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Here's who will benefit from accord

Aid would flow to a majority of taxpayers, first-time home-buyers,

February 12, 2009|Noam N. Levey

WASHINGTON — First-time home-buyers would get a larger tax break. Laid-off workers would receive higher unemployment benefits and new subsidies for heath insurance.

And all but the wealthiest workers would soon get a tax credit worth as much as $800 per couple.

Bigger government checks -- long favored by lawmakers in an ailing economy -- could soon begin landing in mailboxes across the country, and new tax breaks would be available to many families, if the economic stimulus package clears Congress this week.

The $789-billion compromise worked out by House and Senate negotiators Wednesday contains a long list of new ways that Americans can get money from Washington as they struggle through the worsening recession.

Below are some provisions of the bill, which must still be approved by the House and Senate before being sent to President Obama for his signature.

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Taxpayers

For most Americans, aid would show up most directly in a simple tax credit.

Workers making less than $75,000 a year would get a $400 credit for 2009 and 2010. Couples making up to $150,000 would get $800.

Higher-income taxpayers would see smaller credits. Individuals making more than $100,000 a year and couples making more than $200,000 would not get the credit.

In addition, 24 million middle-income Americans would be spared from paying higher income taxes under the alternative minimum tax.

The tax was originally designed to apply only to the wealthiest Americans, but it was never indexed for inflation, so larger numbers of taxpayers have been required to pay it.

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Home-buyers and homeowners

First-time home-buyers could qualify for an $8,000 tax credit.

The credit is slightly larger than the $7,500 credit in existing law, but it is substantially less than a proposal in the Senate bill that would have boosted the credit to $15,000 and broadened the eligibility.

In addition, the compromise bill waives a requirement that the tax credit be repaid. The credit applies only to homes bought between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 of this year.

Homeowners who install new doors, windows or furnaces to make their home more energy efficient would be able to get as much as $1,500 back through new tax breaks.

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College students

Many people paying for college would get a $2,500 tax credit for tuition and other education-related expenses, such as books and computers.

Eligible college students would also receive higher Pell Grants, thanks to a $400 boost in the maximum grant, to $5,250.

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People affected by the downturn

Reflecting the priorities of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress, the most direct aid in the package would go to low-income people and others struggling in the economic downturn.

Millions of Americans receiving unemployment benefits would see a $25 increase in their weekly checks, up from the average benefit of $200.

Unemployment benefits would last 46 weeks under the deal, up from 26 weeks. Some people in high-unemployment states, including California, could receive benefits for 59 weeks.

People who lose a job would receive help in retaining their employer-sponsored health insurance.

Under current COBRA law, jobless workers can keep their insurance if they pay the full cost of the premium, which can exceed $1,000 a month for a family.

Under the stimulus bill, the federal government would pay 60% of that premium for nine months. Individuals who earned more than $125,000 a year and couples with incomes greater than $250,000 would not be eligible.

Those eligible for food stamps would see a 13.6% boost in what they receive.

The compromise has benefits for other people who receive government income: Disabled veterans and millions of other low-income and elderly people who rely on Supplemental Security Income would get one extra check for $250.

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Other programs

More indirectly, millions of the nation's poorest residents would get help as states use billions of dollars in new federal aid to maintain Medicaid, special education and Head Start programs.

State and local government employees, many of whom are facing layoffs as states slash budgets, may get to keep their jobs.

Doctors, nurses and hospitals that often wait months for the government to pick up the tab for Medicaid patients could see some relief.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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