Steel State Lawmakers Move to Help Steel Retirees

May 13, 2003 ( - Retirees from the badly ailing US steel industry who lose their health insurance coverage would get a helping hand from new Congressional legislation closing coverage gaps.

>The Health Care Tax Credit Enhancement and Steel Security Act of 2003 (HR 1999, S 1018) changes the health care tax credit provision tacked onto the Trade Promotion Authority Act last year, according to Washington-based legal publisher BNA.

>Under last year’s bill, workers who lose their jobs because their companies have been hard hit by competition from overseas steel producers and retirees under 65 who are receiving benefits from the federal pension insurer got a 65% advanceable, refundable health care tax credit. That credit can be used to buy certified state-based health care options. To qualify, retirees who lose their health benefits must pay their own benefits for three months before becoming eligible.   The Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) steps in to make pension payments when private sector firms with traditional defined benefit plans can no longer pay the benefits themselves.

Under the proposed legislation sponsored by members of the Congressional Steel Caucus, the eligibility date to receive the tax credit would be moved to three months prior to the termination of benefits so a retiree would become eligible immediately for the credit, rather than having to pay for health care for three months. It also would lower the age of eligibility for a PBGC pension recipient from 55 to 50 and ensure spousal coverage.

Representative Pete Visclosky (D-Indiana), the vice-chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, introduced the House bill with 75 bipartisan co-sponsors. Visclosky said the measure would help “save good-paying jobs and help retirees who have lost health benefits. We owe it to working families to do everything we can to keep them employed, and we owe it to retirees to honor, as best we can, the promises that were made by their companies. This bill will help us do both of these things.” Representative Phil English (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, also is a bill sponsor.

HR 1999 has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. HR 1999’s companion bill,   S 1018, which was introduced by Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) with four co-sponsors, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.