CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
S. 2949 is expected to be considered on Tuesday, January 26, 2010, under a motion to suspend the rules, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) on January 25, 2010. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent the same day.
S. 2949 would provide up to $25 million in Fiscal Year 2010 for a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) program which repatriates U.S. citizens from foreign countries. Repatriation assistance provides temporary assistance to citizens and their dependents who are identified by the Department of State as needing to return from a foreign country to the U.S. but who do not have the resources to do so. In addition to providing temporary assistance directly to repatriates, the program also provides funds to States and other vendors to cover the administrative costs of providing temporary assistance to these individuals. This financial assistance is repayable to the U.S. government, unless waived by the Secretary of HHS. Current law caps payments at $1 million annually.
Additionally, the bill would provide an additional $60 million in funding for the Qualifying Individual (QI) program, which allows States to fund the Medicare Part B premiums of near-poor seniors not eligible for Medicaid. Several States have reported potential shortfalls in their QI programs this year, and the additional funding is intended to resolve those potential deficits. The bill does not extend the QI program, however.
The bill's Haiti funding and the increased QI funds are paid for through transfers from the Medicaid Improvement Fund. The Medicaid Improvement Fund is a program intended to improve the management of the Medicaid program. The legislation cuts $90 million from that fund.
The legislation's temporary increase in repatriation funding is due to an influx of several thousand citizens who have returned to the U.S. from Haiti since that country's earthquake. A similar temporary increase in the program spending cap was passed in 2006 in response to political unrest in Lebanon.
To date, HHS reports that repatriates from the Haiti earthquake have been received in Maryland, New Jersey, and Florida, with the bulk of repatriates entering via Florida. According to estimates by the Department of State, approximately 45,000 U.S. citizens and their dependents were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. So far, about 13,000 of these individuals have been repatriated to the U.S., with more than 40 percent requiring some degree of temporary medical or cash assistance under the repatriation program.
According to a preliminary CBO estimate, implementing this legislation would reduce federal spending by $14 million over five years.