over the expanding national budget deficit are justified in their concerns, but stimulating the economy, creating jobs and taking care of those who have lost jobs should be the focus in a recession,"That's gotta be priority number one at this point. Now, once the economy improves, then we need to really emphasize getting the budget in order, but this is not a period to be skimping on what people need to survive."
If Congress fails to extend the fiscal relief bill, New Mexico could face a more than $200 million dollar state budget gap because Santa Fe lawmakers passed a budget relying on that much in extended federal relief. Without the federal funds, there could be cuts to services like emergency hospital services and personal care assistance for people with disabilities (according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)