Low Income Home Energy Assistance Down Despite the Extreme Cold

January 10, 2014

Huffington Post reports that sequestration's budget cuts last year have left thousands of families in the cold this winter. Congress cut funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by about $155 million, and total funding has decreased from $5.1 billion to $3.32 billion since 2010 (http://tinyurl.com/lxkp369). Large sections of the United States have recently been frozen by the grip of winter, with a weather system known as a polar vortex bringing subzero temperatures and blizzard conditions. Temperatures reached as low as 50 or 60 degrees below zero in some parts of the nation – meaning that staying warm has become harder than ever for many Americans.

“Sequestration cuts are not just words,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.  “They affect real people in real ways. That is why the sequestration cuts to services need to be repealed altogether, rather than reduced and repackaged, as Congress has done so far.”

Tell AT&T Corporation to Respect Retirees
AT&T retirees were surprised when the company recently sent information related to open enrollment for the retiree medical benefits.  Retirees under the age of 65, who are not eligible for Medicare, saw premium increases of hundreds of dollars a month for coverage under the standard PPO plan.  Retirees on Medicare saw a jump in premiums of about 500% for supplemental insurance. CWA and the Alliance believe that the company should have done more for retirees, as AT&T enjoys healthy profits and significant dividends for shareholders. “Corporate executives should do more to assure that former employees who built the company have quality, affordable health care, and don’t flounder in unilateral, drastic and unprecedented increases,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance.


Some in the company told retirees that the reason for the extraordinary increases is the Affordable Care Act.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  In fact, there are two provisions of the Affordable Care Act that would impact AT&T’s retiree health plan.  First, it improves Medicare by including full coverage of preventive care and recapturing overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans.  Second, the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program set aside funds for employers who offer retiree health benefits, rebating $213.8 million to AT&T between 2011 and 2012 to offset the cost of claims from early retirees. Both these provisions eased the company’s cost burden, but AT&T has chosen not to share that cost relief with retirees.


In 2012, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson earned $22.23 million, 642 times the average worker's pay ($34,645). Please take action and tell him that passing down increases to the tune of 500% in monthly premiums for supplemental health care is uncalled for. Send him an email by using this link: [http://bit.ly/1cKhZ3m] or send him a letter: Randall L. Stephenson / Chairman, Chief Executive Officer / AT&T Corporation / 208 South Akard Street / Dallas, Texas 75202-4206.


Extension of Federal Benefits for the Long-term Unemployed Clears One Hurdle
The Democratic effort to extend federal benefits for the long-term unemployed got a surprise boost on Tuesday, as the Senate voted to allow the proposal to advance. The bill would reinstate for three months unemployment benefits that expired Dec. 28 and affect 1.3 million Americans. Six Republican Senators voted with 54 members of the Democratic caucus to approve a motion allowing the measure to move ahead, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will need to clear a second 60-vote hurdle to bring it to a final vote. Of the six Republicans— Susan Collins (ME), Rob Portman (OH), Dean Heller (NV), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dan Coats (IN) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — five said that that their support is not guaranteed on the final bill. For a tally of the Tuesday vote, go to http://tinyurl.com/msocyzb.


The measure faces not only big hurdles in the Senate, but also longer odds of passing the House. Senate Democrats made another offer on Thursday, to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed through mid-November. Republicans, however, did not leap to embrace it. More unemployed Americans will lose their benefits as the year progresses and they surpass their states’ normal timelines.


Tuesday’s procedural vote in the Senate came as the two parties jockeyed over the political issue of rising income inequality, with Democrats pushing more aid for the jobless and an increased minimum wage. The crux of the negotiations is the GOP demand for offsetting savings from other portions of the budget. According to The Washington Post, GOP leaders are increasingly concerned about public perceptions that they are insensitive to those who are still struggling in the slow economic recovery. More at http://tinyurl.com/lya6wc2.


“Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “Perhaps the anniversary is the reminder some elected officials need that the war has not yet been won.”

Come to the Alliance’s Convention, April 28 – May 1, 2014, at Bally's Hotel Las Vegas
Join us in Las Vegas as we sharpen our organizing and communication skills for the 2014 elections and beyond! We will elect national officers and also Community Board members. Questions? Contact Joni Jones at jjones@retiredamericans.org or 202-637-5377. Ready to register? Download a registration form at http://tinyurl.com/nqnz97a  or register on-line at http://tinyurl.com/prl8box.

National Academy of Social Insurance Conference Begins January 29 in DC
The National Academy of Social Insurance is hosting a conference, “Strengthening the Web of Financial and Retirement Security for Today's Working Americans,” January 29-30 in Washington, DC. For more information or to register, go to http://tinyurl.com/n37nbkt.

Obituary: Donna McGrath

Donna McGrath, who was President of the Nebraska Alliance for Retired Americans, died in Omaha on Saturday at the age of 83. Ms. McGrath was the first president of the Nebraska chapter of the Alliance. “The Nebraska AFL-CIO inducted her into their Hall of Fame,” said Mr. Fiesta. “We are thankful for her major contributions to the Nebraska Alliance in getting it off the ground and running, and we will all miss her greatly.”

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