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Reed, Whitehouse outline stimulus impact on state

By:  Neil Downing
Providence Journal

NORTH PROVIDENCE — More than 138,000 retired Rhode Islanders would receive a special, one-time payment of $300 apiece if the Senate’s proposed economic stimulus legislation is enacted, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said yesterday.

Altogether, the bill would deliver one-time payments totaling more than $40 million to adults in Rhode Island who are receiving Social Security benefits and certain other types of benefits, Whitehouse said. The payments could come as soon as late spring, he said.

Whitehouse offered a brief description of the one-time payments during a meeting at North Providence Town Hall.

He and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed visited North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi to outline the potential benefits of the economic stimulus legislation that is being debated in Washington.

A congressional conference committee will have to be formed to hammer out differences between the version approved by the House last week and one that is under consideration now by the Senate, Reed said. A vote on the final version could come by Presidents’ Day, Feb. 16, Reed said.

“We have to revive this economy,” Reed said on the steps of North Providence Town Hall. “We have to move quickly and dramatically.”

One year ago, former President Bush signed into law economic legislation that resulted in the delivery of one-time payments — known as rebates — to millions of American taxpayers.

Many seniors and others on fixed incomes were eligible, too, but had to file a tax return to claim the sums due them.

This time around, Social Security beneficiaries would not have to take action to claim their one-time payments; the payments would be added, for one month, to the amount they ordinarily receive in Social Security benefits, Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse pushed to include this provision to make the payments more convenient and accessible for recipients.

The one-time payments would help boost the nation’s economy because seniors would “spend this money quickly,” Whitehouse said yesterday.

In general, a Social Security beneficiary who is single would receive $300; a married couple, with both spouses collecting Social Security benefits, would receive a total of $600, he said.

The proposed one-time payments illustrate the differences that exist between the Senate and House on how to proceed with this year’s federal economic stimulus effort.

A version under consideration in the Senate would generally make the one-time payments to adults who are eligible for Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, or certain veterans benefits, according to a report issued last week by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.

Payments would also be made to most of those eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI is a program that generally pays benefits to those with little income and few resources.

SSI beneficiaries were excluded from last year’s rebate program. This time around, both the House and Senate would include one-time payments to SSI beneficiaries. About 31,000 Rhode Islanders collect SSI benefits, according to Social Security Administration figures.

But the version approved last week by the House would make one-time payments only to SSI beneficiaries; the Senate version would broaden the program by making one-time payments also available to beneficiaries of the Social Security, Railroad Retirement and veterans programs.

Also yesterday, Reed and Whitehouse said that the Senate version would deliver federal aid for Rhode Island to create jobs and invest in schools, roads, and public works projects, including the following:

•About $220 million this year to help local school systems and local governments pay for critical services.

•$132 million for road and bridge repair.

•$46 million to improve drinking water and sewer systems.

•$12 million for weatherization assistance.

•$7 million for police departments

•A share of at least $2.1 billion in energy-efficiency grants that, among other things, could be used to retrofit public buildings.

•A tax credit, targeted at workers, of up to $500 per individual, up to $1,000 per family.

•Additional benefits for the unemployed.

Lombardi said that he would use funds from the measure to help rebuild roads, prevent flooding and make needed repairs to schools and other public buildings.

He characterized the aid as a “shot in the arm.” But he cautioned that the legislation would not solve long-term problems.