The coronavirus pandemic continues to cause immense economic hardship for working families and businesses, and many are urgently awaiting financial help. Below is a guide to connect you with the basic information you’ll need to get through this, as well as details on government benefits and available services.
In Maryland anyone who has lost a job, been furloughed or forced to stay home due social distancing orders can file for unemployment. People who have been ordered to isolate or had to leave their jobs to avoid exposure or to care for an infected family member, are also eligible.
You can immediately file an unemployment claim online through the state labor department website or by phone. The state is waiving the work search requirements during the pandemic. People generally receive about half of their weekly wages for as long as 26 weeks.
Congress is boosting unemployment benefits by adding $600 weekly payments on top of the usual weekly unemployment checks for four months and adding 13 weeks of additional benefits. Self-employed and part-time workers would now also be covered.
Paid Sick and Family Leave
Most workers at small and medium-sized businesses, can get paid leave as long as they’ve been employed for at least 30 days.
These workers can get two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill or quarantined, or if they are caring for sick family members. They can get 12 weeks of paid leave to care for children whose schools or childcare are closed.
Part-time workers will be paid the amount they typically earn in a two-week period. Self-employed workers can receive paid leave by claiming a tax credit based on their average daily income.
Here in Maryland, companies with 15 employees or more have to offer 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
More information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor, including a fact sheet for workers and a page answering questions for employers and employees.
The U.S. Department of Education has granted a payment waiver of at least 60 days to many borrowers but you have to call your loan service and request a waiver. You will not be charged interest during this time, and your credit score will not be negatively impacted. The federal government also announced an automatic student loan interest waiver, which doesn’t lower your monthly payment but instead has the full amount go towards the principal.
You also retain the option of entering an income-based repayment program.
The Education Department also said it would refund nearly $1.8 billion to more than 830,000 borrowers whose wages, Social Security payments and tax refunds have been garnished due to defaulted federal student loans.
Congress passed legislation to automatically suspend student loan payments without interest for six months.
While these do not apply to people with private student loans, a number of private lenders - including Sallie Mae, Navient and Wells Fargo - have said they will assist distressed borrowers.
Help for Homeowners and Renters
The Federal Housing Finance Agency is allowing borrowers whose mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to delay payments for up to 12 months.
Federal housing officials have also announced a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for borrowers of Fannie or Freddie mortgages, or those with F.H.A. loans. You can use this site to find if Fannie or Freddie own your mortgage.
Maryland courts are blocked from ordering the eviction of tenants who cannot pay due to the coronavirus.
Congress’ recovery bill will impose a 6-month moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for homeowners and renters living in federally subsidized apartments and homes with federally backed mortgages. It also allocates $12 billion in funding for federal housing and rental assistance.
Assistance with Utilities
A number of large telecommunication companies have agreed not to terminate residential or small business customers who can’t pay their bills: AT&T, Comcast, Cox, RCN, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. A full list is available at the Federal Communications Commission. Low-income households may be eligible to receive service for free.
BGE and Pepco are suspending service disconnections and waiving late payment fees until at least May 1.
Washington Gas will not be disconnecting customers or charging late fees.
WSSC has suspended water shut-offs and waived late fees for those who have trouble paying.
Getting Health Insurance
Maryland has reopened its health insurance exchange for a special enrollment period until June 15, 2020. If you lost your job or are working reduced hours, you may also qualify for Medicaid and can apply online through the Maryland Health Connection.
The $2 trillion economic rescue package Congress has passed includes direct payments to individuals and families.
Most adults would get a one-time payment of $1,200. Every child under the age of 16 would receive an additional $500.
Single adults with Social Security numbers who have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less would get the full amount. Married couples with no children earning $150,000 or less would receive a total of $2,400. The payment decreases for those with higher incomes until it stops for single people earning $99,000 or married couples earning $198,000. This is based on your 2019 tax return, or your 2018 if you haven’t prepared a tax return yet.
People receiving Social Security retirement, disability payments, are unemployed and veterans will all get payments.