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 national eviction moratorium takes effect September 4, 2020 protecting some renters.

Click below to navigate to a topic of interest!   

Best Sources General Orders

Court SystemCSIEducation_Childcare   Employment   Food_Income Insecurity  Gov ID Health Insurance Housing Instability  Immigration   IPV   Mental Health  Transportation Needs-1 Utility Needs WTD


Best ResourcesBest Sources 

It can be tempting to follow the news cycle for information about COVID-19, but we recommend using one of the following trusted sites for updates:

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General Orders

Headline: RI’s Disaster Declaration extended through November 2, 2020.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

Gov. Raimondo's Emergency Orders

The Governor’s extended her disaster declaration through November 2, 2020. Social gathering caps will likely remain at 15 people.

The Governor extended the following through November 2, 2020 including:

  • Quarantine requirements for individuals with COVID-19 or for those who have been in close contact with someone positive
  • Quarantine or negative test requirements for travelers to RI from states with 5% positive testing rates
  • Quarantine or negative test requirements for Rhode Islanders who have travelers to states with 5% positive testing rates
  • Reimbursement rates for telemedicine expire
  • Residents are encouraged to work from home when possible
  • “Vulnerable” populations, including those over 65, are strongly encouraged to stay at home unless the travel is related to work, accessing healthcare, or to acquire necessities such as groceries or medicine.

Through November 2, 2020, people in Rhode Island must wear face coverings unless they fit into one of the exceptions detailed here.

Health and Medical:

  • Visits to nursing homes must be scheduled in advance. Nursing home visitation guidance can be found here (updated September 11, 2020).
  • Check with individual health care systems for the latest on hospital visits.
  • Individuals who need a place to quarantine can check out rihavens.com, which lists local hotel availability with discounted rates.
  • There is high demand for testing of asymptomatic Rhode Islanders. More information here.

For the latest heath updates, visit the RI Department of Health's COVID-19 alerts.

The Breakdown:

  • COVID-19 remains a public health threat. When possible, Rhode Islanders are still urged to work from home. Social distancing rules will continue to be in effect. People will need to wear masks.
  • Visits to long-term care facilities and nursing homes will be permitted with restrictions.

 The Bottom Line

  • RI continues to monitor the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing, face coverings, and testing are encouraged. Menu


Court System

Headline: Courts are generally open.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resource

RI Judiciary

State Courts:

RI State courts are open with restrictions and is limiting in-person hearings to the extent it is possible. Information about court operations here. Remote matters are encouraged and parties can request a remote hearing/conference using these instructions. Public remote access information here. Access specific case information here.

Note: The family court has launched a virtual clerk’s office that will allow the public to speak “face to face” with a clerk using remote technology. More information here. Access the virtual clerk office here.

Federal court: 

The United States District Court of Rhode Island, the federal court, remains open with restrictions per this court order. Check here for more information, and here for COVID-19 specific information.

The Breakdown for state courts:  

  • Courts are generally open. 
  • Courts are hearing cases (when possible) remotely using web-based technologies.
  • People with pending cases will experience a delay in receiving a court decision. Cases can be filed online.

The Breakdown for federal courts:  

  • The federal District Court of RI is operational even though public access to the court is restricted. A number of changes have been made to daily operations that can be found here (click on the “news and announcements” section). 

The Bottom Line

  • The RI Judiciary and US District Court of RI are open and will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 to determine how courts will operate. Expect additional administrative orders to be issued by specific courts. Additional administrative orders may be issued by specific courts.
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CSI

Headline: The IRS must send CARES Act emergency payments, or stimulus checks, to anyone who was previously denied solely because they were incarcerated.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources:

1. RI Judiciary

2. The Department of Corrections Facebook

Court matters: 

  • Most courthouses have reopened with restrictions.
  • District court trials are being scheduled and heard, with preference for using the court’s remote access technology (called WebEx). More information here.
  • Adult Drug Court and Diversion calendars are resuming on a limited basis.
  • Expungements can be filed.

Department of Corrections (DOC):

  • All in-person visitations to the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) remain suspended, but video visitation is available. Safety rules and protocols for this system as well as visitation hour schedules can be found at the RI DOC Facebook Page. To sign up for video visitation, please visit this website.

          --Deposits to inmate accounts can be made online at Access Corrections.
          --RI DOC is issuing a daily transparency report that can be found at the RI DOC Facebook page.
          --Reentry identification card expiration dates have been extended for 60 days.

  • Friends and family can call (401) 414-2871 for updates.
  • The RI Parole Board is still hearing cases.

Wyatt Detention Center (federal)

  • Limited professional and social visitation is permitted in the facility. All visitors will need to complete a screening process before entering the facility. More details here, including general safety protocols and contact information for scheduling an inmate visit.
  • More information about the Wyatt Detention Center here.

Note: The IRS must send CARES Act emergency payments, or stimulus checks, to anyone who was previously denied solely because they were incarcerated.

The Breakdown: 

  • Criminal matters are still being heard, with limitations
  • The DOC will continue to take safety measures and monitor for the emergence of new cases.
  • Probationers and Parolees with specific questions should contact their PO for further instructions
  • A federal judge ordered the US government to send stimulus check payments within 30 days of this order to anyone who was previously denied a check solely because they were incarcerated. The IRS must automatically send payments to anyone who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return, or who used the online IRS Non-Filer Portal.
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Education_Childcare

Headline: Schools have opened.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Schools:

Key Resources:

1. Rhode Island Dept. of Ed (RIDE)

  • Schools have opened using these metrics.
              --Information about school reopening plans can be found here. RIDE launched a           new website called “Back 2 School Rhode Island” that centralizes information on            school reopening plans and includes a FAQ.
              --RIDE issued this guide for reopening elementary and secondary schools                    (updated August 25, 2020).
              --RI school districts will follow a state-wide calendar starting this fall.
              --Due to the late start this year, the last day of school is scheduled for June 25, 2021.
              --Digital/Internet access resources are here.
  • RIDE’s regular COVID-19 related updates can be found here.
  • New testing is available for school age children. More information here.
  • RIDE’s outbreak response protocols are here.

Note: IEP and 504 Plan rights have not been suspended. The Department of Education has issued this FAQ (updated September 28, 2020) to help schools support children with disabilities.

Libraries:

  • Most libraries are offering curb-side pick-up. Check Ocean State Libraries for the latest information or with individual libraries.

Resources for Parents and Students: 

  • RIDE has developed this guidance and resource page for special education.
  • The Rhode Island School Support Hotline is available to support teachers, students and families with education questions. More information here. 
  • RIPIN’s call center (401-270-0101) is open to answer questions related to special education as well as other matters.
  • The Parent Support Network is offering Virtual COVID-19 Mutual Aid and Support Meetings.
  • The Autism Project offers a special 1:1 program and resources called Family Offerings. Information about this new service can be found

Early childhood resources:

  • RI’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs are offering distance learning and virtual visits. Programs are delivering formula, diapers, and food to families along with books and learning materials to use at home.
  • Rhode Island’s Early Intervention system is open and accepting referrals. Virtual visits are offered. EI FAQ here.
  • Additional information can be found here.

The Breakdown:

  • Most school districts have reopened to in-person learning. 
  • Rights to education have not been suspended during the pandemic, but it may be more challenging for parents to advocate.

The Bottom Line

  • Schools opened on September 14, 2020.
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Childcare

Headline: Childcare centers are open with restrictions.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

 

The Basics:

Key Resource

RI Dept. of Human Services

          --DHS will continue to reimburse CCAP subsidies based on enrollment, not attendance.
          --Waive the allowable absence policy for CCAP families
          --Waive all family copays (DHS to cover the cost of these copays in provider payments)
  • For the latest changes to DHS programs, including CCAP, visit the DHS “what’s new” page.
  • As of October 16, 2020, DHS will not accept incoming calls after 3 pm. More information here.

First Note: Households that received the pandemic unemployment compensation (PUC) may be over income for CCAP eligibility. For example, a household of 3 whose income exceeds $925/week would lose eligibility for CCAP. PUC ended in early August. Families previously over income may be eligible again.

Second Note: In March, the federal government distributed economic stimulus payments equaling $1200/adult. The stimulus payment DOES NOT impact CCAP eligibility. More information here (ESP) (updated April 23, 2020).

Third Note: Early reports from RIDOH show that COVID-19 spread is minimal. More information here.

 The Breakdown:

  • Daycares are open but must follow state reopening guidelines. Check with individual daycare providers for specific opening information.
  • Rhode Islanders with child-care vouchers should not lose their vouchers due to day-care closures but do need to comply with all recertification and income eligibility requirements. The extra boost in unemployment insurance may put some families over the CCAP income threshold and they could then lose their voucher.
  • Pandemic unemployment compensation may have put some families over the income threshold making them ineligible for CCAP. PUC has expired, and families may be eligible again for CCAP.

The Bottom Line

  • Daycare is available in RI.
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Employment

Headline: The U.S. 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 to get approved for FFCRA leave.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics: 

Key Resources

1. RI Dept. of Labor & Training 

2. Economic Progress Institute

  • COVID-19 has disrupted much of the nation’s economy, with historic number of unemployed. Both the federal government and the state have taken steps to help people currently unemployed or unable to work due to COVID-19 illness or related caregiving needs.
  • Gig economy workers who received benefits during this time will also be eligible for the LWA payment. More information here. Fact sheet here (ESP).
  • Effective October 1, 2020, RI’s minimum wage increased to $11.50/hour.

Note: There has been a significant uptick in cases of stolen state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. DLT is investigating hundreds of fraud claims resulting in the temporary suspension of some people’s unemployment benefits.

  • DLT has created this Fact Sheet in English and Spanish on UI Imposter Fraud (last updated May 8, 2020).
  • To protect against scams, use this resource guidance issued from the RI Attorney General’s Office.

Federal:

  • Congress also passed the federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), a stimulus bill supporting individual Americans as well as businesses.

    Note: CARES Act provisions, including the extra $600/week for unemployment recipients, expired. See MLPB digest for more information.

State:

  • RI DLT has launched JobCase, a platform that connects jobseekers to employment and training opportunities.
  • BacktoWorkRI connects Rhode Islanders to work opportunities and initiatives.
  • Employ RI is a website for job-seekers.
  • The RI Department of Labor and Training also offers the following employment benefit programs (described below).

RI Benefits:

JOB LOSS:

If someone has...
  • Lost their job, then apply immediately for Unemployment Insurance (UI) here. (in ASL)
              --DLT is processing a historically high volume of UI applications.
              --For independent contractor, members of the “gig economy” and hair stylists, applications are available.
              --UI eligibility information here (ESP) updated August, 2020)
  • UI benefits stopped due to fraud, verify your account with DLT here.
If someone believes...
  • they have been a victim of fraud, then consider filing a report with the Attorney General’s office here.
  • they have been discriminated against, then considering filing a complaint with the RI Commission for Human Rights.

RI PAID LEAVE:

RI offers workers several options for paid leave that can be used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • With some exceptions most part-time, full-time, seasonal, temporary or other employees who work primarily in Rhode Island can earn one paid hour off for every 35 hours worked.
  • More information here (ESP).
Temporary Disability Insurance
  • Provides up to 30 weeks of benefits for employees who have been injured or become ill
  • Offers up to 60% of wages (plus dependent benefits).
  • If under quarantine, DLT has waived the required medical certification, and instead will allow temporary qualification via self-attestation of quarantine due to COVID-19.
  • File TDI here.
Temporary Caregivers Insurance
  • Provides 4 weeks of paid leave for people providing caregiving to a seriously ill family member (or to bond with an infant or foster child placed within the last 12 months)
  • File TCI here.

Note: For COVID-19-related claims, DLT will waive the seven-day minimum amount of time that claimants must be out of work to qualify for TDI/TCI benefits.

UNPAID LEAVE: 

  • Under Federal and State Family Medical Leave Acts (FMLA), RI workers can receive unpaid leave to address their own illness or to provide caregiving duties. 
  • This FMLA booklet provides basic information about the leave.

The Breakdown:

  • RI has several paid leave programs for working Rhode Islanders impacted by COVID-19, including TDI and Unemployment Insurance.
              --The Economic Progress Institute’s has an FAQ on employment benefits (ESP).
              --Senator Jack Reed’s Office also has this additional employment information found here.
  • Current CARES act impact on unemployment:
              --Extends the length of UI from 26 to 39 weeks.
  • The FFRCA Act can provide certain employees with paid leave either because:
  1. they are required to quarantine or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis, OR
  2. to provide caregiving either to a family member with COVID-19 or to care for a child home due to school or daycare closures

The Bottom Line:

  • Employees returning to work may have questions, especially those who are providing caregiving to family members and workplace safety.
  • Workplace safety information here (ESP) (updated July 2020).
  • The Lost Wages Grant is expected to deliver in total an additional $900 to certain UI recipients.
  • Additional unemployment and other work-related benefits may become available if the federal government passes new legislation.

Spotlight on non-discrimination:

  • Employment discrimination based on national original or race, or the perception of a disability, is illegal. If a person believes they have experienced employment discrimination for these reasons, they can file a complaint with the RI Commission for Human Rights, which is currently providing services telephonically or electronically. Email employment-related questions to: RICHR.Info@richr.ri.gov.
  • The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has this publication on the workplace and the American’s with Disabilities Act, updated with COVID-19 related information. Menu
 


Food_Income Insecurity

Headline: SNAP income guidelines updated for 2021. Additional SNAP benefit supplements available for October.

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:00pm, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

SNAP income guidelines, deductions and benefits were updated for 2021 for benefits starting in October 2020. Income guidelines were increased to reflect the 2020 federal poverty levels. The Guide to Assistance SNAP page offers more information.

ABAWD (Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents) are not subject to the 3 month SNAP time limit and work rules. Due to the pandemic, a temporary exemption was granted. More information here

Starting October 4, 2020, households that receive benefit amounts under the maximum amount will receive additional funds to supplement their regular October benefits. More details about the fund increases in October here.

Starting September 30, 2020, Pandemic-EBT benefits (P-EBT) will be issued to SNAP and non-SNAP households with one or more school-age children who temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price meals at school due to COVID-19. More details about eligibility here.

Note: DHS warns of new scam that texts SNAP recipients for personal information. RI DHS does not send use text messaging for information requests. More information here.

DHS offices have suspended their customer-facing services. State benefit applications can still be submitted online or be dropped off at a DHS office. DHS call center hours have shifted due to increase demand. More information here.

DHS has made changes to the recertification process, increased benefits and relaxed some requirements. A summary of SNAP (as well as other benefit program) changes can be found here. Highlights include:
  • Recertification deadlines have been extended for SNAP benefits. SNAP recipients will have up to 6 months to recertify.
  • Important for “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWD) – New rules that would have restricted SNAP access to ABAWD have been suspended due to a court injunction. This means that an ABAWD can still receive SNAP benefits.
  • Apply here for SNAP.

Online SNAP purchasing

SNAP participants can select and pay for their typical groceries online via EBT payment at both Amazon and participating Walmart stores.

  • One pager here (ESP). (updated July 2020)
  • Please visit here for more information regarding Amazon delivery using SNAP EBT, and here for more information regarding Walmart acceptance of SNAP EBT payments.
          --Check with individual Walmarts for program participation.

Note: SNAP benefits cannot be used to cover the cost of delivery at this time (Walmart delivery costs range from $7.95-$9.95; free shipping on Amazon orders over $35).

Bonus Bucks

  • SNAP recipients can earn Bonus Bucks to be used at Summer Markets that will be open until October. Winter Markets will open as early as November 7, 2020. More information about Bonus Bucks here.

Food Pantries:

  • Demand for food pantry resources is up.
  • The RI Community Food Bank continues to work with partner agencies.
    • The Bank runs a Kids Café Meal Program, which provides a fresh afternoon meal to children and takes place at the Pawtucket YMCA. Learn more about the program here.
    • More local Pantry information can be found here
    • An interactive Emergency and Supplemental Food Site Map can be found here.
    • Updates to the RI Food Bank can be found here.

WIC

Women, Infants and Children (WIC) offices are open to remote services but closed to in-person appointments. WIC is currently following the WIC State of Emergency policy that lists pre-approve substitutions for milk and food.
  • Updated information about WIC programing as well as a list of WIC offices here.
  • The Economic Progress has this one-pager on WIC (ESP) (updated April 2020).
  • Families unable to leave their home due to quarantine or isolation requirements can designate another person to make purchases on behalf of a WIC recipient through September 30, 2020. A proxy letter is required and samples can be found here

School lunch programs

Meals on Wheels
  • Meals on Wheels is currently delivering to older adults, but some dining sites in Providence have been suspended.
  • For the latest on operations, visit Meals on Wheels COVID-19 response page.

Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)

  • CFAP has created the Farmers to Families Food Box program for individuals that are food insecure, distributing about 3,750 boxes weekly that are filled with local produce and dairy products. The Rhode Island Food Bank and FarmFreshRI have begun distribution, and a list highlighting which food bank serves you can be found here.
  • CFAP also maintains a program that will provide vital financial assistance for farmers and ranchers taking a large hit from COVID-19. The application process for receiving aid is highlighted here.

RI Delivers

  •  RI launched RI Delivers to help connect people in quarantine or isolation to food delivery services.

The Breakdown:

  • People can still access SNAP benefits, food pantries, WIC services, and Meals on Wheels but are encouraged to check routinely with the various agencies to confirm hours and access protocols.

SNAP:

  • SNAP income guidelines deductions and benefits for 2021 were updated to reflect the 2020 federal poverty levels for benefits issued starting October 2020. Maximum benefit amounts were increased (e.g. from $194 to $204 for a single individual).
  • Starting October 4, 2020, households receiving benefit amounts under the maximum amount will receive additional benefits as a supplement to the regular October issuance.
  • P-EBT benefits will be issued for the two weeks public schools’ reopening were delayed and for each day a child is learning virtually for at least 5 days in a row because the school reopened to virtual learning only or the household chose virtual learning.
  • Although many food delivery services are not equipped to take EBT card payments at this time, Amazon and participating Walmart stores are now accepting SNAP EBT payments.
  • SNAP recipients who were required to recertify in March, April or May will have up to 6 months to complete the recertification process. SNAP benefits will be maintained through September, October and November respectively.
              --While this deadline has been extended, SNAP recipients should recertify to avoid a disruption of their benefits.

WIC:

  • Families who use WIC services should ask if formula can be mailed directly to their home address.

Note: In March, the federal government distributed economic stimulus payments equaling $1,200/adult. The stimulus payment DOES NOT impact RI Works or WIC eligibility. For more information, see this FAQ.

School lunch programs:

  • There are various cities and community-based organizations that offer “Grab and Go” programs where EBT cards can be used. Here is the RIDOH list of participating municipalities.
  • Students attending in-person classes may qualify for the National School Lunch Program.

Food Pantries:

  • Pantries are still operating, just with less volunteers than usual.
  • Many pantries are not accepting food donations, but monetary donations from third parties are still welcome.

CFAP:

  • For the next several weeks, the RI Food Bank and FarmFresh will continue to work to roll out the food box distribution process.

The Bottom Line

  • SNAP recipients should continue to monitor DHS’ requests for information and to comply with certification requests to ensure that benefits are issued in a timely manner.
  • “Grab and Go” meals are available for children throughout the state.
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Rhode Island Works (cash assistance)

Headline: Individuals who have not received their stimulus check only have until November 21, 2020 to file their request.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 10:00am, October 20, 2020

 

The Basics:

Key Resource

RI Dept. of Human Services

Economic Stimulus Payment:

  • In March, the federal government distributed economic stimulus payments equaling $1,200/adult. The stimulus payment DOES NOT impact RI Works. More information here.
  • Individuals who have not received their stimulus check only have until November 21, 2020 to file their request. More information here (ESP).

State benefits:

  • DHS has instituted a number of emergency procedures in response to the pandemic. More information here.

Online purchasing

  • RI Works recipients can use benefits to make online food and other purchases at participating Walmarts. Delivery fees will still apply. 

COVID-related program waivers

  • RI Works typically requires applicants to comply with a variety of requirements, such as creating work plans or participating in job programs. In response to COVID-19, DHS has created these policy and procedures. These include:
    • Telephonic interviews to complete RI Works applications and employment plans.
    • Telephonic signatures to allow for the completion of RI Works applications.
    • Recertification deadlines are extended for 6 months.
    • Employment plans that need signatures will be mailed and returned either through pre-paid envelopes or can be uploaded through the customer portal.
    • “Good cause” exemptions will be granted to families whose job or training programs are closed.
    • Apply here for cash assistance.

The Breakdown:

Economic Stimulus Payment:

  • The federal government issued stimulus checks automatically earlier this to year to eligible households. Families who did not receive their check must file by November 21, 2020. Filing information here.

State benefits:

  • RI Works recipients required to recertify in March, April, and May, will have 6 months to complete the process and will have their benefit maintained through September, October and November respectively.
  • Application supports and program requirements are being adjusted, often with waivers and good cause exemptions be applied.
  • Families receiving RI Works should continue to receive RI Works even if they can’t complete their work plans.

The Bottom Line:

  • Most people have already received their federal economic stimulus checks. For those that have automatically received theirs, they must file by November 21, 2020.
  • RI Works recipients should continue to monitor DHS’ requests for information and to comply with program requirements to ensure that there are no disruptions to program enrollment.
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Gov ID

Headline: Driver license expirations have been extended.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. RI Division of Motor Vehicles

2. AAA

  • The Cranston, Middletown, Wakefield and Woonsocket DMVs are open by reservation only. 
  • Driver’s licenses and IDs expiration dates have been extended:
    • March expirations have been extended for 240 days
    • April or May expirations have been extended for 180 days
    • June expirations have been extended for 150 days.
    • September expirations have been extended for 60 days.
  • A full list of services available online or by mail here.
  • AAA has reopened some of their storefronts. Roadside assistance remains available.

The Breakdown

  • Driver license and learner permit services are available, as well as other services.
  • AAA has reopened many of its storefront services to customers.
  • Licenses that would have expired March through September have been given extensions.
  • Obtaining an appointment with the DMV can be challenging as call volume is high. Expect wait-times and be prepared to try calling the DMV at different times of the day. 

The Bottom Line

  • The DMV and AAA may resume more customer-facing activities with social distance rules and policies. Menu

Health Insurance

Headline: Medicare open enrollment begins October 15, 2020.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Office of the Health Commissioner

2. HealthSourceRI

3. RIPIN

Health Insurance Enrollment:

  • Eligible uninsured Rhode Islanders can apply for insurance through a “special enrollment period” if there has been:
    • Job loss
    • The employer changed the employee’s coverage
    • The household size has changed
    • A recent move to RI
    • A change to immigration status
    • A young adult who can no longer covered by their parent’s insurance due to aging out
    • Loss of a government provided coverage.
  • Uninsured Rhode Islanders eligible for Medicaid can apply at any time. 
  • Information about immigrant-specific eligibility can be found here (ESP).

Medicare open enrollment began on October 15, 2020 and runs through December 7, 2020.

Note: The annual open enrollment period for other insurance plans opens on November 1, 2020.

Coverage Changes:

Temporary changes have been made in response to COVID-19. This FAQ (ESP) (updated April 15, 2020) summarizes the following changes:

  • Medicaid renewals and recertification deadlines have been extended, and terminations are on hold.
  • RI’s health insurance commissioner has ordered all health insurers in Rhode Island, including Medicaid, to cover testing for COVID-19 with no copays.
    • Insurers also must cover treatment for those infected by COVID-19, retroactively if necessary.
  • Telemedicine restrictions have been relaxed through November 2, 2020.
    • Health insurers must cover telemedicine for primary care, specialty care, and mental and behavioral health care conducted over the phone or by videoconference.
      • Phones can be used for telemedicine appointments for those fully insured or with Medicaid.
      • For Medicare, both audio and video capabilities are needed for telemedicine appointments.
    • Telemedicine will be available across RI and MA state lines.
    • Some Early Intervention services will be covered.
  • Insured patients will not be charged for COVID-19 related testing or treatment. OHIC and the Department of Business Regulation’s FAQ here.

Testing:

  • Rhode Islanders with symptoms or who are asymptomatic but fit a special category can be tested. Uninsured Rhode Islanders are eligible for free testing. More information here.

The Breakdown:

  • Rhode Islanders may still be able to apply for health insurance if they are either Medicaid eligible or meet one of the special enrollment conditions.
  • Uninsured Rhode Islanders may be able to receive free or reduced fee care from these providers.
  • During the state’s COVID-19 emergency response, no one currently receiving Medicaid will be terminated.
  • For telemedicine, insurance type matters inform the technical requirements needed. Patients should contact their provider for more information about scheduling telemedicine appointments.
  • Patients who live in MA but receive care in RI can avail themselves to telemedicine appointments if their provider offers telemedicine.

The Bottom Line

  • Additional changes might be forthcoming related to insurance access, recertifications, and terminations. Menu

Housing Instability

Headline: The Centers for Disease has issued a national eviction moratorium for some renters, effective September 4, 2020.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. Rhode Island Landlord Tenant Handbook - For tenants

2. RI Housing - for homeowners

Per order of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a national eviction moratorium takes effect September 4, 2020 through December 31, 2020. At-risk renters, must give a sworn declaration to their landlord that says the following:

  1. They used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing;
  2. They either
    1. expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return)
    2. was not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or
    3. received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check)
  3. They are unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  4. They used best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and
  5. They would likely be homeless— or force the individual to move into and live in close quarters in a new congregate or shared living setting— because the individual has no other available housing options.

Tenants must use this form for their declaration! Tenants must give the declaration to the landlord in order for the eviction moratorium to protect the tenant from eviction.

More information is here and here. Eviction moratorium fact sheets in Arabic, Chinese, Creole, English, Spanish, Vietnamese here.

Note: Evictions based on reasons other than non-payment can still be filed! Renters who have not experienced a financial loss due to COVID-19, such as those who receive fixed governmental benefits such as SSI or SSDI, may not be included in this moratorium protection.

CDC guidance has clarified that landlords can:

  • challenge tenant declarations and,
  • initiate evictions based on non-payment of rent before the expiration of the moratorium, but can not actually evict until the moratorium has lifted

Eviction defense is available for Providence residents! The City of Providence has $1 million in aid to support Providence residents. Call RI Legal Services and the RI Center for Justice directly for assistance.

Rental assistance is available! Example programs include:

  • Safe Harbor Housing Program gives tenants a solution outside of the court system by allowing them to create a multi-month payment plan with their landlord intended to ease their financial burden during COVID-19. Any tenant who falls into a low-income criteria and is behind on their rent as a result of COVID-19 is welcome to apply.
  • Tenants will be able to organize their payment plan with landlords, as well as have access to free legal advice/services if needed.
  • To apply, tenants or landlords can visit United Way’s website or call (401) 444-0600 and ask about the “Safe Harbor Housing Program.” Both landlords and tenants must be willing to participate. Tenant application here.
  • HomeSafe rental assistance fund is open and a common application found here. (Applicants will have to create an account and select the “HomeSafe” option). This is a one-time grant of financial assistance for families experiencing housing insecurity. Eligibility is narrow. Applicants must:
    • have a qualifying short-term housing emergency (e.g. at risk of imminent homelessness)
    • have lived in RI since May 1, 2019, and
    • meet income eligibility (at or below 50% Area Median Income).
  • Dorcas International has the weR1 program, which supports those unable to access benefits due to immigration status. Due to demand, applicants are encouraged to apply only once. Program overview here (ESP) (updated July 2020). One-pager here (ESP) (updated July 2020).

Note: RI Housing’s Emergency Tenant- Based Rental Assistance Program (E-TBRA) is closed.

New Landlord Incentives: 

  • The state has re-launched an initiative to incentivize RI landlords to rent to households experiencing homelessness or who have Section 8 vouchers. Participating landlords are eligible for a $2,000 signing bonus and up to $2,000 per unit for move-in upgrades and repairs. Landlords will receive another $500 for every additional unit they rent to a low-income family.

Conditions of Disrepair:

Tenants have the right to safe and habitable apartments that comply with RI housing code laws. Tenants living with conditions of disrepair should first notify their landlord in writing. The tenant can also file a complaint with their town/city hall code inspection department.

  • Towns and cities are responsible for enforcing Minimum Housing Standards. For more information, contact the specific town/city hall code inspection department.

Homeowners:

  • The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) extended the foreclosure moratorium on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until at least December 31, 2020. This protects homeowners with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages.
    • The foreclosure moratorium applies to Enterprise-backed, single-family mortgages only.
    • The REO eviction moratorium applies to properties that have been acquired by an Enterprise through foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure transactions.
    • More information here.
  • Assistance for homeowners experiencing financial loss due can be found here.
  • RI Housing has this homeowner’s guidance detailing assistance programs and recommendations.
  • A number of mortgage forbearance plans have been made available by mortgage companies. Contact RIHousing for specific questions about homeownership.

The Breakdown for...

Tenants and Landlords

  • A national eviction moratorium is effective as of September 4, 2020 for many renters. Not all tenants facing an eviction may be covered.
    • Tenants will need to submit a sworn statement asserting that:
      • they are unable to afford the rent to an income loss,
      • attempted to secure rental assistance from a governmental program,
      • they made attempts to make partial rental payments, and
      • that they are at risk of homelessness.
    • RI state courts are accepting evictions based on non-payment of rent, but holding them until after the national moratorium expires.
      • For example, landlords who wish to renovate their property can issue a tenancy termination notice and if the tenant overstays, the landlord would be able to file for an eviction against the tenant, even if the tenant was current with their rent.
    • RI state courts have made it clear that a tenant can submit their declaration not only before an eviction, but also after an eviction for non-payment has been filed. The RI Court has further clarified that the declaration can be submitted as post-judgement phases of an eviction. More information here.
      • RI is mailing tenants facing eviction information about the CDC eviction moratorium.
    • IPV (DV) survivors may have specific housing rights covered by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The National Housing Law Project has this guidance.
      • Reminder: Only a judge can order a tenant to be evicted. Self-help evictions, where landlords circumvent the required court process, are also illegal.
    • Landlord-tenant resources:
    • Accessing free legal services can be challenging. Here are few resources renters and landlords can use during this time:
    • Applying and receiving rental assistance has been challenging. Thousands of Rhode Islanders have applied but very few have been approved. Providence Journal has this report.

Homeowners: 

  • Some homeowners may be protected from foreclosure under a federal moratorium, while others may be eligible for financial assistance or a forbearance on their mortgage payments.
  • Homeowners should individually contact their mortgage companies to learn whether they are eligible for relief. 
  • If a person needs mortgage counseling, contact RI Housing.

The Bottom Line:  

  • A national eviction moratorium is in place as of September 4, 2020. The CDC order does not prevent all types of evictions. It also does not include a foreclosure moratorium.
    • This is an evolving story with an expectation that lawsuits will be filed to challenge the CDC order.
  • Emergency rental assistance funds are scarce and often have specific and strict eligibility guidelines.

Spotlight on non-discrimination:

  • Housing discrimination based on Race, Color, National, Religion, Family Status (having children under 18), Mental or Physical Disability, Marital Status, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, Age (18+), or Status as a Victim of Domestic Violence is illegal.
  • If a person believes they have experienced housing discrimination for these reasons, they can file a complaint with the RI Commission for Human Rights, telephonically or electronically. Email housing-related questions to: Info@richr.ri.gov.

 

Shelter

Headline: Shelters are open. 

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

 

The Basics:

Key Resource

RI Coalition for the Homeless

  • Shelters are open. People experiencing homelessness can call individual shelters or the State Coordinated Entry System (CES) hotline (401) 277-4316 for diversion and shelter resources. Shelters have new requirements related to COVID-19 screening.

    Exception: Families seeking shelter must call (401) 277-4316 to go through a Diversion Assessment to be placed on the family shelter waitlist.

The Breakdown for people experiencing homelessness in RI:

  • Shelters are open! People who need shelter should contact individual shelters for assistance. Shelters are using a screening tool to assess for COVID-19 related systems.

The Bottom Line:


 

Immigration

Headline: Most field offices are open.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources

1. National Immigration Law Center

2. United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services (USCIS)

Community Resources

  • Mutual aid and other forms are community are available but in limited supply. Dorcas International has the weR1 program, which supports those unable to access benefits due to immigration status. Application volume is high- expect longer processing times.
  • CARES act funding aimed at supporting university students impacted by COVID-related disruptions may also be available to students with special visas, such as DACA, TPS, U-visa, or Withholding of Status. More information here.

 The Breakdown

  • Finding support for RI’s immigrant community may be even more challenging than usual.
  • Community based organizations have closed their offices to public facing activities.
  • Access to supports for RI’s immigrant community may be increasingly limited
  • USCIS applications will like have processing delays. Menu


 

Public Charge

Headline: The public charge test can be used in Rhode Island.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

 The Basics:

Key Resource

Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition

  • USCIS has made it clear that the new public charge rule would not apply to:
    • Testing, treatment or preventative care for COVID-19
    • WIC, school lunch programs, food pantries
    • Disaster relief

Remember: the 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 Breakdown: 

  • Concerns for public charge will likely persist, but in addition to the court injunctions, the federal government had already made it clear that immigrants who need COVID-19 testing and related treatment will not be subject to the test.
  • Concerns for public charge will likely persist, but the federal government has made it clear that immigrants who need COVID-19 testing and related treatment will not be subject to the test. Eligible immigrants should continue to use WIC, school lunch programs and pantries. 

The Bottom Line:

  • The public charge test can be used in nearly all states. Families with questions about public charge should connect with immigration experts to have their specific questions and needs evaluated.
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IPV

Headline: Blackstone Valley Advocacy has expanded services into Providence, Woonsocket, and the Northern RI community.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 9:00am, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Key Resources:

1. RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence  (RICADV)

2. RI Office of Healthy Aging (OHA)

  • There has been a spike in IPV reports throughout the pandemic. A variety of statistics and information about the rise can be found here. Organizations are open to support individuals and families who need to engage in safety planning.
  • Restraining orders are available, but not all courts are currently open. RICADV has this resource for individuals seeking restraining orders.
  • The RI State Police launched an awareness program called Safe at Home to raise awareness of the threat of increased violence during this pandemic.

IPV/DV

  • For help from a IPV/DV organization, check RICADV’s website or check with individual community- based organizations for resources and support.
  • The 24/7 statewide helpline is 1-800-494-8100. In case of emergency, call 911.
  • IPV survivors may have specific housing rights covered by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The National Housing Law Project has this guidance.
  • BVAC has expanded its services, including more transitional housing and wrap-around support. A new drop-in center in Providence will open soon. More information here.
Elder Abuse:
  • Elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation reports can be made here.

The Breakdown:

  • It is important to acknowledge the reality that social/physical distancing limitations controls IPV survivors' movement in ways that may be triggering and endangering. Essential safety services through police and courts are functioning.
  • However, for many survivors these resources may not be good or safe options, for a variety of reasons. For those individuals, it's important to note that the above referenced helplines are available and the National DV hotline offers a chat option.
  • Being an ally to someone in an abusive situation can look like helping the person stay safe by listening, expressing concern without judgment, and asking them if there is anything you can do for them. More on safety planning and resources
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Mental Health

Headline: The stresses of COVID-19 may impact mental health. Resources are available for Rhode Islanders.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:00pm, October 20, 2020

Online Resources for Adults:

Key Resources:

1. BH Link

2. Kids Link

3. RI Dept. Of Behavioral Healthcare, Dev. Disabilities & Hospitals

 

  • 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. 
    • SAMHSA also created this flyer to help individuals better understand how to take care of their mental health during a pandemic.
  • Some employers may offer special support programs such as Employment Assistance Programs. Check with individual employers for more information.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255.
  • The Mental Health Association of RI (MHARI) provides a list of resources for individuals struggling with mental health conditions, including substance use disorders, domestic violence support, and general resources.
  • Individuals seeking legal services relating to mental health conditions can contact the Rhode Island Mental Health Advocate, Megan Clingham, at (401) 462-2003.
  • It is important to note there are no visitors currently allowed at any Eleanor Slater Hospital units or buildings as a result of COVID-19.
  • NAMI Family Support Groups also exist for family members, caregivers, and loved ones of individuals living with mental illness.
  • The Rhode Island Prevention Resource Center (RIPRC) provides a list of prevention resources for caregivers, community members, youth, and prevention providers and educators. More information here.
  • The Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) provides a list of resources for individuals struggling with substance use disorders, including Safe Stations and other treatment options.
  • Project Weber/RENEW is an organization that provides a full range of harm reduction, recovery, and basic needs services to men and women, including the transgender community. More information about locations here.

Hotline Help:

  • Individuals who need help with general behavioral health support and finding a behavioral healthcare provider can contact BH Link at (401) 414-LINK (5465).
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255.
  • For individuals with moderate to severe opioid use disorder (OUD), Rhode Island has introduced a Buprenorphine Hotline offering 24-hour telehealth access for patients.
    • Individuals can receive a health assessment, a prescription for buprenorphine if appropriate, and linkage to a Rhode Island Center of Excellence for maintenance treatment.
    • Please dial (401) 6060-5456 to reach this Hotline.
  • For certified peer recovery services during COVID-19, there are several community centers that hold available response call lines available from 8AM-8PM.

The Basics for Children:

  • Parents can contact Kids Link or call 1-855-543-5465 for 24/7 access to behavioral health triage services and referral network.
  • RIDE has developed a resource page for students struggling with their mental health during COVID-19.

The Basics for Older Adults:

  • The Office of Healthy Aging has created Project Hello to help isolated older adults connect to volunteer. More information here.

The Breakdown: 

  • Rhode Islanders can access behavioral health supports through telemedicine. Menu 

Transportation Needs-1

Headline: Mailed renewal applications for reduced or No Fare Bus passes are accepted.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 11:00am, October 14, 2020

The Basics for public transportation…

Key Resources

1. RIPTA COVID-19 Response - Public transportation

2. MTM - Non-emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT)

  • The Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) is running bus and Paratransit services throughout RI. However, there are changes.
              --
    Certain transit centers, such as Kennedy Plaza, are closed.
              --See the latest detours and schedule changes here.
  • RIPTA had instituted new rules for riders.
              --RIPTA is limiting the number of passengers on buses for fixed routes. No more than 20 people will be permitted on the bus.
              --RIPTA is asking passengers to wear cloth face masks.

The Basics for non-emergency medical transportation…

  • MTM, the state vendor for NEMT for Medicaid patients, continues to provide transportation for essential medical appointments. Contact MTM for more information.
  • RIPIN can also offer support for NEMT-related questions.
  • MTM will also continue to offer reimbursements for caregivers providing transportation for Medicaid patients.
  • Transportation to COVID-19 testing sites: MTM has policies and procedures in place to transport Medicaid and those individuals who qualify for the Elderly Transportation Program (ETP)
    • This transportation is available only if there is no other means of transport, and other eligibility criteria has been met. Eligible individuals can call: 1-855-330-9131.

The Basics for private transportation companies…

  • Private ride-share companies continue to operate in RI but check with individual companies for the latest information. Check with individual cab companies for updated ride information.  
 The Breakdown: 
  • Public transportation is still available in RI as is NEMT for Medicaid patients who need to keep their essential medical appointments.Menu


Utility Needs

Headline: Low-income customers are protected from utility shut-off through April 15, 2021.

 

Last-reviewed Timestamp: 4:00pm, October 20, 2020

The Basics:

Electric and Gas:

Key Resources

1. RI Public Utilities Commission and Division of Carriers (PUC)

2. George Wiley Center

  • Eligible low-income gas and utility customers are protected from shut-off through April 2021. Program eligibility information here.
  • Through November 1, 2020, for low-income residential customers the PUC has ordered:
    • Utility terminations based on non-payment (electric and gas) are suspended.
    • Collection activities to be suspended.
    • Late fees, credit card charges, and interest are suspended.
    • The PUC has also directed utility companies to conduct outreach to utility customers with arrearages to discuss payment plans.
  • Other customers types may be eligible for shut-off protection based on reasons related to health, employment status, intimate partner violence/DV, or age protections. More information here.
  • The LIHEAP 2020 season began on October 1, 2020 and includes new LIHEAP income guidelines. People who received LIHEAP last year should already have received a renewal application in the mail and will receive their confirmation letters beginning November 1, 2020.
  • For advocacy assistance or more information, visit the George Wiley Center.

Water

Water shut-off protection is not included in this moratorium. Shut-off protection for water varies across the state. For example:
  • The Providence Water Authority will not shut-off water due to non-payment during the pandemic related state of emergency. More information here.
  • As of July 17, 2020, the Kent County Water Authority will shut-off water for non-payment but offer waivers of interest on delinquent accounts as well as waivers for credit card fees.
Check with individual municipal water authorities for more information.

The Breakdown:

Gas and Electric:

  • Only low-income utility customers are protected through November 1, 2020. November 1 is also the start of RI’s annual winter moratorium that protects certain customers from utility shut-off. The winter moratorium lasts until April 15, 2021 with extensions permitted based on weather conditions. Effectively, low-income customers cannot have their utilities terminated any earlier than April 15, 2021.
    • Customers must affirmatively obtain the protected status on their account. Contact National Grid or a local Community Action Program for assistance.
    • A moratorium is not forgiveness. Customers will continue to be charged for their utility usage.
    • To avoid a future utility termination or debt collection matters, customers can continue making utility payments if possible. Payment plans remain available.
  • Other shut-off protections are available based on household member’s health, age, employment status, or family stability (IPV/DV or divorce). These protections must be asserted by the customer. More information here.

Water:

  • To date, there is no statewide moratorium on water shut-offs. Some water authorities are offering shut-off protection, while others are not.

The Bottom Line

  • Low-income utility customers are protected from utility shut-off through April 2021. Additional protections are available.
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Internet

The Basics:

  • For resources for accessing the Internet in-home during COVID-19, check the RI Office of Innovation.
  • The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has this nationwide resource list.

The Breakdown: 

  • Some providers may continue to offer reduced-cost plans.

The Bottom Line:

  • Check this page for updated resources and specific information on how Rhode Islanders can access free or discounted in-home internet during COVID-19.
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WTD

The Breakdown: 

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