Unemployment benefits and a Social Security payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the year should be extended, Maine lawmakers said last week.

“If they aren’t extended, 6,100 people in Maine alone (in January) would lose their unemployment benefits and thousands more would have less from their paychecks to spend at local stores,” says Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

But reaching agreement on how to do that when lawmakers return this week from Thanksgiving break might not be easy for a divided Congress.

The supercommittee’s failure to reach a debt-reduction deal figures into the problem. Many lawmakers were counting on the extensions being included in at least $1.2 trillion in savings the committee was supposed to come up with, but members couldn’t agree on a plan.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said the key, since many lawmakers don’t want to add to the deficit, is where the money comes from.

“Both of these things promote economic growth and job creation while at the same time helping those in need,” Michaud said in a statement. “I support ensuring they continue, but my vote will depend on the details of how the extensions are structured.”

GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said “lawmakers must work in earnest to find agreement on these matters, including ways to pay for them.”

HELPING SENIORS SPOT FRAUD

A Maine program that helps seniors avoid being victimized by Medicare fraud will continue its work with the help of a federal grant awarded last week.

The $88,750 grant for the Senior Medicare Patrol program run by the state’s Office of Elder Services pays for a staff position, recruitment and training for more than 50 volunteers who teach seniors how to spot fraud, such as being overbilled for medication, or billing mistakes.

Most of the volunteers are seniors themselves, said Patrick Adams, manager of community programs for the Maine Office of Elder Services. The goal is to cut down on costs to taxpayers and money lost by Medicare beneficiaries, he said.

The program also helps seniors deal with telephone fraud and other consumer scams outside Medicare, including identity theft. It is successful enough that it has begun to address Medicaid fraud as well, Adams said.

Maine’s grant was part of $9 million distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services for similar initiatives nationwide.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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