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

  • A federal COVID-19 Relief was passed and signed into law that includes one-time payments to eligible individuals and families, an eviction moratorium extension, SNAP benefit increases, and pandemic unemployment compensation extensions. The law contains many other provisions. 

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 federal student loan payment suspension has been extended by the ED through January 31, 2021.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10am, January 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resource

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

The Breakdown:

The Bottom Line:

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

Headline: The requirement that employers provide paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on December 31, 2020.

The COVID-19 relief package enacted December 27, 2020 extends CARES ACT Unemployment Provisions, including extending PUA benefits until 3/14/21 and providing $300 per week for enhanced unemployment insurance benefits. The latest DOS unemployment insurance guidance may be found here

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4pm, January 12, 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 benefit voluntarily. 

The Bottom Line:

  • Workers will need to learn what benefits they have through their Human Resources department now that the leave protections under FFCRA have expired. 
  • Given the rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, workers are understandably concerned about workplace benefits and being able to use job-protected leave for COVID-19-related caregiving. 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 by phone or online with the EEOC. Also visit state and local anti-discrimination agencies’ websites for COVID-19-related non-discrimination information and practical updates.

The Breakdown:

  • FMLA allows workers time off without the risk of losing one’s job, though FMLA 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 worker loses a job due to COVID-19, Unemployment Insurance may be available. The federal COVID-19 relief package enacted on 12/27/2020 increases unemployment compensation and extends benefits, as follows:

-- Everyone who currently qualifies for unemployment benefits will receive an additional $300 per week under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefit; this benefit will be paid for 11 weeks starting at the end of December until the week ending 3/13/2021.
-- The new law adds an extra 11 weeks to the total number of weeks that people can collect unemployment benefits.
-- States may also begin to offer an additional federal benefit of $100 per week to people who have earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but do not receive PUA. 

  • Click here for more information on filing for unemployment benefits in your state.
  • 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.
  • 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, affirming 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 are 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 unemployment benefits provisions contained in the latest federal COVID-19 relief package increase 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.
  • 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 lawsuit against the agency administering Unemployment Insurance benefits. Washington’s lawsuit 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 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.
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Food_Income Insecurity

Headline: The IRS has started distributing the second Economic Impact Payment (EIP). Individuals without a bank account on file will receive the payment on an EIP card.


Last-reviewed Timestamp
: 11am, January 13, 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 is distributing a second Economic Impact Payment (EIP) to eligible individuals and families. Under the proposal, individuals who make less than $75,000/yr will receive $600 and couples who make less than $150,000/yr will receive $1,200. Families will also receive $600 per child. Individuals without a bank account on file will receive the payment on an EIP card. Check the IRS' FAQ and the National Consumer Law Center's FAQ's for additional information.
  • Individuals and families can track their payment through the IRS's Get My Payment tool. Those families who have not yet received their first EIP may be eligible 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 COVID-Relief also includes an increase in SNAP benefits that will be distributed by states. 
  • 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: CMS has issued COVID-19 vaccine guidance clarifying that the COVID-19 vaccine will be available to everyone for free, regardless of coverage status. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 5:30pm, January 12, 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)

  • Don’t miss a health insurance special enrollment period the District of Columbia is allowing people to secure public health insurance during a time-limited window through Jan. 31, 2021, due to COVID-19.
  • 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 public charge rule will not apply to testing, treatment or preventive care for COVID-19.
  • 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
  • CVS currently offers more than 2,000 COVID-19 test sites across the country. 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 “1135 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 1135 waivers requests are available state-by state here and here.
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Housing Instability

Headline: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Moratorium has been extended through January 31, 2021

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 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 January 31, 2021.
  • 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.
  • On December 21, 2020, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) extended the foreclosure and eviction moratorium for homeowners with FHA-insured single family mortgages through at least February 28, 2021.
  • Homeowners with USDA home loans will also be protected through February 28, 2021. Homeowners with USDA direct loans can find the full announcement here, and home owners with USDA guaranteed loans can find the full announcement here
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have extended their foreclosure moratorium through January 31, 2021 (a one month extension from the previous December 31, 2020 end date). Homeowners should check if their mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
  • Homeowners with VA-guaranteed loans, and veterans and their family without VA-guaranteed loans can find more information here regarding what the VA can do to help avoid foreclosure.
  • 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 December 31, 2020 for most tenants 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.

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 not available to tenants and homeowners, however, families facing financial hardship are encouraged to seek financial assistance through their state and local government. 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 December 4, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security was ordered to accept and adjudicate new DACA petitions

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:30am, January 12, 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 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. 
  • After a District Court Judge blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing its public charge rule, on November 3, 2020, DHS obtained permission to reinstate the public charge rule. More information can be found on the USCIS page on the public charge litigation

The Breakdown

-- The number of study questions will increase from 100 to 128
-- Applicants must answer 12 out of 20 questions correctly, an increase from the 6 out of 10

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: More physical distancing from the outside world means less physical distancing between survivors 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 and a range of helpful resources, including safety planning and links to local resources.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10am, January 13, 2021

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Futures Without Violence

2. National Domestic Violence Chat Hotline

3. Police Accountability Project

  • 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 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. 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 survivors 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. 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:

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Transportation Needs-1

Headline: Beginning on January 26, 2021, airplane passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11am, January 13, 2021

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:

  • Beginning on January 26, 2021, airplane passengers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. For additional details, see the full CDC statement. 
  • Acting Secretary Chad Wolf announced on Twitter that Homeland Security has extended the closure of all ports of entry on the Canadian and Mexican borders through January 21, 2021. 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.

 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: With winter upon us, some states have special utility consumer protections related to COVID-19 that will be increasingly necessary as heating bills climb. Even in states without pandemic programs, there may be general utility consumer protections that require customers to take specific actions. NCLC compiles a nationwide list of Consumer Protections during COVID-19, and here is a nationwide list of general utility consumer protections.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:30am, January 13, 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 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 “Keep America Connected” pledge requested by the FCC, expired June 30, 2020. 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 Nationwide 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. Importantly, the FCC ordered that no current Lifeline customer would lose service during the COVID-19 crisis.

Home Energy Utilities:

  • The NEADA has published a list of all utility actions and state-mandated winter and COVID-19 utility shut-off moratoria.
  • It is important to visit local Community Action Programs (CAP) 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.

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 hardship + age or illness) promptly, with the support of healthcare providers and consumer advocates such as those at a local CAP office.
  • Now that winter is upon us, it is important to mobilize in support of the many consumers who heat with propane and oil. 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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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