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Stimulus package: So what's in it for us?
For the people of Florida, hit by rising unemployment and foreclosure rates, the economic stimulus bill promises to save or create 206,000 jobs, give tax breaks to workers and send checks to retirees.
President Barack Obama and congressional leaders say the bill that passed the House on Friday afternoon will help people endure a severe recession while pumping up the economy.
The White House estimates that 6.9 million Florida workers and their families will get tax breaks. More than a million Social Security recipients in South Florida will get $250 checks.
Late changes in the legislation cut much of the funding for schools and transportation that South Florida and other communities had expected. Tax breaks for buying a house or car were reduced or eliminated.
The money from Washington will help many families pay for college and extend benefits for unemployed workers, whose ranks reached 36,568 in Broward County and 16,719 in Palm Beach County in December.
"It's a relief for people who already are encountering problems," said Mari Adam, a financial planner in Boca Raton. "I hope it stimulates the economy, which would help everybody. But for most of us, the benefit will be indirect."
The stimulus and taxes
A payroll tax credit will be the most direct aid to almost 6.9 million Floridians and their families.
Workers making less than $75,000 a year will get a $400 credit for 2009 and 2010. Couples making up to $150,000 will get $800.
Officials estimated it would mean about $13 a week more in people's paychecks this year, starting in late spring when withholding tables are adjusted. Next year, the measure could give workers about $8 a week.
Higher income taxpayers would see smaller credits. Individuals making more than $100,000 and couples making more than $200,000 would not get a credit.
The annual "patch" to the alternative minimum tax was included in the bill, sparing 24 million middle-income taxpayers from paying higher income taxes. The tax was enacted 40 years ago to make sure the wealthy pay at least some tax. But it never was adjusted for inflation, so Congress enacts a temporary fix each year.
More parents would be able to take advantage of the $1,000 child tax credit, even if they don't make enough money to pay income taxes.
The Earned Income Tax Credit would be expanded for low-income workers with three or more children who pay no taxes. The Earned Income Tax Credit provided an estimated $1 billion to South Florida residents last tax season.
Car buyers will get to deduct the sales tax paid on new car purchases.
Stimulus and unemployment
Unemployment benefits will be extended through Dec. 31. For Florida's unemployed, that could mean up to 33 weeks. Benefits will go up $25 a week, bringing the maximum weekly benefit to $300. Another assist: Taxes on some unemployment benefits are temporarily suspended, according to House leadership.
"Every little bit helps," said Judith Dunn, of West Palm Beach, a former administrative assistant whose benefits were set to expire next month. But what she really wants is a job.
"You're on an emotional roller coaster," said Dunn, 63. She said she's struggling to pay homeowner association fees, insurance, food and other living costs on $275 a week. "You're alone and scared. You see someone living on the street and you think, 'That could be me.'.''
More than 53,287 people were unemployed in Broward and Palm Beach counties in December, the most recent month for which figures are available.
Food stamp recipients will see allotments grow by 14 percent.
Job training programs nationally will get $4 billion more. Florida's share is unclear.
There will be help with health insurance for some. The government will pay 60 percent of premiums for laid-off workers who continue coverage through their former employers, a system known as COBRA. COBRA premiums typically are so expensive that only 10 percent take it after a layoff. The subsidy lasts up to nine months. Individuals with incomes over $125,000 per year will not qualify.
Stimulus and the $250 check
Social Security recipients, poor people on Supplemental Security Income and veterans receiving disability and pensions will get a one-time payment of $250.
More than a million South Florida residents receive Social Security or SSI payments.
The Social Security Administration said Thursday that it's too early to know when the checks will go out.
The stimulus and college students
College students and their families will get help in two ways. First, there's the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a $2,500 partially refundable tax credit for college tuition and related expenses for 2009 and 2010. About 195,000 Florida families will qualify, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.
The stimulus plan also includes a boost in the maximum Pell Grant for low-income families by $500, to $5,350.
Stimulus and Medicaid
Florida will get about $4 billion over two years to help patch holes in its cash-strapped, $16 billion Medicaid health program for low-income people, most of whom are children. About 300,000 are enrolled in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Florida officials have cut some Medicaid spending, such as payments to providers, and have talked about making more cuts starting July 1. Health advocates said they hope the stimulus money can prevent further cuts and restore earlier cuts. To get the money, the state cannot tighten eligibility, a provision that will keep needy people from being dropped.
Gov. Charlie Crist's budget director said earlier this week that the federal infusion may allow the state to divert money from Medicaid to plug other holes in the state budget. Some state legislators said they'll fight that move.
The stimulus and schools
There's money to upgrade school buildings, including enough to equip and improve 485 schools in Florida, according to House leaders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said states can use funds from the stimulus bill to build or renovate local schools.
Local officials said they were grateful for whatever money comes their way.
"This is going to help public education in Florida," said Joseph Moore, chief operating officer for Palm Beach County schools.
The Broward County School District plans to use the money to improve classroom technology and train teachers, said Broward schools Superintendent James Notter.
Money also will go to federal programs for needy and disabled students.
"Clearly we want to be at the cutting edge of technology to deliver instruction," Notter said. "That means we need to do the highest quality job in helping our teachers, as well as frankly all of our support people throughout the organization, in increasing their skills to a much higher level."
The stimulus and transportation
Florida should get something close to $1.5 billion for highways, bridges and transit systems, said John Cline, a lobbyist for Tri-Rail.
National funding for mass transit was reduced from $12 billion in the House bill to $8.4 billion in the final version. That will leave Tri-Rail with $40 million to $50 million, Cline said.
"It will allow Tri-Rail to go forward with some projects that we haven't been able to do for lack of funding, like buying rail cars and locomotives," he said.
The bill also includes $9.3 billion nationwide for railroads, especially high-speed rail projects, which could boost the prospects for train lines that link major cities in Florida.
"There's a lot of interest in the Obama White House in high-speed rail," Cline said, "so it's gaining in popularity."
Officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties hope to get some of the money for ready-to-start roads projects that create construction jobs.
Stimulus and the Everglades
Everglades restoration likely would get a piece of the $2 billion of extra construction money designated for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps has indicated it would devote money to restoration across the country but has made no promises on specific projects, said April Smith, director of ecosystem restoration at the National Audubon Society.
Stimulus and homeowners, home buyers
For home buyers and homeowners:
First-time home buyers could qualify for an $8,000 tax credit if they purchased a home between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2009. The credit does not need to be repaid if the home is not sold for three years. First-time home buyers have been important in South Florida. They usually make 40 percent of all home purchases.
Homeowners who install new doors, windows or furnaces to make their homes more energy efficient could get as much as $1,500 in tax credits.