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In this video, Chelsea sits down to speak with Bharat Ramamurti, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and former economic advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren, about the federal economic recovery plan and how to access benefits you should be owed.

The Financial Diet site:


Well, very nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time.

Sure. I really appreciate it, and so does our community. So I had a couple of questions about this economic recovery plan.

And the focus of these questions is really the real-world application for how people can access these things. I think phrases like expanding access and things like that can often be very confusing. So my first question is about the supplements for unemployment benefits.

So first of all, is that monthly on top of the state benefits that people receive? When does that go into effect? And how do people secure it when they're filing for their unemployment?

Sure. So it's weekly. So what we are proposing is that in addition to whatever you normally get through the state unemployment system, you get a $400-a-week supplement on top of that.

Right now through about the middle of March, people are getting a $300-a-week supplement. So it'll bump up by $100 for folks. There's no requirement that you have to reapply for unemployment insurance benefits.

When that change goes into effect, it should automatically pop up the amount that you get per week after March 15. And so hopefully, it should be straightforward for people. I know that a lot of folks have had trouble accessing unemployment insurance benefits overall through their state systems.

A lot of states have a pretty big backlog on getting those benefits out the door. Part of what we're also trying to do in this bill is give a little bit of money to the states so that they can speed up that process, put it towards implementation. OK, excellent.

And when we talk about-- there was a line in the brief that I received about expanding access to behavioral health services, $4 billion is apparently being allocated for this. So how does the average person actually take advantage of that in practical terms? How does that apply?

Sure. So the way that that works is that primarily it's money that goes from the federal government to the states. Obviously, we've heard a lot about mental health problems that have cropped up during the pandemic and people staying in their homes in the quarantine.

We want to make sure that there's money available for that. The way it will be administered is that the federal government sends that money out to the various states. The states then use it to fund programs that they have that provide mental health services, behavioral health services to people.

So it's not like individuals will be able to go to a federal website to find that. It'll be state programs that they may rely on are going to get more funding. OK, so just the individual programs themselves become more effective-- Exactly. --and have more-- And they have more reach.

OK, and just in terms of maybe an example or two of the kind of programs that are being expanded through this that people can look up in their own state? Sure. So there's everything from substance abuse programs, which, again, has been a specific problem that's cropped up a lot.

Hotlines that states operate to provide mental health services, a lot of those are underfunded. Remember, part of this is also that state and local governments have seen big drops in their revenue because there's been less economic activity. And so as a result, they've often had to cut back on these types of programs at a time when we need them the most.

So what the federal government is trying to do here, what we are trying to do here is make sure that there's federal dollars available for those specific kinds of programs. OK, excellent. So I have a couple of questions about the $15 minimum wage.

So obviously, even in the past 24 hours, I feel like my questions have evolved on this. But just in terms of pure practicality, so when will this go into effect? I know there's been some debate about whether or not it's even going to be brought to the floor.

So if you could elucidate on that, what the timeline looks like, roughly, from your vantage point. And then how can workers across the country ensure that their employers are now going to comply with this? Yeah, so as you noted, there has been some debate in Congress about whether this $15 minimum wage increase can be included in this specific piece of legislation.

At the moment, it appears that for wonky procedural reasons it cannot be included. But that aside, the president is strongly supportive of a $15 minimum wage for every worker in the United States. He thinks it's a travesty that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 a year for people who would work 40 hours a week at that level.

That's a poverty wage. So he strongly supports increasing the benefits. The way that it works, according to the leading proposals on this, is that it doesn't go to $15 overnight.

There is a phase-in period where it goes from $7.25, which is what it is now, up to the $9 range and then up to the $11 range year by year until finally it gets to $15 an hour in about four years. The way that you enforce that is the way that workers can enforce any of these federal requirements. There's a set of laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act that gives workers the right to both reach out to the government and bring a suit essentially that says that workers are not complying with the requirements under this act, including a $15 minimum wage.

So there will be opportunities for that. And the federal government also has its own enforcement and oversight of those types of rules. OK, so if the $15 minimum wage is not-- and I believe right now the debate was whether or not it was going to be part of the budget reconciliation that's happening right now.

Yeah. If it's not able to be a part of that, when would be the next time that we would see this making its way through Congress? That's a good question.

I think that's something that the president and members of Congress are trying to work out right now. Could you see something right after this bill passes? Will it take a little bit longer to develop some of the details here and hash out some of the differences?

I think those discussions are happening right now. OK, so one of the lines that I-- one of the topics that I read about in the brief was, quote, "lowering or eliminating health insurance premiums." So how does that actually apply, to whom does it apply, how do you take advantage of it, et cetera? Yeah, so these are the support that's available through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, which obviously millions of people use to get health insurance.

The support that this plan provides to people is that if you make up to 150% of the poverty line, which covers millions and millions of families, you will be able to get access to health insurance on the exchange for free and that anybody else above that line we will provide subsidies so that no person pays more than 8 and 1/2% of their income towards health insurance premiums. So that's going to be a significant reduction in costs for millions and millions of people who get their health insurance through the ACA exchanges. OK, excellent.

So my last question is about the, I guess, the $1,400 stimulus checks. A lot of people just asking when are they coming? How do we ensure that we're getting them?

In what way are they dispersed? No, great question. I think part of it is when is the bill going to pass?

Assuming the bill-- knock on wood-- passes in the next week or two, we would anticipate that the checks would get out to people by the end of the month for the vast, vast majority of people. For people who have bank account on file with the federal government, so for example, if you get your tax refund through direct deposit, that money will just be direct deposited into your account probably in a week or two after the passage of the bill. For folks who we don't have that information for, it's a little bit more of a complicated process that could take some weeks beyond that.

But we anticipate that the vast majority of people will get those checks within a couple weeks of the bill passing. And what happens if people don't receive their checks or can't find them, what do they do? No, we urge people to let the IRS know.

The IRS is responsible for sending out these checks. We have a whole system in place to make sure that people who may not have gotten their direct deposit are going to get those checks as quickly as possible. There's actually millions of people who were owed a stimulus payment from the previous bill that hadn't gotten it yet when we came into office.

We've dedicated a lot of time and resources to making sure that we get those checks out to people too. It is a long process to make sure that more than 100 million households get these checks, but we are dedicating real time and energy to making sure it happens. And we encourage people to reach out and let us know if they haven't gotten their check within a couple weeks.

OK, and actually, sorry, one last thing on that note. So one question that we got about all of these increased benefits, so the extended unemployment benefits, the stimulus checks, are people taxed on these incremental and flat? And how are they taxed?

Very good question. The unemployment insurance benefits, it's an open question. That's something that Congress and the administration are going to resolve in terms of whether those benefits are going to be taxed or not.

The stimulus checks yes, those count as a form of income that is subject to the regular tax rules. I apologize for my dog. It's OK.

Thank you, though. I've been there before. Listen, working from home, goodness.

OK, well, thank you so, so much for your time. I so appreciate it. Sure thing.

Thanks. Wonderful. Thank you.