These are extremely trying times for U.S. workers, with thousands of businesses forced to close and let employees go as part of the efforts being made to combat COVID-19. A record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a sign of just how badly workers have been affected. There's also a chance this economic downturn could lead to a recession, making it harder for Americans to catch a break.
If you're out of work and having difficulty finding another job, you likely are piling up a long list of bills with no real source of income available to help pay them. The good news, though, is that there are resources to help if you're struggling to make ends meet.
You can start by taking these three steps.
1. Talk to your creditors
If you're having trouble paying your bills, you're far from alone. That's why many creditors are offering special programs for people experiencing economic hardship right now.
Banks, credit card issuers, and other lenders may be willing to work with you if you discuss your situation. Many of these creditors offer assistance on a case-by-case basis, so you won't know what types of programs you qualify for until you ask. But some organizations are offering everything from waived late fees to deferred payments to minimum payment assistance and more.
In addition, many utility and telecommunication companies are offering assistance during the pandemic. Some companies have pledged not to discontinue service for the time being even if customers cannot pay their bills, and many also offer other types of assistance such as flexible payment plans or waived late fees. So if you're struggling financially as a result of COVID-19, reach out to these providers to see what help you may be eligible for.
2. Research local nonprofits
Nonprofit organizations are vital, now more than ever. If you need help with food or other necessities, look into what nonprofits operate in your area. Organizations like Feeding America and No Kid Hungry help provide food to families across the country, and other groups such as United Way and The Salvation Army can ensure families have access to other basic necessities like shelter and child care.
Research what's available in your area, and you may be surprised by all the help you are eligible to receive. For example, some animal shelters have created food pantries for those who can't afford food for their pets right now, and groups like the Restaurant Workers' Community Foundation help provide relief for restaurant employees who are experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.
3. Keep up-to-date on all the new regulations
Regulations are changing nearly every day as a result of COVID-19, so it's important to keep yourself updated on the latest news. For example, under the $2 trillion stimulus plan Congress passed, federal student loan payments may be suspended until the end of September. The new bill also provides expanded unemployment benefits, including for part-time and gig workers who have lost their income due to the coronavirus.
There are also new regulations surrounding housing, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announcing that it's suspending all foreclosures and evictions until at least the end of April. Because new regulations are cropping up quickly, it's a good idea to stay on top of the news to be aware of all the programs that could make this time a little easier.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way millions of Americans live, and it's caused significant financial hardship for families across the country. Although these times may be stressful, there are resources out there to help. By taking advantage of all the programs you qualify for, you can ease your financial burden and make paying the bills a little easier.