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 Administrative Manager Meg Baker at mbaker@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

  • The CDC extended the eviction moratorium to June 30, 2021. Read the full order. Updated CDC Declaration form here.

Click below to navigate to a topic of interest!  

Education_Childcare   Employment + SB   Food_Income InsecurityHealth Insurance Housing Instability  Immigration   Interpersonal Safety  Transportation Needs-1 Utility Needs WTD


Education_Childcare

Headline: The ED released the first COVID-19 Handbook identifying tiered strategies for reopening schools based on community risk.

Last-reviewed: 12pm, April 14, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resource

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

The Breakdown:

  • Project 10Million offers free internet access (100GB of data and a mobile hotspot) to students who are enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. Households can apply online.
  • The ED released the first COVID-19 Handbook identifying tiered strategies for reopening schools based on community risk. The handbook also urges schools to prioritize in-person learning for students with disabilities, open low risk high school athletic programs, and use masks with clear panels to help with communication. 
  • People with certain federal student loans will be excused from making payments until September 30, 2021. During this time, the loans will have a 0% interest rate. This does not apply to private loans. Visit studentaid.gov for additional information. 

The Bottom Line:

  • Academic and health plans for K-12 schools will vary state-to-state.
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Employment

HeadlineThe American Rescue Plan, the latest federal COVID relief bill, has extended pandemic unemployment benefits until September 6, 2021.

Last-reviewed: 10am, April 14, 2021

Paid Leave and Work Safety

The Basics:

Key Resources

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

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

3. National Employment Law Project (NELP) Resources

The Breakdown:

  • Although FFCRA leave requirements expired 12/31/20, some employers are opting to continue the paid leave benefits voluntarily. 
  • The DOL also offers COVID-19 workplace safety materials online in both English and Spanish. OSHA does as well.

The Bottom Line:

  • Workers will need to learn what leave benefits they have through their Human Resources department now that FFCRA paid leave is available to many employees through the recently-signed American Rescue Plan Act. 
  • Workers remain understandably concerned about workplace safety. 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.

The Breakdown:

  • FMLA allows workers time off without the risk of losing their job, but the FMLA does not provide paid leave.
  • The DOL offers numerous FMLA resources in Spanish, including this FMLA poster

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 a COVID-19-related illness.

Job Loss

The Basics:

  • The National Employment Law Project offers helpful FAQs about COVID-19 resources for unemployed and frontline workers.
  • Workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own should be eligible for Unemployment Insurance. Each state sets its own guidelines for eligibility for UI benefits. 
  • The American Rescue Plan Act has extended several pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits programs until 9/6/21. A Q&A about the ARPA unemployment provisions is available here. Additional provisions in the COVID relief bill waive federal taxes on an individual's first $10,200 of unemployment benefits collected last year. Married couples who file a joint tax return won't be taxed on the first $20,400 of unemployment income. 
  • The US DOL recently issued guidance on the key UI provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act. 
  • Click here for more information on filing for unemployment benefits in your state.
  • 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.
  • 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 are leading to increased demands on claimants to verify identity, and delays in application approval. Employment law advocates across the country are strategizing about how to assure benefits are paid promptly as required by law, despite the impact of the scam on a system already under pressure.
  • With increasing requests for UI identity verification, DUA offers UI identity verification instructions here

The Breakdown:

  • The unemployment benefits provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act extend CARES Act unemployment benefits for eligible workers, including some self-employed workers who were not eligible under pre-COVID-19 unemployment benefits programs. 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 pervasive Unemployment Scams vary state to state. 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 Bottom Line:

  • The American Rescue Plan Act extends unemployment compensation benefits under the FPUC, PEUC, and PUA programs, among others, to 9/6/2021.
  • 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.
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Food_Income Insecurity

Headline: The deadline for federal 2020 taxes was extended to May 17, 2021. Low-income individuals can get free tax preparation assistance from a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program or online from an IRS-recommended website.   


Last-reviewed
: 12pm, April 14, 2021

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:

  • The IRS will distribute an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) of $1,400 for individuals, $2,800 for couples, and $1,400 for dependents. The full payment will go to individuals with a 2019 or 2020 taxable income of $75,000 or less and couples with a joint taxable of $150,000 or less. Families can track their rebate on the IRS website.
  • Starting March 30, 2021, EIPs will be issued to disability recipients who do not normally file taxes. For SSI recipients, the EIP will not be counted as income for the first 12 months. Careful documentation of how they spend the EIP is recommended. Disability recipients can get up-to-date information on the SSA website
  • The 2021 Child Tax Credit will include $3,600 for every child under 6 and $3,000 for every child from 6-17. From July 2021 to December 2021, families will receive a part of that credit in direct payments of $300 (per child under 6) or $250 (per child 5-17). Families will need to file their 2021 taxes to receive the remainder of that benefit. The income and dependency requirements are similar to the stimulus check requirements. 
  • Individuals and families who did not receive their 2020 EIP's or who received the incorrect amount must file for a Recovery Rebate Credit
  • Low-income individuals can maximize their 2020 tax credits by getting free tax preparation assistance from a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program or online from an IRS-recommended website
  • The deadlines for MA and federal 2020 taxes have both been extended to May 17, 2021
  • All SNAP benefits will be increased by 15% from January 2021 to June 2021
  • Low-income SNAP households who did not previously receive an extra SNAP allotment should get up to $95 per month in SNAP benefits.
  • The USDA has made additional funds available and relaxed many application requirements and other rules for their Food Nutrition Service programs, including Women Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Changes in USDA programs will look different state-to-state.

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.
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Health Insurance

Headline: The Special Enrollment Period for the COVID-19 public health emergency continues and people can enroll in or change Marketplace health insurance plans through August 15, 2021.

The Center on Budge and Policy Priorities reports that the American Rescue Plan Act will make Marketplace coverage more affordable for may low-and moderate-income families by reducing payments. 

Last-reviewed: 9am, April 14, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA)

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

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • HealthCare.gov is reopened for a "Special Enrollment Period" until August 15, 2021.
  • For information on how the American Rescue Plan Act will impact HealthCare.gov and state-based marketplaces - including lowering premiums - click on this FAQ.
  • All ACA plans cover treatment for pre-existing medical conditions and cannot terminate coverage due to a change in health status, including diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19.
  • If you have experienced a COVID-19 impact to your income or household, you may be able to change your ACA plan. Click here for more information. 
  • CMS continues to issue blanket waivers to prevent access to care gaps for Medicaid beneficiaries affected by the COVID-19 emergency. For information on approved states' coronavirus waivers, click here
  • For more information on the CDC's COVID-19 response and how to find a COVID-19 vaccine near you, click here

The Breakdown:

  • The Biden administration reopened HealthCare.gov for a "Special Enrollment Period" from February 15, 2021 - August 15, 2021 to permit people in need of health care coverage to sign up.
  • All ACA plans are required to cover COVID-19 emergency services and hospitalization. Plans cannot terminate coverage due to a change in health status, including diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19.
  • Visit the CDC's COVID-19 website for information about COVID-19, vaccine safety, trends in racial and ethnic disparities, and other issues that may be of interest.

The Bottom Line


Housing Instability

Headline: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium has been extended through at least June 30, 2021

Last-reviewed: 12pm, April 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. HUD COVID-19 Resources & Fact Sheets

2. Veterans Affairs Home Loans

3. Rural Development COVID-19 Response

4. National Housing Law Project (NHLP)

  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Moratorium (the national moratorium) has been extended through at least June 30, 2021.
  • The Federal Government has created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to support families and individuals who are struggling to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic. Eligible households should apply for assistance through their local housing agencies. 
  • 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 Federal Housing Administration (FHA) extended the foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with FHA-insured single-family mortgages through at least June 30, 2021.
  • Homeowners with USDA direct and guaranteed home loans will also be protected through June 30, 2021. The full announcement can be found here
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have extended their foreclosure moratorium through June 30, 2021. Homeowners can check if their mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  • On February 16, 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that they will be extending the moratorium through at least June 30, 2021. The full announcement can be found here
  • 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.

The Breakdown:

  • The CDC Eviction Moratorium assures protection against non-payment eviction through at least June 30, 2021, nationwide. 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. The CDC has prepared a sample form here.
  • Tenants do not need to submit a new declaration to their landlord if they have already done so.
  • The Biden Harris administration has published a fact sheet related to the eviction moratorium and resources available to renters and landlords.

The Bottom Line:

  • Confusion is predictable, nobody should be shy about asking for clarification.
  • The CDC published a frequently asked questions letter to help people understand how the CDC moratorium protects renters, and who is covered by the moratorium.
  • Federal financial assistance is available to eligible families and individuals through their local housing agencies. See the MA housing section for MA-specific resources. 
  • Similarly, frontline workforces at large agencies or companies may need time to learn changed rules. Try to have something in writing on hand – like a link to a consumer protection announcement – that indicates a right or eligibility for benefits.
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Immigration

Headline: On March 9, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the end to the 2019 public charge rule. 

Last-reviewed: 12pm, April 13, 2021

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 online with a 9-digit alien registration number (A-#########) or by calling the Executive Office of Administration Review at 1-800-898-7180.
  • On March 9, 2021, DHS announced the end to the 2019 public charge rule in a statement to the public. As a result, the 1999 interim field guidance on public charge will now be in effect (the policy that was in place prior to the 2019 public charge rule). As a result, the items on this non exhaustive list are no longer considered public charge:

-- SNAP (food stamps)
-- MassHealth/Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization)
-- Public housing
-- Section 8

  • On March 8, 2021, in an announcement to the public, DHS announced that it is designating Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months, until September 2022.
  • On February 1, 2021, DHS put out a statement ensuring the public that all individuals living in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, should have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. DHS has stated that it will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics. 
  • On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed several executive orders repealing executive orders from the previous administration. Among the newest executive orders is an order banning discriminatory travel bans into the United States. 
  • On December 4, 2020, a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security to notify the public that it will be accepting and adjudicating new DACA petitions. The decision also orders DHS to grant 2-year work permits to approved applicants, instead of the proposed 1-year limit. More information and application forms can be found on the USCIS website.
  • DHS announced that they are extending the validity of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-related documentations for beneficiaries for six countries through October 4, 2021, including employment-related documentation. 
The Breakdown
  • The US will not allow entry to foreign nationals from several countries around the world. As a result, many may find it difficult to enter the country, or may find it difficult to re-enter upon leaving.
  • On February 22, 2021, USCIS announced that beginning on March 1, 2021, applicants for naturalization may choose to take the 2008 or the 2020 civics test. Beginning April 19, 2021, USCIS will only administer the 2008 civics test. The full announcement can be found here
  • The Higher Ed Immigration Portal is a new website aimed at providing resources to immigrant students. The website provides information related to financial assistance for undocumented students. It also provides other information that may be helpful while navigating the education systems as an immigrant. 

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.
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Interpersonal Safety

Headline: The National DV hotline offers a chat option and a range of helpful resources, including safety planning and links to local resources (text LOVEIS to 22522 or call 1-800-799-7233).

Last-reviewed: 10am, April 14, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Futures Without Violence

2. National Domestic Violence Chat Hotline

3. Police Accountability Project

4. National Resource Center for Reaching Victims

  • Interpersonal safety resources address intimate partner violence, domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, older adults, and persons with disabilities. The National Network to End Domestic Violence offers a variety of recommendations and resources for advocates.
  • The Domestic Violence Resource Center (DVRN) informs and strengthens DV intervention and prevention efforts at the individual, community, and societal levels. For more information, including member organizations and culturally specific institutes, click here
  • The National Resource Center for Reaching Victims offers COVID-specific information and guidance for survivor service providers, culturally specific organizations, and others to enhance their capacity to identify, reach, and serve survivors, particularly those from communities that have had less access to healing services and avenues to justice. 
  • The CDC's Division of Violence Prevention within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control offers resources and strategies on addressing intimate partner violence.
  • Even when local courts have limited in-person accessibility, safeguards are 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 intimate partner violence (IPV) survivors’ movement in ways that may be triggering and endangering. It is more important than ever to connect with organizations best equipped to empower survivors using adapted best practices.
  • Essential safety services through police and courts are functioning. However, for many victims these resources may not be good, sufficient, or safe options. 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 National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an interactive online safety planning tool

 The Bottom Line:

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Transportation Needs-1

Headline: The CDC no longer requires fully vaccinated international travelers to self-quarantine when returning to the US, however, they still need a negative COVID-19 test result within 3 to 5 days of boarding a flight to the US. Read the updated guidance

Last-reviewed: 12pm, April 14, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resource

Federal Transit Administration COVID-19

  • President Biden ordered that international and domestic (within the US) travelers wear masks (e.g., while in airports, on commercial flights, on trains, and on buses).
  • 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:

  • Airplane passengers entering the US must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. For additional details, see the full CDC statement
  • The CDC no longer requires fully vaccinated international travelers to self-quarantine when returning to the US, however, they still need a negative COVID-19 test result within 3 to 5 days of boarding a flight to the US. Read the updated guidance
  • Before traveling internationally, travelers should check for guidance from the US Department of State or sign up for alerts through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  • Before traveling between states, travelers should check for guidance from each state that they plan to enter.
  • Beginning on October 1, 2021, travelers will need a Real ID to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings. 
  • MassHealth and Health Safety Net members may qualify for curb-to-curb transportation to vaccine appointments. Members should ask their doctor to submit a transportation request (i.e., a "PT-1 form"). If they have difficulty with the process, they can also call 1-800-841-2900 for assistance getting transportation approved or check the FAQ

 The Bottom Line

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

 


Utility Needs

HeadlineThe National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) compiles a nationwide list of Consumer Protections during COVID-19, and here is a nationwide list of general utility consumer protections.

Last-reviewed: 9am, April 14, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

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

2. National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) Consumer Protections during COVID-19

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

Telephone and Internet

  • The latest federal COVID-19 aid package includes about $3.2 billion slated for an Emergency Broadband Benefit that offers low-income families $50 per month toward internet access to help families stay online to work, learn, and communicate on their devices from home. The FCC is seeking comment on the program here. For more information on the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the $50 subsidy, as well as other resources for affordable internet and free computers to students of low-income families, click here
  • Now is a 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 Nationwide Lifeline Program for affordable telephone or internet service, a benefit for which many consumers may be newly eligible during the pandemic. Importantly, no current Lifeline customer will lose service during the COVID-19 crisis.

Home Energy Utilities:

  • The American Rescue Plan Act provides $4.5 billion for utility assistance through the LIHEAP, which means that people facing utility arrearages may want to apply for LIHEAP as soon as practicable to take advantage of these new income supports.
  • The NEADA has published a list of all utility actions and state-mandated winter and COVID-19 utility shut-off moratoria.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services maintains a website showing LIHEAP program durations on a state-by-state basis. 
  • It is important to visit local Community Action Agencies for information about how to apply for fuel assistance. A list is available here.
  • 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.
  • Recent reporting by The Washington Post suggests that the Biden administration is under pressure to stop utility shutoffs during the pandemic. Members of Congress may seek a legislative solution, with a utility shut-off moratorium in the next round of COVID-19 stimulus legislation.

Water

The Bottom Line

  • Where shut-off protections 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. In states with additional low-income consumer protections, households should be prepared to assert the usual utility shut-off protection verifications (financial hardship + age or illness) promptly, with the support of healthcare providers and consumer advocates such as those at a local CAP office.
  • CAP agencies are key leaders in the utilities advocacy arena. These are the programs that administer fuel assistance applications.
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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.
  • 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!

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© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks