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Originally published Friday, February 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Stimulus package: What it means for hurting consumers

First-time homebuyers would receive a larger tax break. Laid-off workers would have higher unemployment benefits and new subsidies for heath insurance.

Los Angeles Times

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

And all but the wealthiest workers soon would receive a tax credit worth up to $800 a couple.

Bigger government checks — long favored by lawmakers in an ailing economy — could soon begin landing in mailboxes, and new tax breaks would be available to many families.

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

Some provisions of the bill, expected to clear the House and Senate before being sent to President Obama for his signature:

TAXPAYERS

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

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

Higher-income taxpayers would see smaller credits as the benefit is phased out. 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 designed to apply only to the wealthiest Americans, but it never was indexed for inflation, so larger numbers of taxpayers have been required to pay it.

HOUSING MARKET

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

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

The compromise bill also waives a requirement that the tax credit be repaid.

Homeowners who install new doors, windows or furnaces to make their home more energy-efficient could receive up to $1,500 back through new tax breaks.

COLLEGE STUDENTS

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

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

DOWNTURN VICTIMS

Reflecting 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, up from 26 weeks. Some people in high-unemployment states 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 percent of that premium for nine months. Individuals with annual incomes of more than $125,000 and couples with incomes greater than $250,000 would not be eligible.

Those who qualify for food stamps would see a 13.6 percent boost in what they receive.

There are 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 receive an extra check for $250.

OTHER PROGRAMS

More indirectly, millions of the nation's poorest residents would receive 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 be spared. Doctors, nurses and hospitals who often wait months for the government to pick up the tab for Medicaid patients could see some relief.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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