For the hundreds of thousands of Floridians out of work or facing reduced hours and pay and the millions more hurting as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic – help is on the way.
As you may have heard, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a down payment to help American workers. I’ve received a lot of calls from people in our community about what exactly this bill does for them, and I wanted to share the details with you.
DIRECT PAYMENT TO AMERICANS
Individuals making up to $75,000 ($112,500 for Head of Household, $150,000 for married/joint filers) will receive payments of $1,200 with an additional $500 payment per minor child (under 17). The payments decrease for incomes above $75,000, and stop altogether for single workers making more than $99,000 ($198,000 for married workers).
Individuals on Social Security and SSI are eligible to receive this relief payment. The benefit does not impact your eligibility for low-income programs.
How will I receive my funds?
It depends. For eligible folks who filed a tax return this year or last, and who used direct deposit, payments should start going out next week. For seniors or persons with disabilities on Social Security who get their benefit directly deposited, payments will start going out the week of April 20.
If you neither file tax returns nor receive Social Security, or if IRS does not have your direct deposit information on file and your address has changed, you will need to enter additional payment information for the IRS to deposit your payment. Submit this information here.
What if I didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019 or am not typically required to file a tax return? Can I still receive my payment?
Yes, in most cases. For Social Security recipients and railroad retirees, the IRS will use existing information to generate payments. If you currently receive Social Security and do not receive those benefits via direct deposit, you can sign up for it here.
For people who typically do not file a tax return, you will need to enter additional payment information for the IRS to deposit your payment. Submit this information here.
How long will it take for this check to be delivered?
The Treasury will start direct depositing checks the week of April 13. Social Security recipients should look for their deposit to begin the week of April 20. For paper checks, Treasury intends to begin delivering by mail in early- to mid-May.
Will I be taxed on this check?
No, rebates are not taxable. They are technically a tax refund.
Will I be eligible if I have a lien against me, but I am in non-collect status?
Yes. Rebates will not be subject to garnishment, except if back child support is owed.
BOOST TO UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE
Unemployed or furloughed folks, like those who work in bars, restaurants, hotels and other industries who have been hit hard across Pinellas, will now also receive an additional $600 a week in federal unemployment assistance, in addition to Florida’s $275 per week unemployment benefit. I twice called for this special, $15 per hour benefit – especially for tipped employees – and I could not be more proud that it is now the law of the land.
If you were laid off or lost hours you should apply on the new and much improved Florida unemployment website here, or download, print, and mail in an application form here for your “Reemployment Assistance” benefit - the expanded unemployment insurance ($600/week) will be distributed by the state's unemployment insurance program.
What if I’m not eligible for traditional Unemployment Insurance?
The CARES Act temporarily expands unemployment insurance to cover individuals who are not traditionally covered, including the self-employed, gig-workers, independent contractors, and workers with irregular work history. It also expands the list of allowable criteria for claiming unemployment compensation to include many reasons related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. I’m hearing reports that the state’s website includes outdated information in this regard, but keep trying. You are eligible.
What if I’ve been out of work because of COVID-19 for several weeks already?
If you exhaust the weeks of unemployment compensation available under Florida’s law, the CARES Act provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits. These benefits will be federally funded, but you will still receive them through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
How long will the expanded benefits be in place?
If you are laid-off or furloughed, you will be eligible for the expanded unemployment insurance ($600/week) for up to 4 months through July 31, 2020.
BOOST TO FOOD ASSISTANCE
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, provides food benefits for low-income folks in need. If you recently lost your job, you may be eligible. Apply here.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides access to nutritious food for low-income pregnant women or mothers. Check your eligibility here. Apply here.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) helps food banks as they face increased demand due to coronavirus. The CURES Act provided an additional $450 million for the program. Find a local food bank near you here or call the USDA’s National Hungry Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY/1-877-8-HAMBRE.
Florida families with students home from school who normally qualify for free or reduced lunch can access free, nutritious meals from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at thousands of locations across the state. Find a pick-up location close to you here.
The law will halt foreclosures for 60 days, so that folks can continue to have a roof over their head as we make it through this crisis. The law also mandates penalty-free forbearance on federally backed mortgages (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, USDA, VA) for up to 12 months if you are facing financial difficulty during COVID-19. And best yet, banks are not allowed to furnish negative information to your credit report for this emergency forbearance - in short, your credit score will not be affected if you take advantage of this forbearance.
Contact your loan service or mortgage company to find out if you are eligible for this assistance.
Renters in public or assisted housing, or whose landlord has a federally backed mortgage are protected from eviction for 150 days. On top of this, the Governor issued an order suspending all evictions and foreclosures related to COVID-19 for 45 days, protecting those who don’t have federally backed mortgages or receive public assistance. If your landlord is not abiding by the provisions of this law, contact Gulfcoast Legal Services at 727-821-0726 or go to gulfcoastlegal.org. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition is advising renters being threatened with eviction to ask your landlord to prove that they do not have a federally assisted mortgage.
There are many other important issues addressed in this bill, including a 6 month, penalty-free halt in federal student loan payments and assistance with energy bill payments (residents currently having trouble paying their electric bill can contact the Pinellas Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program at 727-327-0977).
If you have further questions about what’s included in the CARES Act, our helpful, comprehensive guide on the bill is available here. You are also welcome to call my District Office at (727) 318-6770 for questions about any issues you are currently experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re here to help. We’ll get through this together, Pinellas. God Bless.