Newsletter: NEW INFO! Updated Guide to Federal & Local COVID-19 Help

Dear Resident,

I know many of you, like me, are experiencing some struggles going into Week 4 of #StayHomeDC. I am having to make significant adjustments to my daily routine, and I know that those taking care of children or sharing confined spaces with family and friends are navigating a difficult new normal. Successfully reducing our health risk from COVID-19 is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I want to thank every resident who is going to great lengths to stay home for your sacrifices to keep COVID-19 contained, and yourself and your community safe.

Many of you have written to me with questions about what support is available for you and your families. My staff and I have been working around-the-clock to get you updates and information – through my newsletters, a coronavirus-focused section of my website, and most recently through Facebook Live webinars explaining what resources are available and how to access them. I have also published a series of one-page infographics to help you quickly navigate what help you’re eligible for as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to jump straight to our updated COVID-19 resources (*updated 4/9/2020!), which contains answers to the most common questions I’m receiving.

Thanks for reading, stay safe.

Elissa.

Legislative Updates

 

EMERGENCY LEGISLATION TO HELP RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES

Earlier today, the DC Council passed a second COVID-19 emergency response bill that further expands unemployment insurance, freezes rent, sets up a limited mortgage deferral program (and directs landlords to pass relief they receive from mortgage servicers on to both residential and commercial tenants), makes critical adjustments to our public safety agencies, and implements important consumer protections – such as dealing with debt collection during this time. An explanation of the major sections of the bill is available here. You can read a summary of the first COVID-19 emergency bill in my earlier newsletter here.

FEDERAL AID PACKAGES

  • The Families First Act (FFA) expands paid sick time and emergency paid leave for workers impacted by COVID-19 and makes testing for COVID-19 free to the public. Read a summary of the legislation here.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expands unemployment insurance for individuals, small businesses, hospitals, state and local governments, and others. Read a summary of the legislation here.

COVID-19 Updated Resources & Frequently Asked Questions

 

Below I've compiled a list of frequently asked questions in various areas. I hope this is helpful to you; let me know if there are other questions you’re having difficulty getting answers to!

Click any of the sections below to jump ahead:

UNEMPLOYMENT AND PAID SICK LEAVE

I’m unemployed, or I’ve had my hours cut from a District-based business due to COVID-19. What cash assistance is available?

Apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) at dcnetworks.org to receive the District’s weekly benefit (maximum of $444/week) for up to 39 weeks PLUS an additional $600 per week in federal aid for up to four months. The District will begin processing federal aid on April 17, with the first payments starting on April 21. Learn more here.

How do I apply for UI?

It is best to use a desktop or laptop computer to fill out application online at dcnetworks.org. The application is most compatible with the Internet Explorer browser and cannot be filed using a cell phone.

If you don’t have computer and internet access, call 202-724-7000.

I’m a gig worker, independent contractor, or self-employed. What cash assistance is available for me?

The new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program expands UI eligibility to include self-employed workers, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. However, system adjustments need to be made by the Department of Employment Services (DOES) before your claim can be successfully processed. The system should be updated and ready for applicants by April 24, 2020. However, we encourage interested applicants to also email pua@dc.gov to sign up for updates.

If you applied previously for UI but were denied because you are a 1099 worker, your application will not automatically be approved following the federal qualifications expansion, you must reapply.

I’m an undocumented District worker. Can I access unemployment insurance?

Unfortunately, undocumented workers are excluded from UI. The Council is working with Mayor Bowser and her administration to provide locally-funded cash assistance as quickly as possible. Learn more here and stay tuned to our website for updates.

My unemployment insurance benefits recently ran out. Could I sign up again?

Yes. The new federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program allows eligible workers to receive at least another 13 weeks of assistance, along with the extra $600 federal payment through July 31. Learn more here.

When will I get my unemployment insurance benefits?

Processing takes roughly 21 days after you apply, though this may be longer given the unprecedented number of applications DOES has been receiving. Learn more about what to expect here.

Do I qualify for paid sick leave? If so, is there a waiting period before I can use this leave?

All District workers qualify for some paid sick leave. You can learn more about how much sick leave District workers have here and read an overview of how the federal aid package expands paid sick time here. Take this questionnaire from Family Values Work to understand your rights to paid leave and paid sick time under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

What happens if I use up all my sick leave and I’m immunocompromised?

If you have a disability such as a compromised immune system, your employer may be required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation such as telecommuting. Click here for more information about reasonable accommodations.

Find a series of guides to unemployment insurance in the District at elissasilverman.com/coronavirus.


ASSISTANCE FOR BUSINESSES

I need help making payroll. Is there help available for my business?

  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) has two key programs available to help COVID-affected small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) make payroll and cover other expenses from February 15 to June 30: the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
  • Under PPP, employers are eligible for a 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid up to $10,000 during the crisis. EIDL has a more flexible range of uses but does not include a loan forgiveness option.
  • EIDL does, however, include an emergency grant option of up to $10,000 that does not have to be repaid. When a small business submits their applications for the EIDL loan, they should indicate they are interested in the emergency grant at the same time. Learn more about these and other federal programs available here.
  • The DC Council’s second emergency COVID bill mandates that landlords who receive forbearance from their mortgage servicer need to pass that assistance down to their commercial tenants. See Sec. 202 of the Council’s April 7, 2020 emergency bill. The District had also set up a $25 million micro-grant program, but applications have now closed.

How do I apply, where can I go for help?

  • DC businesses can start the process on SBA's website by clicking here and then “Apply for Assistance.” 
  • You can also contact the SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 1-800-659-2955 (open daily from 7:00am to 9:00pm EST) or by emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

TAXES AND STIMULUS CHECKS

Has the deadline to file my taxes changed?

  • Yes, the federal government has extended the tax deadline to July 15. Your tax refund does not affect any coronavirus stimulus payment you may receive.

Who is eligible to receive a stimulus check?

  • Most individuals will qualify for the “relief rebate so long as they file taxes. If you do not file taxes, but you do receive a federal benefit like Social Security, veteran’s benefits, or Medicaid, you will qualify and your rebate will be directly deposited into your account. Other citizens who do not file taxes may still be eligible, but need to file a simple tax return. Learn more the simple tax return process here.
  • You are not eligible for a stimulus check if someone claims you as a dependent, even if you’re an adult. There is an exception for members of the military. Learn more about eligibility and exemptions here.

If I’m eligible for a stimulus check, how much will I receive?

  • Eligible individuals will receive a $1,200 refundable tax credit ($2,400 for joint taxpayers). Taxpayers with children will receive a flat $500 for each child.

When will stimulus checks be received?

  • The estimated deposit date for eligible residents is in mid-April. Individuals receiving paper checks should expect them in late April/early May. You can follow the Internal Revenue Service’s coronavirus resource page for additional information.

HOUSING ASSISTANCE

I can’t pay my rent this month. What should I do?

  • Evictions are prohibited in the District until at least May 1, 2020 and rent increases are frozen until at least 30 days after the public health emergency ends. If you are concerned about being able to pay your rent, contact your landlord immediately to discuss your options. If you need additional support (including legal services) contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate at 202-719-6560. Residents may also access the “Ask the Chief Tenant Advocate” system online by clicking here.
  • The April 7, 2020 Council emergency legislation mandates that landlords who receive forbearance or other assistance from their mortgage servicer need to pass that down to residential tenants. See Sec. 202 of the Council's emergency legislation for details.

I can’t pay my mortgage this month or am concerned that I might miss an upcoming payment. What should I do?

  • Foreclosures are prohibited in the District until at least May 1, 2020. If your property is secured with a government-backed mortgage, the federal CARES Act provides additional protections. Find a HUD-approved housing counseling agency here. Additional resources via the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.
  • If you haven’t missed your mortgage payment yet, but are concerned about being able to pay, reach out to your mortgage servicer as soon as possible to discuss your options. For borrowers with loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you may be eligible to defer payments for up to a year.

I can’t pay my utility bill this month. Will my services be cut off?

  • NO. Electric, gas, water, and internet service providers are prohibited from disconnecting service during the COVID-19 crisis. The April 7, 2020 emergency bill from DC Council expanded this help to include additional services. Find a complete summary here.

STUDENT LOAN RELIEF

Is there any relief for federal student loan payments during the COVID-19 emergency?

  • Yes. Under the federal CARES Act, payments for federal student loans will automatically stop from March 13, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2020. Interest is also being temporarily set at 0% on federal student loans. No action is needed to stop payments, and you can still make payments if you choose. Read the borrower Q&A from studentaid.gov to learn more.

Will I receive a stimulus check if I’m a current student?

  • If anyone claims you as a dependent on a tax return, no. Usually, students under the age of 24 are dependents if a parent pays for at least half of their expenses. 

FOOD ACCESS FOR FAMILIES

How do I enroll in a food access program for the first time?

I’m a District resident already using a food assistance program. Do I have to re-certify?

  • No. Residents receiving SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, Alliance, or other public benefits do not need to take any action to continue receiving benefits that would otherwise expire on April 30, even if they have received a letter saying it’s time to re-certify.

Where can children receive meals while schools are closed?

  • All DC Public School (DCPS) buildings are closed through April 24, but meals continue to be available for students. A list of meal site locations in every ward is here. A list of public charter schools offering meals to children (students and non-students) can be found here.
  • More food access resources (including information on food banks) can be found at DCHunger.org and in this Facebook Live webinar that overviews what’s available in the District.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Can I visit my family members, even though there’s a Stay at Home order in place?

  • You should be limiting contact to only the immediate people you live with while the Stay at Home order is in place. To save as many lives as possible, every resident has to do their part by staying home as much as possible. Elderly residents are particularly vulnerable, staying home best protects them and other at-risk populations.