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June 23, 2003

Blagojevich signs bills to assist workers displaced by foreign trade to acquire federally subsidized health insurance
Those with bankrupt pension funds also can benefit

Up to 7,000 may be eligible to help pay premiums

HENNEPIN, ILL. – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that allows several thousand men and women in Illinois who have lost their jobs due to the effects of foreign trade or whose pension funds are bankrupt to obtain health insurance and have the federal government pay the majority of the premiums.

In a Steel Workers Hall here, Blagojevich inked two bills passed by the General Assembly that allow qualified individuals to acquire health insurance through the state’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) and have the federal government pay 65 percent of the monthly premiums.  Hennepin is the site of the LTV Steel plant, which closed in 2002 due to foreign competition and recently reopened at 30 percent capacity.

“I would much rather be here talking about jobs, but it is also important to assist those who are out of work due to the adverse effects of U.S. trade agreements,” the governor said.  “These bills will give those displaced workers and others whose pension funds are bankrupt the opportunity to purchase quality health insurance at an affordable price."

Blagojevich said there are approximately 7,000 individuals in Illinois who may qualify for assistance, including 1,500 steel, auto, textile and other manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign trade competition and 5,400 retirees.

“Unfortunately, there are far too many recent examples of people who lost their jobs due to foreign competition who may be eligible for health care assistance,” the governor said.

“However, I am pleased that federal and state governments have put together a program that helps workers who need short-term government assistance to help make it through a financial crisis.”

Those displaced by foreign competition include steel workers at LTV Steel, which employed 600 before the company declared bankruptcy and closed its plant here in late 2001.  The plant reopened in 2002 and employs about 150 steel workers.  Other Illinois plant closures include Bethlehem Steel, Chicago; Bridgestone-Firestone, Decatur; Laclede Steel, Alton; Burgess Norton Manufacturing, DeKalb; Butler Manufacturing, Galesburg; and Reliant Bolt and Fastener, Chicago and Rock Falls.

Most of the cost of the program, including the tax credit and program administration, will be borne by the federal government.  The state expects to receive up to $2 million in federal grants to help defray the costs of expanding the CHIP health coverage pool as well as start-up and other administrative costs associated with the program.

Workers eligible for assistance are those harmed by foreign trade and who receive benefits under expanded federal trade adjustment assistance (TAA) and retirees receiving payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) because their pension funds are insolvent.  Displaced workers can receive health premium payments from the federal government for up to two years and those receiving PBGC payments for up to 10 years, provided they are not eligible for Medicare.

The legislation signed by the governor – House Bill 3298 -- conforms the state’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) to the federal requirements to be a qualified health plan and House Bill 707 provides a one-time waiver that no eligible individual is denied the opportunity to enroll in CHIP because their health insurance lapsed for more than 63 days between Dec. 1, 2002, when the federal program became effective, and Sept. 30, 2003.

With the federal government picking up 65 percent of the premium, the average individual share would be approximately $1,750 instead of $5,000.

Individuals displaced due to foreign trade will be advised when they apply for unemployment insurance of the availability of the health care premium assistance.  Those covered by PBGC will be notified through the mail of their eligibility and receive information along with a customer contact phone number and Web site address.  In addition, CHIP will send representatives to worksites and union halls throughout the state to provide information about the programs.

House Bill 3298 was sponsored by state Reps. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley; David Leitch, R-Peoria; Robert Rita, D-Blue Island; Calvin Giles, D-Chicago; and Mike Boland, D-East Moline; and state Sens. Emil Jones, D-Chicago; Pat Welch, D-Peru; and Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline.  House Bill 707 was sponsored by state Reps. Mautino; Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago; William Delgado, D-Chicago; Monique Davis, D-Chicago; and Mary Flowers, D-Chicago; and state Sens. Welch and Bill Haine, D-Alton.


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