If you feel like you don’t know where to go for concrete answers these days, you’re not alone. Everyone’s lives have been upended in one way or another, and the timeline for when we will be back to ‘a new normal’ is a rapidly changing situation. When “safer at home” guidelines were more or less universal, it was almost easier to know what to do — essentially only going outside for necessities like groceries or medication.
Now, as the country is slowly beginning to reopen, it’s hard to know where to get answers to some important questions we still have — What are the current health risks? Is it safe to go outside? What businesses will be opening and when? Are you still eligible for any kind of financial assistance?
We’ve put together a quick guide to help you navigate your finances, your health, and your community during these uncertain times.
Financial Assistance. With millions of Americans unemployed as a result of the pandemic, many are in need of financial assistance. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has provided a number of resources for you to help manage your finances during this time, including a guide to COVID-19 stimulus relief, which will help you find out how much you may be eligible to receive and when you can expect to receive it. Banking institutions, almost across the board, have rallied to provide aid to their customers. If you require help such as a line of credit or payment deferrals, contact your banks and lenders to see what may be available.
Unemployment. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has provided additional flexibility for state unemployment insurance agencies and additional administrative funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expands states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for many workers impacted by the pandemic, including for workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits. To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you will need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online. For more information on unemployment assistance, the U.S. Department of Labor has provided some useful resources and guidance.
Housing. If you’re concerned about how to pay your mortgage or rent, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are working together to help homeowners and renters through the CARES Act. Many state and local governments have also paused evictions because of the impact of the pandemic. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has provided a tool where you can quickly look up the changing eviction policies around the nation. Additionally, keep in mind that if you’re a renter, your landlord may be agreeable to temporary changes such as rent reductions or delayed payments. Check with your city, county or state, which may have programs to help you with housing expenses.
Utilities & Telephone/Internet. Many utility companies are assisting customers who are having difficulty paying their bills. Check with your local utility for information on getting help with these bills. Additionally, many communications companies are suspending cancelling services, waiving fees and arranging payment plans. In response to the pandemic, the national Keep America Connected Campaign was created to ensure Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity — more than 700 companies and associations have agreed: to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills; to waive any late fees; and to open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them. Contact your provider if you need assistance.
Credit Reporting. Being able to access your credit is important during this time. If your lenders have agreed on a payment assistance program or forbearance, it’s a good idea to routinely check your credit reports to make sure they’re accurate and reflect those agreements. For example, if your lender has allowed you to skip a payment one month, make sure it was not reported as delinquent or a missed payment. So you can follow up on issues like this and make sure your credit is in good order, the three major credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, are now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021.
Student Loans. In response to the pandemic, as part of federal legislation passed on March 27, 2020, student loan providers have suspended payments and interest accrual on all U.S. Department of Education owned loans until September 30, 2020. The U.S. Department of Education office of Federal Student Aid is a great resource to help you understand what relief may be available for government-backed student loans. There may also be assistance available for qualified private loan borrowers who are experiencing difficulty due to coronavirus and related economic impacts. For example, Navient is currently offering up to three months of administrative forbearance to qualified private loan borrowers who request it. Other programs may also be available, such as temporary rate reduction, interest-only, or extended repayment.
For the most up-to-date health information regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided a wealth of resources through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s dedicated website includes information about the virus and symptoms, how it spreads, and how to protect yourself and your family. For more local information, including where to find Coronavirus testing centers, you will want to go to the websites of your state and county health departments, which typically have locators for testing centers nearest you (e.g., Los Angeles County).
Many healthcare providers (e.g., United Healthcare, Anthem, Aetna) have provided helpful information about the pandemic. They can advise what to do if you’re feeling sick or need information or treatment specific to your individual health needs. If you have concerns about your health and are worried about the risks of visiting a doctor’s office, you may even be able to consult with a doctor from your home. Call or go online to contact your healthcare provider.
The White House has unveiled its Guidelines for Opening Up America Again — a three-phased approach, based on the advice of public health experts, to reopening state and local economies. Because different regions of the country have been affected differently by the pandemic, these guidelines will be implemented at the discretion of governors on a statewide or county-by-county basis.
Accordingly, your state and local government websites are possibly the best resources to keep you apprised of what’s going on in your area (e.g., Los Angeles County, State of California). Check them frequently to know what types businesses are slated to reopen and what the timeline for those reopenings will be. Your state and local governments can also provide critical information relating to:
- The status of reopening school campuses.
- Assistance for small businesses and employers.
- Healthcare coverage and access to testing.
- Public recreation and what is planning to be reopened (e.g., hiking trails and beaches).
- Housing resources (e.g., foreclosure and eviction policies).
- Resources for employees, such as protections in the workplace, unemployment, and paid family leave.
- Tax deadlines, which have been extended to July 15, 2020.