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Long IslandPolitics

Stimulus package includes a lot for Long Islanders

There's something for just about every Long Islander in the federal stimulus package expected to be approved by Congress today and signed by President Barack Obama on Monday.

The measure includes a string of income tax cuts for individuals and businesses; aid to the unemployed and vulnerable; hundreds of millions for school districts and the two county governments to save jobs and keep property taxes down; and millions for highway construction projects to put the region's heavy equipment to work.

"Bottom line, in this package, we do very, very well," New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, said last night.

"The focus in the bill is three things: education, Medicaid relief and transportation, and in those three areas New York traditionally does very, very well."

The stimulus package promises to deliver a tax break to 95 percent of Americans. Among them: The Make Work Pay federal income tax credit provides a refundable tax credit of up to $400 per worker, phasing out at $100,000 for individual filers.

It's easier to qualify for the child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. Upper middle-class families will get more protection from the Alternative Minimum Tax. State and local sales taxes on car purchases will be tax deductible.

And it provides a tuition tax credit of up to $2,500, phasing out at $90,000 in income for singles and $180,000 for married couples. It's partly refundable, so families with incomes too low to owe federal taxes could still get up to $1,000 of tuition costs back.

Long Islanders who have recently lost a job get immediate benefits: Unemployment is boosted by $25 a week, and the bill continues a program adding 33 weeks of benefits to the 26 weeks New York already provides. Tax on some unemployment benefits is suspended.

Most valuable to unemployed breadwinners: The government also picks up 60 percent of COBRA health-insurance coverage costs for up to nine months.

Those receiving food stamps will see a 13 percent boost in their allocation. There will be new money for job retraining, for Meals on Wheels and food pantries. And Social Security and disability checks will include a one-time bonus of $250.

Nassau and Suffolk counties will get some relief, thanks to a temporary boost in federal Medicaid dollars that will send an estimated $12.6 billion to the state. Nassau's share of that money is $127 million; Suffolk is to receive $135 million. The counties will use that money to fill budget gaps and avoid tax increases.

Small businesses get a variety of tax breaks and benefits, including increased expensing for investment in plants and equipment in 2009; loss carryback for small businesses, a delay in the tax on businesses that have discharged indebtedness, and incentives for hiring recently discharged unemployed veterans and youth who have been out of work and out of school.

The 50,000 Long Island commuters who receive an employee transit benefit will pay no tax on up to $230 a month in mass transit costs.

And Long Island will get an as-yet-unspecified share of several billions flowing to New York to construct highways, mass transit, railroads and airports - spending to be overseen by Gov. David A. Paterson's new stimulus czar, Tim Gilchrist.

Just how much direct aid will flow to Long Island schools had not been worked out as the legislation was analyzed last night, but Senate staff don't expect the sum will be too far from the $175 million originally projected.

Long Island will get a share of other money flowing to the state: $505 million for public housing; $20 million for homelessness programs; $96 million to hire and rehire local law enforcement personnel; $104 million in grants to local police departments; and $88 million and $439 million, respectively, for the state revolving funds for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

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