Welcome to MLPB's COVID-19 Digital Digest. Our team has created this open-access tool to help workforce colleagues navigate law and policy changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended to provide guidance and problem-solving strategies to address a range of key HRSN needs.  

This tool:

  • Distills major federal (nation-wide) themes in resources, benefits and legal protections.
  • Curates high-level, evolving information and identifies expert resources in key domains of HRSN, through the lens of two states – MA and RI – where MLPB does extensive work.

Some guidelines to help you get the most out of this tool: 

  • The Bulletin = pressing, need to know information, often with upcoming deadlines.
  • The Basics = MLPB's curation of key developments in law and policy.
  • The Breakdown = MLPB's translation of these developments into plain language interpretations of what these changes mean for areas of HRSN need.
  • The Bottom Line = Based on MLPB’s expertise, the essential takeaways needed to navigate the HRSN domain of interest
  • Last-reviewed Timestamps = MLPB routinely reviews content and updates information as appropriate. 
  • Feedback: Please get in touch! Email Content Lead Franny Zhang at fzhang@mlpboston.org.

Exclaim This information is for educational purposes only; nothing in it should be construed as legal advice. 

© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks

The Bulletin

 


Click below to navigate to a topic of interest!  

Education_Childcare   Employment + SB   Food_Income InsecurityHealth Insurance Housing Instability  Immigration   IPV   Mental Health   Transportation Needs-1 Utility NeedsVA  WTD


Education_Childcare

Headline: The ED’s Distance Education and Innovation rule will go into effect on July 1, 2021. The rule shifts the focus of remote learning from a learning-time model to a competency-based model.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

US Dept. of Ed (ED) COVID-19 Info

The Breakdown:

The Bottom Line:

  • The final distance learning regulations will be published after the ED has a chance to review public comments and incorporate their final changes into the regulations. Menu

Employment

Headline: The US Department of Labor issued new regulations effective September 16, 2020 that clarify who is eligible for paid leave from work under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and what is required of employees in order to get approved for FFCRA leave. Importantly, a large category of healthcare employees had been excluded previously, and the new regulations make it clear that only healthcare employees who provide direct patient care are excluded.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2:00pm, September 23, 2020

Paid Leave

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Dept. of Labor (DOL) COVID-19 Resources

2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) COVID-19  

The Breakdown:

  • FFCRA makes paid sick leave more available to many employees.
  • FFCRA applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. Larger employers may offer benefits voluntarily but it's not required by law.
  • FFCRA applies to companies with fewer than 50 employees but these businesses may not have to pay for leave caused by school closing or childcare unavailability if they request to be excused (“waiver”), AND the waiver request is approved.
  • Many employees will NOT benefit from FFCRA due to these limitations.
  • While there are still limitations including those referenced above, the new DOL regulations that went into effect on September 16, 2020 include many healthcare employees that might have been excluded previously, because now the exclusion only applies narrowly to workers involved in direct patient care. The new regulations also clarify when employees are required to get permission to take intermittent leave. Leave necessary to care for children when schools implement remote learning on a part-time basis ("hyrbid models") is NOT considered intermittent leave requiring employer permission.
  • WorkLife Law at University of California Hastings College of the Law provides a clear analysis of the benefits and the limits of FFCRA.

The Bottom Line:

  • Workers will need to learn what benefits they have through work – this is a good time to outreach to Human Resources for clarification. This will help workers determine how much FCCRA protection and other paid time off will cover any work missed for COVID-19-related reasons.
  • The DOL’s new regulations are useful for employees seeking to take paid-time off due to COVID-19-related care-giving responsibility: they clarify that many previously excluded healthcare workers are eligible for FFCRA leave, and they also clarify the process for taking intermittent leave.
  • As more states begin reopening businesses, there may be conflict between employees concerned about a safe return to work, and employers eager to resume business. Some federal laws offer protection, but the rules have exceptions, and are not easy to enforce.  Local coalitions for occupational safety and health may have information on advocacy and resources to address this concern.

Unpaid Leave

The Basics:

  • The DOL has new guidance regarding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Under FMLA, eligible workers can receive job-protected unpaid leave to address their own illness or to provide caregiving to a close family member. Employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year may be eligible whether their issue is related to COVID-19 or another health issue.
  • Employment discrimination based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. If employment discrimination for these or other reasons is experienced, a complaint can be filed with the EEOC, telephonically or electronically. Also visit state and local anti-discrimination agencies’ websites for COVID-19-related non-discrimination information and practical updates.

The Breakdown:

  • Existing FMLA protections are available in addition to FFCRA. FMLA allows more time off without the risk of losing one’s job, though FMLA itself does not provide paid leave.

The Bottom Line:

  • Human Resources can clarify whether workers have any specific insurance policies, such as short-term disability leave, which may provide coverage if an employee needs to miss work due to COVID-19-related illness.
  • Though many employers may benefit from legislation that makes money available, furloughs and layoffs are still happening and likely will continue.
  • It is illegal to choose candidates for furlough or lay off based on a person’s membership in groups considered to be at higher risk for COVID-19-related illness or caregiving responsibility.

Job Loss

The Basics:

  • If a job is lost due to COVID-19, Unemployment Insurance may be available. Some requirements have been suspended.
  • The CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020 authorized states to award unemployment benefits to self-employed workers: an important and less protected sector of the workforce that includes independent contractors and “gig economy” workers. It also increases the amount of benefits and how long they last. All full- and part-time employees are eligible if they have worked for the employer for at least 30 days. Visit state unemployment agency websites for the latest COVID-19-related information and practical updates.
  • Some states’ applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding have been approved to supplement unemployment benefits, but only a few hundred dollars a week for about 6 weeks. Check with the local unemployment agency to learn more about this Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program. It appears that the funding will run out soon across the country, spotlighting the need for deeper federal funding legislation.
  • Employment discrimination based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. If employment discrimination for these or other reasons is experienced, a complaint can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC), telephonically or electronically. Also visit state and local anti-discrimination agencies’ websites for COVID-19-related non-discrimination information and practical updates.
  • The federal Department of Labor issued a disability and language access Advisory on May 11, 2020, which affirms that Unemployment Insurance agencies must make services available to people in ways that provide equal access regardless of disability or limited English proficiency.
  • Scams involving identity theft used for fraudulent unemployment applications is leading to increased demands on claimants to verify identity, and delays in application approval. This slows the process for people who need and have a right to prompt payment of benefits. Employment law advocates across the country are strategizing about how to assure benefits are payed promptly as required by law, despite the impact of the scam on a system already under pressure.

The Breakdown:

  • The CARES Act increases and extends unemployment benefits for eligible workers, including some self-employed workers who were not eligible under pre-COVID-19 unemployment benefits programs. CARES Act benefits coverage depends on how it is implemented at the state level. Check state government websites for updates.
  • Note: Being called an Independent Contractor does not mean a person is an independent contractor! Learn more about who is classified as an Independent Contractor.
  • Responses to the Unemployment Scams may vary state to state, with some states, like Washington, filing a law suit against the agency administering Unemployment Insurance benefits.  Washington’s law suit challenges how the agency has halted people’s benefits during fraud investigation. Consider contacting local worker advocacy groups and elected officials for guidance and support as efforts evolve to address both the fraud schemes and resulting delays in issuing legitimate benefits.
  • The COVID-19-related changes to unemployment rules are complicated, and after administering benefits for a few months, state agencies sought clarification from the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL recently published some answers to these questions, which are linked here. While some questions and answers are quite technical, there are also a number of questions and answers that are clear and may be useful in problem-solving.
  • Advocacy is needed for legislation that provides more stable income replacement than the FEMA-funded LWA program provided (just a few hundred dollars for a few weeks supplementing unemployment insurance.) The final weekly payment of $600 through Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) ended July 25, 2020, but the need for it has not expired.

The Bottom Line:

  • For workers who lose their jobs, state-level departments of unemployment assistance have made CARES Act implementation plans for self-employed people like Independent Contractors and gig workers.
  • Though many employers may benefit from legislation that makes money available, furloughs and layoffs are still happening and likely will continue.
  • It is illegal to choose candidates for layoff based on a person’s membership in groups considered to be at higher risk for COVID-19-related illness or caregiving responsibility, or to use COVID-19 layoffs as an excuse (pretext) for intentional discrimination against a group the employer is prejudiced against.
  • To restore FPUC-type benefits (the $600 unemployment supplement) through legislation like the HEROES Act, contact local employee rights groups to join in advocacy.Menu


Food_Income Insecurity

Headline: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide for individuals who have not yet received their EIP. Adults who receive certain social security and VA benefits should have automatically received a one-time $1200 Economic Impact Payment (EIP). These same adults have until September 30, 2020 to use the non-filer tool to request an additional $500 EIP for each of their qualifying children. If they miss the deadline, they will have another opportunity to file in January 2021.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Food & Nutrition Service COVID-19 Response

2. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Coronavirus Tax Relief

3. Social Security Administration (SSA) COVID-19 Updates

4. US Dept of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Public Health

The Breakdown:

  • Changes in USDA programs will look different state-to-state.
  • The CARES Act included a one-time tax rebate for individuals and families. The IRS has an online portal where individuals and families can check the status of their tax rebate.
  • Adults who receive certain social security and VA benefits should have automatically received a one-time $1200 Economic Impact Payment (EIP). These same adults have until September 30, 2020 to use the non-filer tool to request an additional $500 EIP for each of their qualifying children. If they miss the deadline, they will have another opportunity to file in January 2021.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a guide for individuals who have not yet received their EIP.

The Bottom Line:

  • Sharing reliable, up-to-date information about the changing resource landscape with families is key to optimizing household income and increasing food stability. Menu

Health Insurance

Headline: Don’t miss a health insurance special enrollment period A few states are allowing people to secure public health insurance during a time-limited window, due to COVID-19. Some deadlines linked in the article above have been extended but all expire mid-to late-September.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00pm, September 9, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)

 2. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Current Emergencies

  • Don’t miss a health insurance special enrollment period Several states are allowing people to secure public health insurance during a time-limited window, due to COVID-19. Click on the links in the article linked above – some deadlines have been extended but all will expire soon.
  • CMS has stated that people who purchased catastrophic health insurance through state health insurance exchanges will be covered for COVID-19 care and will not have to pay deductibles first.
  • USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has made it clear that the new public charge rule will not apply to testing, treatment or preventive care for COVID-19.
  • CVS plans to expand COVID-19 testing locations across the country in May, 2020. Click here for testing locations.

The Breakdown:

  • More people will be able to enroll in health coverage and access care including COVID-19 testing and medication.

The Bottom Line

  • Some states have applied for Waivers, a type of federal permission to innovate care delivery. Waivers can be used in many flexible ways, such as new places where care can be provided; fast ways for out-of-state clinicians to get permission to provide care; and quick methods to get Medicaid coverage approved.
  • If approved by the federal government, Waivers will expand the healthcare system’s toolbox for delivering care when and where it’s needed under crisis conditions. Some of the federal government’s responses to Waiver requests are available state-by state here and here.
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Housing Instability

Headline: The National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a nationwide eviction moratorium protecting most tenants experiencing financial hardship, that took effect September 4, 2020 through at least December 31, 2020! (The provisions of even more protective local moratoria are still in effect.) For multilingual information about the required tenant declaration, click here.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 2:30pm, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. HUD COVID-19 Resources & Fact Sheets

2. Veterans Affairs FAQ

3. National Housing Law Project (NHLP)

  • Recognizing that the CARES Act protections expired, the CDC has issued a nationwide eviction moratorium protecting most tenants experiencing financial hardship, scheduled to take effect September 4, 2020 through at least December 31, 2020! Details about the CDC Eviction Moratorium are in the above link. The provisions of even more protective moratoria, such as in Massachusetts, are still in effect. However the CDC Eviction Moratorium is currently scheduled to last longer, and applies to all tenants who present a signed declaration to their landlords
  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a list of state Eviction and Foreclosure moratoria.
  • The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has assembled a state-level overview of COVID-19-related eviction laws (ranked by tenant-protectiveness), as well as resources for tenants in need, and opportunities to engage in advocacy for stronger tenant protections.
  • The CARES Act creates a 4-month moratorium (through late July) on filing new eviction cases for non-payment in federal subsidized housing – including “LIHTC”/tax credit and Section 8 housing.
  • Housing discrimination – including eviction or refusal to rent – based on national origin or race, age, gender, or the perception that one has a disability, is illegal. If discrimination is experienced for these or other reasons, one option is to file a complaint with HUD telephonically or electronically. This website also provides information on “substantially equivalent” state and local fair housing investigation and enforcement programs that can accept and process complaints of housing discrimination.
  • HUD again extended until at least December 31, 2020 its suspension of foreclosures only (not evictions) from single family homes that have mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration.   The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) again extended its moratorium on both foreclosure and eviction from single family homes that have mortgages through “Fannie Mae” or “Freddie Mac.” These are positive but narrow protections.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also offer a 12-month forbearance (delay in payments being due, without interest or penalties). Other payment-stabilizing deferral options for eligible borrowers impacted by COVID-19 are available, and it’s easy to look up whether a loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
  • The VA “encourages” lenders and servicers to be flexible with borrowers impacted by COVID-19, but the relief is not mandated, unfortunately.

The Breakdown:

  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures a protection against non-payment eviction through December 31, 2020 for most tenants nationwide. For information including the tenant declaration required to get the federal eviction moratorium’s protection (in several languages), click here.
  • Because the federal eviction moratorium is so new, advocates are still learning what strategies will be needed to make sure people’s rights are respected and the law is enforced effectively.
  • The limited federal protections, described above, may be extended. They do not create debt forgiveness, but they offer debt delay – still a valuable safety net during this crisis.
  • Meanwhile, many states, cities, towns, and regional and local housing authorities are implementing their own additional protections.
  • Check with local housing organizations for up-to-date information.

The Bottom Line:

  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures a protection through December 31, 2020. for most tenants nationwide, against non-payment eviction
  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures protection against eviction for non-payment of rent through December 31, 2020. Click here for more information about it. Most importantly: be aware that in order for people to exercise their rights under the CDC’s eviction moratorium, tenants must prepare a specific written statement and give it to their landlord. Click here for multilingual information.
  • Advocacy groups like NLIHC are pushing for legislation to expand and extend moratoria on eviction, foreclosure, subsidy termination, and other threats to shelter stability. NILCH’s top priorities for the next new law to address COVID-19 were included in a bill that passed the federal House of Representatives this spring, but did not pass the Senate: the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. If eventually passed, the HEROES Act would provide a national, uniform moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help keep renters stably housed; $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants to prevent and respond to outbreaks among people experiencing homelessness; Nearly $13 billion in funding for housing programs at HUD and USDA. National Low Income Housing Coalition is a useful resource to follow progress and opportunities for advocacy to promote the kind of relief bill needed to assure housing stability nationwide as the pandemic continues and in the aftermath.
  • Lots of work is being conducted by phone, and voicemail boxes are often full. Finding email addresses through colleagues and communities of practice may be an effective problem-solving technique. Menu

Immigration

Headline: USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. National Immigration Law Center: COVID-19 & Healthcare

2. Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

3. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

  • Most USCIS field offices and asylum offices have reopened. Visitors must follow this policy. Naturalization ceremonies have also resumed.
  • Immigration Courts have different operational statuses. Case information is available onlinewith a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or by calling the Executive Office of Administration Review at 1-800-898-7180.
  • MLRI is tracking COVID-related immigration orders. Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status.
  • USCIS can use the new public charge rule to decide legal permanent resident (“green card”) applications in all states.
The Breakdown
  • The US will not allow entry to foreign nationals who have been in China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, or Brazil within the past 14 days. As a result, many may find it difficult to enter the country, or may find it difficult to re-enter upon leaving.
  • The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has a reference sheet outlining immigrant eligibility for COVID-19 supports created by federal legislation.

The Bottom Line

    • These changes make an uncertain time even more uncertain for immigrant populations. Families with questions about public charge should connect with immigration experts to have their specific questions and needs evaluated.

 

Public Charge

Headline: The Executive Office for Immigration Review has information regarding the status of various courts online, and many courts reopened on June 15, 2020

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:30am September 2, 2020

 

The basics:

Key Resources

1. Natl Immigration Law Center

2. Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

3 U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS)

  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) closed all public-facing offices until June 3, 2020. On June 4, 2020, some offices partially reopened with specific COVID-related rules. More details about the changes are available here
  • The Executive Office for Immigration Review has information regarding the status of various courts online, and many courts reopened on June 15, 2020. Case information is available online with a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or also call the Executive Office of Administration Review hotline (1-800-898-7180) to request updated information. 
  • Both the northern and southern U.S. border are currently closed for tourist travel, and will remain closed at least through July 21, 2020.There are several travel locations that are currently banned for foreign nationals as well (including Iran, most states in the European Union, and the United Kingdom and Ireland). Beginning on May 24, 2020, this list also includes Brazil.
  • Many of the recent orders issued have implications for refugee and asylee status.
  • MLRI, a MA-based organization, has compiled a comprehensive federal law ‘living document which tracks all federal COVID-related immigration orders by date a helpful tool.
  • Many groups have that can provide additional financial supports to populations unable to access other assistance right now – such as immigrant families:
  • USCIS has made it clear that the new public charge rule will not apply to:
    • Testing, treatment or preventative care for COVID-19
    • WIC, school breakfast/lunch programs, food pantries
    • Disaster relief
    • Emergency health insurance
    • Remember: the new public charge rule does not apply to naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents (“green card holders”), asylum seekers, refugees, VAWA recipients, U-Visa holders, T-Visa holders, or those with Temporary Protected Status. 
  • The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has put out a quick reference sheet outlining immigrant eligibility for COVID-19 supports created by federal legislation.
  • The President issued an executive order that limits who may be granted new travel visas to enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents during the COVID crisis. The decree will ban entry of new lawful permanent residents for at least sixty days, but exceptions exist for applicants already in the United States, medical workers, farmworkers, and the spouses of U.S. citizens and their children under 21. 

The breakdown

  • Many immigration case proceedings are paused, and this leaves many individuals and families in limbo.
  • Forms of COVID-19 medical attention should be safely accessible without public charge implications. This is an area of uncertainty and frequent change, but updates can be tracked at the websites noted above.
  • Many non-citizen individuals outside the U.S. borders may find it difficult to enter the country, or may find it difficult to re-enter upon leaving.

The bottom line

  • These changes make an uncertain time even more uncertain for immigrant populations.
  • Many decisions and proclamations are issued in thirty-day or sixty-day intervals, which means changes may occur as those intervals draw to a close. Menu


IPV

Headline: More physical distancing from the outside world, can mean less physical distancing between victims and perpetrators: safety planning resources offer vital texting options to address this COVID-19 barrier to outreach. The National DV hotline  offers a chat option.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, September 15, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Futures Without Violence

2. National Domestic Violence Chat Hotline

3. Police Accountability Project

  • Interpersonal safety resources address domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, older adults, and persons with disabilities.
  • Even when local courts are closed, safeguards may be in place to ensure that emergency orders can be issued for instances of domestic violence, elder neglect or abuse, child neglect or abuse, and neglect or abuse of persons with disabilities.
  • Congress authorized additional hotline and shelter funding in the CARES Act, recognizing the increased demand for and adaptation required of these systems during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Check with individual community-based organizations to learn how they are operating during the crisis.
  • In case of emergency, call 911.

The Breakdown:

  • Social/physical distancing limitations control IPV victims’ movement in ways that may be triggering and endangering. Safety planning requires different focus and tools in these times, and it is more important than ever to connect with organizations best equipped to empower victims using adapted best-practices.
  • Essential safety services through police and courts should be functioning in most places. However, for many victims these resources may not be good, sufficient, or safe options.  The above-referenced resources are available instead of or in addition to court or police, and they  include an interactive on-line safety planning tool.
  • Police brutality is an interpersonal safety issue. Police have the responsibility and power to protect people.  That same power can be dangerous, sometimes lethal, especially when fueled by racism and other prejudice like homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. While this is not a pathway to emergency response, the National Lawyers Guild can be a resource: Police Accountability Project. 
  • The above-referenced resources are available instead of or in addition to court or police, and they include an interactive on-line safety planning tool

 The Bottom Line:

  • Local community-based organizations have been mobilizing to address these new challenges – both to maintaining protective services for current clients, and initiating new investigations relating to suspicion of neglect or abuse.
  • Outreach from time to time to learn of new resources and evolving best-practices. Each state may name its agencies differently and asking colleagues in the field or searching a state or city/town website may help locate the agency charged with addressing abuse or neglect of persons with disabilities, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, or elder abuse. Below are some national organizations that list resources for victims of abuse:

Mental Health

Headline: The CDC estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, September 15, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

APA COVID-19 Resources for Providers, Families, & Community Leaders

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes that the COVID-19 outbreak has had an impact on the mental health of many Americans. A recent CDC report estimates that in late June, 40% of American adults experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use issues due to the COVID pandemic.
  • Mental Health America has put together some COVID-19 resources designed to help people cope with staying at home and managing pandemic-related anxiety.
  • Some employers may offer special support program such as Employment Assistance Programs. Check with individual employers for more information.
  • Many mental health providers are offering telehealth support to remain available during this difficult time.
  • The Mental Health America Hotline provides text-based services. Text MHA to 741741.
  • SAMHSA has a Disaster Distress Hotline that operates 24/7 to support people experiencing difficulties related to the pandemic. The number is 1-800-985-5990.

The Breakdown

The Bottom Line

  • It is understandable and normative to struggle with the new routines and process created by the pandemic, to say nothing of the difficulties created by the virus itself. Resources remain available to help anyone having difficulty with this challenging time.

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Transportation Needs-1

Headline: The US Department of State issued country-specific advisories for international travelers. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

Federal Transit Administration COVID-19

  • The US Department of State issued country-specific advisories for international travelers. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

 The Breakdown:

  • Before traveling internationally, travelers should check for guidance from the US Department of State. Before traveling between states, travelers should check for guidance from each state that they plan to enter.

 The Bottom Line

  • Federal and state policies that restrict travel will continue to change in response to national and local needs.Menu

 


Utility Needs

Headline: Fall has arrived: some states have special utility consumer protections related to COVID-19 that will be increasingly necessary as heat bills climb. Even in states without pandemic programs, there may be general utility consumer protections that require customers to take specific actions. Now is a good time to look into these options. NCLC compiles a nationwide list of Consumer Protections during COVID-19 , and here is a nationwide list of general utility consumer protections.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman called upon internet companies to “go above and beyond” the no-disconnections pledge that expired earlier this summer. Here is list of free and discounted internet services offered by some companies, and here is another similar list. This is especially important as children return to school and require internet service for remote learning.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:00pm, September 23, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) Consumer Protections

2. National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) Utility Shutoff Suspensions

3. Everyone On - low cost connectivity resources during COVID-19

Telephone and Internet Equity

  • Some major cell phone providers have made “pledges” not to disconnect customers.
  • The “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, expired June 30, 2020. Hopefully it will be extended but we have not heard of any extension yet, apart from the FCC Chairman’s call for companies to “go above and beyond the pledge.” If any of the hundreds of companies that had honored the Pledge now begin to disconnect consumers for non-payment, they still have to follow written notice and other rules.
  • Now is also good time to explore the kinds of telephone and internet resources and protections that are generally available to low-income households. For example, the FCC has taken action to raise awareness about the Nation-wide Lifeline Program for affordable telephone or internet service, a benefit for which many consumers may be newly eligible during the pandemic, as well as free and low-cost services that some companies are providing voluntarily.

Home Energy Utilities:

  • On May 8, 2020, the Federal Government announced its state-by-state allocations of supplemental Fuel Assistance funding as provided in the CARES Act. Each state’s allocation is listed  
    While little has happened at the federal level to protect gas and electric service from disconnection, this supplementary funding may help financially struggling households to access some additional money to defray home energy expenses.
  • It is important to visit local Community Action Programs (CAP) for information about how to apply: some may have extended spring deadlines for applications during the 2019-2020 heating season. A list is available
  • Any specific protections against utility disconnections are managed at the state level, or by the voluntary commitments of gas and electric companies. The NEADA link, above, curates information about gas and electricity protections by state.

Water

The Bottom Line

  • Where shut-off protections or voluntary pledges have been made in response to States of Emergency declared at state levels, disconnections of utility service may begin again when the declarations are lifted. Hopefully this can be avoided, but spikes in disconnections do happen around the expiration of the Winter Moratorium each year in states with such protections. In states with additional low-income consumer protections, households should be prepared to assert the usual utility shut-off protection verifications (financial + age or illness) promptly,with the support of healthcare providers and consumer advocates such as those at a local CAP office.
  • Warm summer weather reduces the burden on distressed tenants and homeowners who see increased propane or oil bills in the heating season. However, if COVID-19 continues to impact the economy in the fall it will be important to mobilize in support of the many consumers who heat with these fuels. Similarly, in states with hot climates, the need for cooling may remain urgent. CAP agencies are key leaders in this advocacy arena, and here is a list to find a local CAP office. These are the programs that administer fuel assistance applications.
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VA

Headline: Deadline reopened until September 30, 2020 for Veterans to register with the IRS if they did not receive a $500 economic impact payments per child.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 7:00pm, September 15, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. VA COVID-19 FAQ

2. National Coalition for Homeless Veterans-Resources

  • Don't miss the deadline, which has reopened until September 30, 2020 for Veterans to register with the IRS if they did not receive a $500 economic impact payments per child.
  • The CARES Act earmarks $20 billion for VA health and housing systems, which should increase capacity and help keep patients/residents as safe as possible.
  • Student Veterans can receive full housing allowance even if transitioned to on-line learning.
  • Veteran-owned businesses are eligible for loans to maintain payroll.
  • Forbearance can be negotiated for VA Mortgages.
  • The VA has stopped collection on new VA debt, and the Treasury will not take further action to collect old debt at this time. For information on debt repayment options, and for other frequently asked questions, check their FAQ
  • The VA has discretion to consider paying pensions to veterans and family members who otherwise would be considered over-income for emergency payments.
  • The Stop Movement Order that expired on May 11, 2020, and has been replaced with a more regional and situation-specific response. This has implications for service members housing and employment. Active service members have special housing and employment rights that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing.

The Breakdown:

  • Veterans disproportionately confront homelessness and live with unmet needs for substance use treatment and behavioral health care. This pandemic may trigger more acute symptoms, so the need to access supportive services and resources like those outlined above is profound.
  • There is still a narrow window of opportunity for veterans who did not yet received economic impact payments from the IRS, at the rate of $500 per child: Don't miss the deadline, which has reopened until September 30, 2020 for Veterans who didn’t file 2018 or 2019 tax returns to register with the IRS and receive this important income supplement. Click on the above link for details on eligibility and how to register using a “non-filers” tool.
  • The DOJ March 13, 2020 Stop Movement order expired on May 11, 2020, and has been replaced by more regionally specific limitations and permissions. For most states and several locations abroad, travel restrictions have been lifted by the Department of Defense, however the decision about whether to move servicemembers is still discretionary based on local conditions. There still may be impacts on leases signed in anticipation of moving. Also, there still may be impact employment for servicemembers who are activated in response to COVID-19. Click here for guidance on how to learn about impacts for particular servicemembers and their families.

The Bottom Line:

  • Veterans who have not used VA health services before may choose to do when their own care providers are unavailable. At a time when the private healthcare system is strained, Veterans have a well-deserved additional healthcare system to turn to.
  • Borrowers concerned about affording they’re VA-backed mortgages may be able to “forbear” (delay) making loan payments for 6–12 months without harming their credit, if the financial hardship is related, even indirectly, to COVID-19. Forbearance has to be negotiated with the lender. FAQs are here.
  • Local Veterans and Servicemember Advocacy organizations may activate to address concerns related to Stop Movement and COVID-19-related assignments.  Check State Government websites and local Bar Associations for Veteran and Military services and other specialized programs. (For example, BBA Miltary Legal Help Line)
  • Don't miss the deadline, which has reopened until September 30, 2020 for Veterans to register with the IRS if they did not receive a $500 economic impact payments per child. Menu

WTD

  • Support those who rely on benefits by purchasing your groceries after the 14th day of the month and avoiding items that are labeled WIC-approved.
  • Make sure you are counted! Complete the S. Census.
  • If you’re eligible, register to vote.
  • Find your state and federal representatives and tell them how you feel about important legislation.
  • Find organizations that are advocating for others and join their cause.
  • Take time to relax by virtually visiting museums or watching fitness videos.
  • If you have the funds, support organizations that are helping others. Donate locally!

The Breakdown: 

  • The future progression of COVID-19 is unknown.
  • In this time of stress and uncertainty, self-care is also highly important.

The Bottom Line

  • As the situation unfolds, more advocacy may be needed to address further inequities that arise as a result of the pandemic.

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