Eight months since President Barack Obama signed his $787 billion stimulus package (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the government has obligated only 48 percent of the money, and $214 billion in stimulus cash is still available to families, students, nonprofits, local governments and small businesses. Here are 10 ways to access funds from the stimulus package.
· Weatherize your home
If you want to make your home more energy efficient, the stimulus package sets aside $5 billion for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. The average family can make up to $6,500 in energy efficiency upgrades. It’s available to everyone who makes under 200 percent of the federal poverty leve—about $44,000 a year for a family of four. Contact your state energy office, which will refer you to a local nonprofit who will visit your house and do an energy audit before carrying out the work.
· Get Extended Unemployment Benefits
As a result of the Recovery Act, everyone on unemployment will be receiving $25 extra each week. The stimulus package also suspends federal income tax on the first $2,400 in unemployment compensation that unemployed workers collect in 2009. The stimulus package also extends by 13 weeks the amount of time an unemployed worker can receive cash assistance.
· Get the Government to Pay Your Health Insurance
If you’re laid off from your job between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 and you had health insurance with your old employer, the government will pay 65 percent of your health insurance premiums for nine months. This COBRA subsidy is available to most laid-off workers with a family income of under $250,000—although in many states it does not extend to companies with fewer than 20 workers. Submit a claim for benefits with your health plan. The Department of Labor web site on COBRA and the Recovery Act has information. http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/cobra.html
· Buy an Appliance and Get $200
Buy an Energy Star-qualified appliance and get up to $200. Dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines are covered by the Recovery Act’s $300 million grant to the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program. Details of how the program will be administered by each state are still being ironed out.
· Buy a House and Get $8,000
If you’re a first time home buyer—or if you buy a house and have not owned your own home for at least three years—the IRS will send you a check for $8,000. All you have to do is fill out an IRS Form 5405 and include an amended copy of your 2008 tax return. Then, in about six weeks, the IRS will send you a check in the mail. This credit applies to purchases that close after April 8, 2008, and before Dec. 1, 2009.
· Get a Small Business Loan
The American Recovery Capital loan program offers interest-free loans of up to $35,000 to help businesses with existing debt for up to six months. The loans carry a 100 percent guaranty from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to the lender, and require no fees paid to SBA.
· Get Money for College
The Recovery Act appropriated $17 billion for Pell Grants, which increased the amount of money for each grant from $4,850 to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. You can apply for this benefit with your campus financial aid office. There’s also a new American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500, which can be used for education-related expenses and an additional $200 million for work-study programs to help students find jobs on campus.
· Get Trained for a Green Job
The Recovery Act sets aside a large pot of money for green jobs training in environmentally sustainable fields. The advocacy group Green for All has put together a Recovery Resource Center that lists opportunities created by the stimulus. http://www.greenforall.org/get-involved/green-recovery-for-all/resources
· Get Help Paying Your Transit Bill
Under the Recovery Act, you can set aside up to $230 a month from your paycheck tax-free for the cost of commuting to work on public transit (the previous benefit was $120 a month). Your employer must enroll in the program for you to claim this benefit. Tell your boss or supervisor they’ll also save money because they won’t have to pay payroll tax on the money you spend on your commute.
If you’re having trouble putting food on the table, you can get more money for groceries from the federal government. Families eligible for Food Stamps can receive on average $80 more per month because of the Recovery Act.
Aaron Glantz is an editor at New America Media.