The Ways and Means Committee is Dedicated to Helping Hurricane Victims

September 21, 2017 — Blog   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of this fall’s devastating hurricanes, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) is leading the Committee to provide additional resources and relief to help American families and communities impacted by these storms.

Chairman Brady released the following statement regarding the Committee’s upcoming efforts:

“This fall’s devastating hurricanes left a trail of incredible destruction through Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The road to recovery after these storms will be long and difficult, and it’s going to take a sustained effort at every level – state, local, and federal. Members of the Ways and Means Committee are taking a close look at policies and programs within our jurisdiction that can be used to provide targeted relief for Americans in need. Together with local officials and the congressional delegations of hurricane-affected areas, we are working on legislation that offers additional tools and support to help our communities rebuild stronger than ever.”

In addition to working on legislation, here is a list of hurricane relief and recovery efforts already underway in federal programs and agencies under the jurisdiction of Ways and Means and its various subcommittees:

TAX POLICY & OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEES

  • Extension of tax filing deadline: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in parts of Texas and Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have until January 31, 2018 to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments.
  • Loans and distributions from retirement plans: 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and their family members. Certain employees of public schools, non-profit organizations, and state and local governments may also be eligible for these loans and distributions.
  • Special relief to encourage leave-based charitable donations: Under a recently announced IRS program, workers may forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments their employer may make to charitable organizations providing disaster relief for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

 

HUMAN RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE

  • Regular and Disaster Unemployment Assistance: Individuals in disaster declared counties in both Florida and Texas are eligible for regular state unemployment insurance or Disaster Unemployment Assistance to cover lost jobs due to the hurricanes.
  • Emergency aid to repatriate Hurricane victims in U.S. territories: On September 11, the House passed legislation sponsored by Ways and Means Member Dave Reichert (R-WA) that increases funding to support U.S. citizens in hurricane-affected U.S. territories. Specifically, the bill provides resources to assist the thousands of Americans who relocated to another country to escape Hurricane Irma. This legislation was signed into law on September 12.

 

SOCIAL SECURITY SUBCOMMITTEE

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is taking action to ensure Americans have access to their Social Security benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income payments in the following ways:

  • Emergency replacement checks: Beneficiaries who need an emergency replacement check can visit a local Social Security field office.
  • Fees waived on Direct Express cards: For beneficiaries with Direct Express cards, Comerica will waive all fees for cardholders impacted by Hurricane Harvey, even if they have been evacuated to another area out of danger.

 

Following Hurricane Harvey, the SSA had employees onsite at FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers to assist and serve beneficiaries. These SSA employees:

  • Issued emergency replacement checks;
  • Took applications for and verified Social Security Numbers;
  • Provided benefit verifications and claims status information;
  • Took applications for benefits; and
  • Processed changes of address or living arrangement information.

 

HEALTH SUBCOMMITTEE

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has declared a public health emergency and authorized waivers and modifications to help health care providers serve Medicare beneficiaries in hurricane-affected states. These waivers and modifications have been granted for numerous Medicare programs, including but not limited to:

  • Dialysis Facilities: Nearly all facilities in the immediate hurricane-affected regions that were not yet certified to provide care for Medicare beneficiaries were designated as Special Purpose Renal Dialysis Facilities (SPRDF). In conjunction with the Kidney Community Emergency Response network, a public/private partnership, patients were able to receive their care with an increased presence of transportation.
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs): Provides temporary emergency coverage of SNF services for Medicare beneficiaries who were evacuated, transferred, or otherwise dislocated as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
  • Critical Access Hospitals: Waiver from requirements that these health care facilities limit the number of beds to 25, and that the length of stay be limited to 96 hours.
  • Prescription Drug Plans: Allows Medicare Part D enrollees to access covered Part D medications at out-of-network pharmacies when those enrollees cannot be reasonably expected to obtain their medications at a network pharmacy, and when such access is not routine. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is expected to lift their “refill-too-soon” edits. Sponsors have operational discretion as to how these edits are lifted during a disaster or emergency as long as access to Part D drugs is provided at the point-of-sale (may extend past the expiration of the declaration); and CMS is expected to allow an affected enrollee to obtain the maximum extended day supply, if requested and available at the time of refill.