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House votes to stop Medicare Part B premium increase, extend unemployment benefits

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By Congressman Tom Perriello

Last week, the Congress took an important action to protect seniors from increases in their 2010 Medicare Part B premiums. I joined with a bipartisan majority in the House to vote in favor of H.R. 3631, the Medicare Premium Fairness Act. With Social Security benefits expected to remain at the same level next year, an increase in Medicare premiums would cut into seniors’ Social Security.

This important legislation will protect Virginia’s seniors from an increase in premiums at a time when too many are struggling to make ends meet. The combination of higher premiums and no cost-of-living adjustment is unacceptable for seniors who count on every dollar of their benefits.

The majority of seniors and disabled citizens on Medicare will not see a reduction in their Social Security checks caused by Medicare Part B premium increases because of a clause in existing law, known as “hold harmless.”

But more than 11 million people on Medicare Part B fall into categories that would have been affected, including low-income individuals who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, new Medicare enrollees, and enrollees whose Medicare premiums are not deducted from their Social Security checks. These individuals would see their premiums be disproportionately increased to up to $120 per month without congressional action.

I’m glad the House worked quickly and in a bipartisan manner to protect seniors from these unfair increases. In addition, the bill that passed the House meets PAYGO requirements and does not add to the federal deficit.

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Also last week, the U.S. House voted to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks in states where the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent or higher. Unfortunately, because the bill only looked at unemployment numbers for states on the whole, Virginia was not one of the states that would benefit from this bill. While I certainly understand that unemployment remains a national problem and I am sympathetic to families across the country who struggle with joblessness, my primary responsibility is to represent my constituents. The bill that passed the House would offer no additional benefits to Virginians who are unemployed, although it would extend a federal unemployment tax on Virginia businesses. For this reason, I broke with my party and voted against this bill.

Voting against a bad bill isn’t good enough. I am continuing to work with my colleagues to come up with solutions for regions like Southside Virginia, which, although they are located in states with relatively low unemployment, still face local unemployment rates that are too high. Because the Virginia General Assembly blocked the extension in unemployment benefits provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus bill, earlier this year, many Virginians in Central and Southside Virginia need this assistance as they seek new employment.

We must find a way to continue benefits for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The severe recession and lack of resources makes it near impossible to find jobs to support these people’s families. I am working on a solution because economic recovery for our region is my top priority.

Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may call 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487); write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.