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Many People Who Auto-Enroll in Federal Marketplace Health Coverage for 2015 Could Pay More Than They Should

December 10, 2014 Comments off

Many People Who Auto-Enroll in Federal Marketplace Health Coverage for 2015 Could Pay More Than They Should
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

People in 34 states[1] who enrolled in health coverage for 2014 through the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) will be automatically re-enrolled in the same plan in 2015 unless they choose a new plan through the FFM during the open enrollment season, which began November 15 (see Figure 1).[2] While auto-renewal is an important backstop to avoid loss of coverage, it could leave many people paying more for health care than the Affordable Care Act envisions — and more than they will pay if they go back to the Marketplace.

Unless people provide updated information and have their eligibility re-determined, most who received subsidies for marketplace coverage in 2014 will automatically receive the same dollar level of subsidies in 2015. (These subsidies consist of advance payments of premium tax credits, which are paid to insurers on enrollees’ behalf to help cover the enrollees’ premiums.) But since many factors that affect the level of people’s subsidies change from year to year, a high percentage of people who auto-renew will receive advance premium credits that turn out to be too low or too high. To avert such problems, consumers need to return to the FFM (rather than auto-renewing) to receive an updated eligibility determination. That is the only way to ensure they receive the correct level of benefits.

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Community Eligibility Database: Eligible and Near-Eligible Schools by Identified Student Percentage

October 6, 2014 Comments off

Community Eligibility Database: Eligible and Near-Eligible Schools by Identified Student Percentage
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

This searchable database provides information on the schools that will be eligible in the 2014-2015 school year for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a powerful new tool to ensure that low-income children have access to breakfast and lunch at no charge through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. High-poverty schools and school districts in all states can adopt CEP starting with the new school year.

CEP allows school districts, individual schools, or groups of schools to offer two nutritious meals daily to all students at no charge if their Identified Student Percentage (ISP) is at least 40 percent. The ISP represents the share of students who are approved for free meals without an application because they either have been identified as low income by another program (such as SNAP, formerly food stamps) or are considered at risk of hunger (because they are homeless or in foster care, for example).

Under CEP, schools with higher ISPs receive higher federal reimbursements for the meals they serve, which makes CEP more financially viable. Schools with an ISP of 62.5 or higher will have all meals reimbursed at the highest federal rate, known as the free rate.

Each state was required to publish a list of schools eligible for CEP by May 1. This database is based on that information and includes the state, school district (also known as the Local Educational Agency or LEA), the school, the school’s ISP, and the school’s enrollment, if the state published those items. To select more than one option in a given category, hold down the Control key when making selections.

This database is not a comprehensive list of all schools in every state or school district. Some states published lists of all schools regardless of eligibility, while other states published lists only of eligible and near-eligible schools or only of eligible schools.

Improving State Revenue Forecasting: Best Practices for a More Trusted and Reliable Revenue Estimate

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Improving State Revenue Forecasting: Best Practices for a More Trusted and Reliable Revenue Estimate
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Every state estimates how much revenue it will collect in the upcoming fiscal year. A reliable estimate is essential to building a fiscally responsible budget and sets a benchmark for how much funding the state will be able to provide to schools and other public services. Yet some states forecast revenues using faulty processes that leave out key players and lack transparency.

While there is no one right way to forecast revenues, research and experience suggest that states benefit from including both the legislature, the governor, and independent experts in the process from the start, giving the public, media, and advocates access to the deliberations and the data that go into the estimates, and regularly revisiting estimates during the budget session.

These components together create a strong, reliable revenue estimate. For example, a professional and open revenue estimating process makes revenue forecasts more transparent and accessible to the public and a broader group of legislators, which can lead to a healthier and more democratic debate and greater fiscal discipline.

New Policy Makes It Easier for Community Eligibility Schools to Participate in E-Rate Program

August 19, 2014 Comments off

New Policy Makes It Easier for Community Eligibility Schools to Participate in E-Rate Program
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

A new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy will make it easier for school districts adopting the Community Eligibility Provision — through which they can serve meals at no charge to all students — to apply for discounted telecommunications services and Internet access through the E-rate program. The new E-rate policy streamlines the discount calculation process for community eligibility schools so that they do not face any additional burdens relative to other schools.

The Community Eligibility Provision, a relatively new option within the federal school meal programs, eliminates school meal applications. Schools are eligible to adopt the Community Eligibility Provision based on the share of their students who are low-income, as assessed by other programs. Schools that adopt community eligibility must serve all meals at no charge. Community eligibility has been implemented a few states at a time over the past three years and is available nationwide for the 2014-2015 school year.

Since community eligibility schools do not determine which individual children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the E-rate program has developed ways for them to calculate their E-rate discount level. For school years 2011-2012 through 2014-2015, the FCC (which sets E-rate policy) directed community eligibility schools to continue using the share of students approved for free or reduced-price meals in the year prior to implementing community eligibility for purposes of determining their E-rate discount. Schools with 75 percent or more of their students approved for free or reduced-price meals receive a 90 percent discount; most schools that adopt community eligibility likely fall into this category.

Chart Book: Social Security Disability Insurance

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Chart Book: Social Security Disability Insurance
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Disability Insurance (DI) is an integral part of Social Security. It provides modest but vital benefits to workers who can no longer support themselves on account of a serious and long-lasting medical impairment. The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the DI program.

In December 2013, 8.9 million people received disabled-worker benefits from Social Security. Payments also went to some of their family members: 160,000 spouses and 1.9 million children.

DI benefits are financed primarily by a portion of the Social Security payroll tax and totaled about $140 billion in 2013. That’s 4 percent of the federal budget and less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Employers and employees each pay a DI tax of 0.9 percent on earnings up to a specified amount, currently $117,000. Financial transactions are handled through a DI trust fund, which receives payroll tax revenues and pays out benefits and which is legally separate from the much larger Social Security retirement fund. Under current projections, the DI trust fund will need replenishment in 2016.

SNAP Error Rates at All-Time Lows; Steady Improvement in Payment Accuracy Reflects Program’s Extensive Quality Control System

July 21, 2014 Comments off

SNAP Error Rates at All-Time Lows; Steady Improvement in Payment Accuracy Reflects Program’s Extensive Quality Control System
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The percentage of SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefit dollars issued to ineligible households or to eligible households in excessive amounts fell for the seventh consecutive year in 2013 to 2.61 percent, newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show. That’s the lowest national overpayment rate since USDA began the current system of measuring error rates in 1981. The underpayment error rate fell to 0.6 percent, also the lowest on record. (See Figure 1.) The combined payment error rate — that is, the sum of the overpayment and underpayment error rates — fell to an all-time low of 3.2 percent.[1] Less than 1 percent of SNAP benefits go to households that are ineligible. In other words, more than 99 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to eligible households.

Congress Should End – Not Extend – the Ban on State and Local Taxation of Internet Access Subscriptions

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Congress Should End – Not Extend – the Ban on State and Local Taxation of Internet Access Subscriptions
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), enacted in 1998 and temporarily renewed in 2001, 2004, and 2007, imposed a moratorium on new state and local taxes on monthly Internet access fees while preserving (“grandfathering”) existing Internet access taxes. The House Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill to eliminate the grandfather provision and permanently ban all state and local taxation of Internet access subscriptions. This represents the first time that Congress has seriously considered a permanent ban on taxing Internet service for all states, including those now using these taxes to help support public services. Rather than extend ITFA indefinitely, Congress should lift the ban and let states decide whether they and their local governments will impose their sales and telecommunications taxes on Internet access charges.

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