Under any conditions, the health of individuals, families and communities hinges substantially on stable access to safe, healthy, and affordable housing; to reliable heat, lights, water, internet and phone service; to nutritious food; to transportation resources; to protection from violence, abuse, and exploitation; and much more. In typical times, the systems that exist to help people meet those needs have been under-resourced and hard-to-navigate for individuals and families. The COVID-19 pandemic has made what was already a difficult landscape an extraordinarily challenging – even impossible – one to traverse.

Against this backdrop, MLPB has launched this open-access Digital Digest at the intersection of COVID-19 lawmaking and HRSN problem-solving.

This tool:

  • Distills major key federal (nation-wide) themes in resources, benefits, and legal protections.
  • Curates high-level, evolving information and identifies expert resources in key domains of HRSN

MA resources and guidance have been divided into three general sections:

  • What is happening: MLPB has curated key developments in law and policy.
  • What this means: MLPB has translated these developments into plain language interpretations of what these changes mean for areas of HRSN need.
  • What may happen next: Based on MLPB’s expertise, we indicate, when appropriate, how things might change in the future.

IMPORTANT: While MLPB will routinely update this content,Exclaim Digest readers should note the last-reviewed timestamp and click on the hyperlinks to access the most current information. In addition,this information is for educational purposes only; nothing in it should be construed as legal advice. 

 

Feedback? Always welcome.

Just contact Content Lead Franny Zhang at fzhang@mlpboston.org.

© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks


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_ChildcareEducation   

Key Resource: US Department of Education (DOE) COVID-19 Information

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 26, 2020

 

What is happening:

What this means:

  • Students with disabilities, including those with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, can advocate for their needs by using the step-by-step special education advocacy guide created by the American Bar Association.
  • People with federal student loans will automatically be excused from making payments for 6 months, but this does not reduce the overall balance owed. It also does not apply to private or state loans.

What may happen next:

  • The final distance learning regulations will be published after the DOE has a chance to review public comments and incorporate their final changes into the regulations.
  • When schools reopen for in-person learning, students with disabilities who have not been receiving direct special education services may experience regression and require additional supports.
  • In the future, a new bill may extend student loan forbearance past September 30, 2020. Some borrowers also can reduce monthly payments in the fall by switching to an income-driven repayment plan. The “$0 payments” during forbearance count toward most loan forgiveness programs including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Menu

Employment

Employment

Key Resource: Department of Labor (DOL) COVID-19 Resources; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) COVID-19 page

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 6pm, May 15, 2020


Paid Leave

What is happening:

  • Earned sick timeis an important form of paid leave still available to many people.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides paid leave to ALL covered employees:
    • 2 weeks of pay ranging from 66%-100%, which is determined by the reason for absence
    • Up to 10 weeks of leave at 66% pay for those employed for more than 30 days.

What this means:

  • Now that the FFCRA has passed, paid sick leave is more available to many employees.

What may happen next:

  • 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.
  • 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

What is happening:

  • 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.

What this means:

  • 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.

What may happen next:

  • 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 based on a person’s membership in groups considered to be at higher risk for COVID-19-related illness or caregiving responsibility.

Job Loss

What is happening:

  • If a job is lost due to COVID-19, Unemployment Insurance may be available. Many requirements, including job hunting, 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. Some states have already implemented new benefits. Visit state unemployment agency websites for the latest COVID-19-related information and practical updates. 
  • 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.

What this means:

  • The CARES Act increases and extend 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. 

What may happen next:

  • For workers who lose their jobs, state-level departments of unemployment assistance are making 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. Menu

Small Business

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 26, 2020

Key Resource: US Small Business Administration (SBA) COVID-19 Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources

What is happening:

  • The CARES Act includes multiple programs and initiatives for small businesses, many of which are available through the SBA.
  • There are resources available for small businesses. These businesses can also help support their employees by referring them to the resources in the employment section. Menu

Food_Income InsecurityFood Insecurity

Key Resource: Food and Nutrition Service Response to COVID-19; Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Coronavirus Tax Relief; Social Security Administration (SSA) COVID-19 Updates

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 26, 2020

What is happening:

  • 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).
  • The CARES Act includes 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 rebate.
  • Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public. Most services are available online or by phone. The SSA is being lenient about missed deadlines. Those receiving SSA benefits who qualify for the tax rebate will receive a check automatically for themselves.

What this means:

  • There are resources available for individuals and families who are experiencing food insecurity. Changes in USDA programs will look different state-to-state.
  • Eligible individuals and families who filed taxes last year, plan to file taxes this year, or completed a non-filer form are more likely to get a tax rebate this year. All others will see a delay. To avoid a delay, low income individuals and families can file taxes by the extended filing date of July 15, 2020
  • At this time, each state is handling debt collection of CARES Act tax rebates differently. Twenty-five states have firmly stated that this rebate is “off limits” for debt collectors. If individuals see a portion of their CARES Act tax rebate taken by debt collectors, they should contact their state Attorney General’s Office.
  • Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public. Most services are available online or by phone. Some hearings are being offered by phone and offices are being lenient about missed deadlines. The SSA will continue to make SSI/SSDI/Retirement/other benefit payments through direct deposit and the US Postal Service (USPS).
  • SSI and VA benefit recipients with dependents will not receive an additional check for their dependents until 2021 unless they filed a non-filer form with the IRS by May 5, 2020. SSDI and Retirement recipients with dependents will not receive an additional check for their dependents until 2021 unless they filed a non-filer form with the IRS by April 22, 2020 at Noon.

What may happen next:

  • The HEROES Act includes additional funds to support families. This Act was passed by the US House of Representatives. To become a law, the Act must also be passed by the US Senate and signed by the President.
  • Each state will begin to implement new USDA rules and distribute increased funds based on their state-specific plan.
  • If, in the future, mail delivery through the USPS is delayed, paper checks also will be delayed. To avoid this, people who receive benefits can switch to direct deposit. Menu

Health Insurance

Health Insurance

Key resource: Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA); Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Current Emergencies

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 6pm, May 11, 2020

What is happening:

  • Don’t miss a health insurance special enrollment period – some expire this month: A number of 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.
  • 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.

What this means:

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

What may happen next

  • 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 initial response to Waiver requests is available state-by state online.
    Menu

Housing Instability

Housing Instability

Key resource: HUD COVID-19 Resources and Fact Sheets; Veterans Affairs FAQ; National Housing Law Project (NHLP)

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 7pm, May 15, 2020

What is happening:

  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a list of state Eviction and Foreclosure moratoria and all covered multi-family properties across the country .
  • 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 has issued a 60-day suspension of foreclosures and related evictionsfrom single family homes that have mortgages issued by the Federal Housing Administration. This is a positive but narrow protection
  • Other federal programs – “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac” – have announced the same moratorium plus a 12-month forbearance (delay in payments being due). 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.

What this means:

  • 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.

What may happen next:

  • Confusion is predictable, so asking questions is likely to be helpful.
  • Advocacy groups like NLIHC are pushing for legislation to expand and extend moratoria on eviction, foreclosure, subsidy termination, and other threats to shelter stability. 
  • 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

ImmigrationImmigration Status

Key resource: National Immigration Law Center: COVID-19 and Healthcare; Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 3pm, May 22, 2020

What is happening:

  • USCIS has closed all public-facing offices until June 3, 2020Updates here
  • Many other in-person processes, such as asylum appointments and naturalization ceremonies, are also postponed right now.
  • EOIR has postponed all non-detainment hearings at least through June 12, 2020..
  • Both the northern and southern U.S. border are currently closed for tourist travel and will remain closed at least through May 20, 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).
  • 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:
  • Mutual Aid Networks
  • COVID-19 Resource Guide for Boston's Immigrants
  • 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.
  • What this means
  • 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.

What may happen next

  • More information regarding longer-term immigration case processing will likely become available once the USCIS office reopens.
  • 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

Interpersonal Violence

Key resources: Futures Without Violence; National Domestic Violence Chat Hotline

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 3pm, May 12, 2020

 

What is happening:

Interpersonal violence includes not only domestic violence but also 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.

 What this means:

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.

 What may happen next:

Local community-based organizations will be 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.
It may be necessary to outreach to agencies in the coming days 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 child abuse and neglect, abuse of adults with disabilities, domestic violence, or elder abuse. Below are some national organizations that list resources for victims of abuse:
Child Abuse and Neglect
Domestic Violence
Elder Abuse
Abuse or Neglect of Persons with Disabilities Menu

Mental Health

Mental Health

Key Resource: APA COVID-19 Resources for Providers, Families, and Community Leaders

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 3pm, May 22, 2020

 

What is happening:

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.
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.

What this means

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.

What may happen next

More mental health resources will likely become available in the future. Menu 

Transportation Needs-1

Transportation Needs

Key Resource: Federal Transit Administration COVID-19

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 9am, May 22, 2020

What is happening:

  • The US Department of State issued a Do Not Travel Order advising US Citizens not to travel internationally. Many states have issued stay-at-home orders and/or mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

 What this means:

  • 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.

 What may happen next

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

Utility NeedsKey ResourcesNational Consumer Law Center (NCLC) Consumer Protections;

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

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Keep Americans Connected

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 6pm, May 15, 2020

What is happening:

Telephone and Internet:

  • The FCC has taken action to help ensure that no current Lifeline telephone subscribers are involuntarily removed from the Lifeline program during the coronavirus pandemic by waiving several rules that could otherwise result in de-enrollment of subscribers. The FCC has also waived Lifeline program rules to assist in program enrollment. Limited protection is offered for landline phone service. Some major cell phone providers have made “pledges” not to disconnect customers.
  • Major internet providers have taken the “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, and signers are listed
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

What may happen next:

  • 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.
  • Fortunately, in cold climates, the heating season will end soon. This reduces the burden on distressed tenants and homeowners who heat with propane or oil. 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 summer climates, the need for cooling will be 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. Menu

VAVeterans Affairs

Key Resources: VA COVID-19 FAQ; National Coalition for Homeless Veterans-Resources; National Center for PTSD's COVID-19 supports

Last-Reviewed Timestamp: 2pm, May 12, 2020

 

What is happening:

  • 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.
  • Active service members have special housing and employment rights under a Stop Movement order that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing.

What this means:

  • 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 is profound.
  • The DOJ March 13, 2020 Stop Movement order may impact leases ended or signed in anticipation of moving. It also may impact employment for servicemembers who are activated in response to COVID-19.

What may happen next:

  • 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.
  • VA-backed mortgages seem to have less-developed consumer protections than other federally-backed mortgage products – they are described as recommendations rather than mandates. More consumer-protective protocols may be established in the coming weeks as the VA turns to mortgage protocols.
  • 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)
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!

What this means: 

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

What may happen next

  • 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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© 2020 MLPB, a fiscally sponsored program of TSNE MissionWorks