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If you have friends or family who may have been affected by today’s tornadoes, please share these tips on how to stay safe after a tornado from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Get Ready For the New Health Insurance Marketplaces

Health Insurance Marketplaces are a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that can help you get health insurance regardless of income or health history. You can start exploring your options now, enroll in October, and start taking advantage of the benefits of your state Health Insurance Marketplace beginning in January 2014.

People looking for health insurance can shop and compare plans through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as healthcare exchanges. The Health Insurance Marketplace will help you find insurance plans that cover medical services including preventive care, medicines, doctor and hospital visits.

Now is the time to learn about how they work, how to prepare for open enrollment, and what kind of insurance options are available to you right now.

The New Health Insurance Marketplace

Each state will have its own Health Insurance Marketplace, which you can access online (some are already available). The exchanges are designed to help you:

  • Figure out how to compare and get healthcare insurance even if you have a pre-existing condition or chronic health problem
  • Find the insurance plan that fits your budget. Some people might qualify for free or low-cost health insurance
  • Understand the enrollment process in a way that’s easy to read

Enrollment Begins October of 2013

The enrollment process begins October 1. But you can prepare by doing the following:

  • Individuals and families:
  • Get to know the different healthcare plans available in your state if the exchange has already been set up. Specifically, make sure you understand how the deductibles and co-pays work
  • Ask your employer if she plans to offer health insurance
  • Prepare a list of questions about your health coverage
  • Small business owners:
  • Get to know the different healthcare plans available so that you understand the differences in costs and services
  • Set a budget based on how much both you and your employees will spend on health insurance
  • Set a date to begin offering coverage that works best for your business and your employees

Your Insurance Options Now

You don’t have to wait until 2014 to get health coverage. There are several public programs available for families, including Medicare, Medicaid and low-cost insurance programs for children and adults.

HealthCare.gov has a tool to help you find insurance. You just need to answer a few questions about where you live and your current job situation.

What You Need to Know about ‘Deferred Action’

Some immigrants who were brought to the country as children can now apply for deferred action, a program that allows you to remain in the country and apply for work permits.

The program has strict requirements and includes filing several forms, as well as a background check and evidence of eligibility. Here are the basics of the program, and links to official government information for more details.

What Is Deferred Action (And What Isn’t)

Deferred action allows certain people who were brought to the United States as children to remain here and apply for renewable two-year work permits. It does not give beneficiaries a path to citizenship or lawful permanent residency. The program will remain in effect at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security.

Who Can Benefit from the Program

To qualify for the program, you must be under 31 years as of June 15, 2012 and arrived in the United States before turning 16. You must also undergo a background check to show that you did not commit certain types of crimes. The program is also open to certain people who are currently under deportation proceedings. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency in charge of implementing the program, has a list of the requirements for deferred action (PDF).

How the Application Process Works

To apply, you must file three forms:

  • 821D to request deferred action
  • I-765 to apply for employment authorization
  • I-765WS, a worksheet to establish the applicant’s employment needs

The total cost of applying is $465. Where to apply depends on where you live. See USCIS to find out where to send a deferred action application and follow these filing tips.

Application Errors Can Be Costly

Be careful not to make mistakes when applying for deferred action. Errors might delay the process or worse; it might result in the denial of an application. Although there is a process to reconsider applications denied due to certain mistakes, USCIS’s decisions are final, and cannot be appealed. Applicants who misrepresent themselves on the applications to benefit from deferred action will be considered a high priority for deportation.

Scammers Are Promising Quick Processing Times

Scammers might promise expedited processing of deferred action for a fee. Applicants should know that this program does not offer expedited processing. The best way to avoid scams is by only trusting official government information. Applicants who need legal advice can find an accredited immigration attorney and other legal services at USCIS.

For more information on deferred action visit USCIS.gov or call 1 (800) 375-5283.

What is the Debt Limit?

The federal government can borrow money to pay its bills, just like taking out a loan. The debt limit is the maximum amount that Congress allows the government to borrow, similar to the credit limit on a credit card. The government will exceed the current debt limit of $14.3 trillion dollars on August 2 unless Congress votes to raise the limit before that date.

Raising the debt limit would let the government borrow enough money to pay bills that it already owes, such as Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, and tax refunds. It does not mean that the government has decided to spend more money.

According to the U.S. Treasury, “Failing to increase the debt limit would have catastrophic economic consequences. It would cause the government to default on its legal obligations – an unprecedented event in American history. That would precipitate another financial crisis and threaten the jobs and savings of everyday Americans.”

This isn’t the first time that the government has reached its debt limit. The limit has been raised, extended, or revised 78 times since 1960.

Learn more about the debt limit from the U.S. Treasury.