The COVID-19 pandemic has become an economic crisis as well as a public health crisis. There are trying times ahead for many Americans, but businesses and government at all levels are taking steps to ease the burden on the thousands of Americans losing work to help slow the spread of the pandemic.
The federal government is still working on a plan that could deliver checks directly to millions of Americans, though it hasn't decided on anything yet. In the meantime, here are seven other resources you can check to get financial assistance over the next few months.
1. Your employer
The president signed an economic relief bill on March 18 promising paid sick leave to employees of small- and mid-sized businesses (with fewer than than 500 employees) affected by COVID-19. Many companies have also voluntarily changed their sick leave policies in light of the pandemic. This will only assist those who still have jobs, but it's a good place to get support if you're eligible.
Talk with your employer about your company's sick leave policies during the pandemic so you understand what to expect.
Those unable to work due to COVID-19 social distancing closures can apply for unemployment to provide them with some of their lost wages. Every state has different rules regarding unemployment, but most enable you to claim it for up to 26 weeks. There's usually a waiting period between when you apply and when you begin receiving benefits, but some states are waiving this due to the current crisis.
Check with your state's government to learn more about how to apply for unemployment and what kinds of benefits you can expect. A lot of people are applying for unemployment right now, so websites may be slow or down temporarily. Some states are limiting which day you can apply for unemployment based on the first letter of your last name to avoid overwhelming the system.
Several large national banks and some online banks have announced hardship assistance programs to help people pay their bills and even access more affordable personal loans. Most banks are handling this on a case-by-case basis, but some are allowing deferred payments, possibly without interest accrual, or waiving certain fees. Reach out to your bank to see if it offers any of these assistance programs, but be prepared for longer-than-average wait times.
4. City housing departments
Some cities, including Miami and Baltimore, have measures in place that prevent evictions during the COVID-19 epidemic, and other cities and states are considering similar proposals. These proposals don't stop you from owing your rent or mortgage payment, but they will keep you in your home, at least until the crisis passes.
You may not have much control over whether your city or state enacts these measures, but you can check with your city's housing department and monitor your local news for any updates on financial hardship assistance for housing during the pandemic. If you are able to keep up with your rent or mortgage payment, it's best to do so, but if you're not able to keep up, a temporary eviction ban could enable you to prioritize other bills first without fear of losing your home.
5. Service providers
Some utility companies and telecommunications providers are also offering hardship assistance programs to customers that may involve deferred payment or waived fees. A few are even temporarily halting utility shutoffs for those who are unable to pay. The most generous are offering free services to those who are struggling financially due to COVID-19.
You must contact your service providers to see what kinds of assistance are available to you and to notify the companies of your intention to take advantage of these services. Keep an eye on any correspondence you get from your service providers. It's possible that some may expand or extend their hardship assistance programs if the COVID-19 pandemic goes on for many more months.
6. Federal government
In addition to passing laws on paid sick leave and possibly sending checks directly to Americans, the federal government is also enabling those with federal student loans to defer payments for up to 60 days with no interest accrual. You must contact your student loan servicer to take advantage of this benefit.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is also offering low-interest loans to business owners who have been severely affected by the pandemic. For a full list of the federal government's COVID-19 assistance programs, visit Benefits.gov.
Nonprofit organizations are providing all types of assistance to those affected by COVID-19. Some of these support workers in a single industry, such as One Fair Wage, which helps those in the service industry who rely heavily on tips, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which supports in-home care workers and house cleaners.
Others, such as food pantries, are available to anyone who requires assistance. Do some research to figure out which nonprofits in your area are offering the types of assistance you need, and reach out to them for more information.
You're not alone if you're going through a tough time right now due to COVID-19. Hopefully, you can take advantage of some of the resources above to make things a little easier for you and your family.