Recognizing Juneteenth is A Start

This week Congress overwhelmingly approved a measure that President Biden signed into law to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday—a long overdue recognition of a critical moment in our nation’s history. 

On June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, the last group of enslaved people in the U.S. learned they were free two years after the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery had been issued.  

Today, we celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the end of slavery and persevere as we continue on the long journey toward freedom.  

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has chosen to observe the holiday each year by closing its offices. We will be closed on Friday, June 18, this year. We do so to give our staff time for celebration, education and connection.

We applaud Congress for this recognition, but we also demand that lawmakers prioritize racial equity with the same level of support when it comes to economic mobility, education, health care, housing, policing and voting rights. 

James Baldwin famously said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

Recognizing Juneteenth is a small step toward racial reconciliation for our country, but we cannot begin to eradicate the racist systems that rule our society without addressing our shameful past head on.

Juneteenth is that starting point. It encourages dialogue around the deferred dream of freedom that has always existed for Black people in the United States and what our nation truly values.  

Black people were not included when the phrase “justice for all” was originally championed in the vision laid out for our country. Since then, systems of power have intentionally kept Black Americans from being included.  

On Juneteenth we imagine what our country could be if we prioritized racial justice and equity to build a truly inclusive democracy that realizes the ideals our country was founded upon. 

Equal justice for all is impossible to realize without this hard, necessary work.

At Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, we fight for equal justice under the law every day for our clients, a majority of whom are people of color disproportionately impacted by poverty.  

We commit to actively dismantling these systems through our work. 

We are striving to build a more just community. And doing so requires taking a hard look at our practices and making sure that everything we do lives up to our standard of justice—one that truly ensures equity and opportunity for all. 

Thank you for supporting us in these efforts.  

Happy Juneteenth from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. 

Celebrate Juneteenth with us: 

Educate yourself: Spend the day learning about Juneteenth’s history, including how Black families felt after being emancipated. Watch the documentary 13th on Netflix, or engage with other movies, shows, books and podcasts about systemic racism. Check out this Anti-Racist reading list from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s staff.  

Participate in local and virtual Juneteenth events:  Find an event near you with this local guide from Axios Charlotte

Juneteenth Programing at the Harvey B. Gantt Center 

Virtual Programing from the National Museum of African American History 

Reflect: While slavery ended in 1865, the racist system it built persists today. Use June 19 as a day to reflect on critical issues that perpetuate discrimination against Black people in America and throughout the world. 

Place a sign in your front yard: Raise awareness and show your support for Juneteenth by decorating a sign for your front yard or door. This is a great way to help educate younger kids in your neighborhood who may not know about the holiday. 

Celebrate with a cookout: Gather your friends and family together (safely) to celebrate freedom. 

Keep the spirit of this special day alive by continuing to fight for justice for ALL! 

Action Alert: Support the 2040 Plan Today for a Better Charlotte Tomorrow

Revised draft of Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan charts a sure path toward a more just, equitable community.

The statement below is from the local group Neighbors for More Neighbors CLT, of which Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is a founding member. Learn more about our coalition and join our campaign for a equitable, inclusive and prosperous community for all Charlotte residents.

The Neighbors For More Neighbors CLT is a growing coalition of non-profit organizations and neighborhood leaders and individual citizens guided by a vision for a more diverse and inclusive city. Our coalition remains steadfast in our support of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan and urges the Charlotte City Council to adopt it at the June 21 City Council meeting as currently revised.

The revision to the plan includes the important addition of an Anti-Displacement Stakeholder group composed of neighborhood leaders and housing advocates, as well as residents threatened by displacement.  This is an important addition to ensure the Plan fulfills its promise of an equitable growth framework. In addition, we are in support of the revision to Policy 2.1, which retains largely intact a key element of the plan to increase diversity of housing types on single-family lots. We are encouraged by the City Council taking a bold action to ensure that our espoused values, expressed vision becomes our lived experience. We appreciate your recognition that we must continue to press forward for change.

Why This Matters:

  • Equity is a key goal of the Charlotte 2040 Plan.  In the second draft plan’s own words, “Equity is, in a sense, what we owe to each other: a fundamental part of our social contract that recognizes the inherent value of every Charlotte resident, actively works for justice and equality of opportunity in our City, and treats every person with dignity.” 
  • Charlotte is hyper-segregated racially and economically.  A group of well-funded private interests that benefit from the status quo are working hard to discredit this plan and mislead the public.
  • The revision to the plan includes the important addition of an Anti-Displacement Stakeholder group composed of neighborhood leaders and housing advocates, as well as residents threatened by displacement.  This is an important addition to ensure the plan fulfills its promise of an equitable growth framework. In addition, we are in support of the revision to Policy 2.1, which retains largely intact a key element of the plan to increase diversity of housing types on single-family lots. We are encouraged by the City Council taking a bold action to ensure that our espoused values, expressed vision becomes our lived experience.

Learn, Support, Speak Up for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan

Action Alert: Don’t We All Deserve a More Just, Equitable Community? Read our last statement on the 2040 Plan

Myths and Facts About the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan 

How to get involved:

Join Neighbors for More Neighbors CLT in calling on broad, public adoption of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan with approval by all City Council members at the June 21, 2021 business meeting.  

Action Alert: Don’t We All Deserve A More Just, Equitable Community?

Charlotte’s future is in our hands. We have an incredible opportunity to put Charlotte on the path toward equitable, long-term social and economic development. 

The Charlotte City Council is considering adoption of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan, a guiding document that will inform how our city grows over the next 20 years. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy applauds the critical importance the plan places on dismantling the intentional and systemic mechanisms used to segregate Charlotte by race and economic status since World War II.    

The plan is rooted in an equitable growth framework that strives to create a dynamic, just, and inclusive city.     

But a potential decision to significantly delay the vote on the Charlotte 2040 Comprehensive Plan has concrete consequences: maintaining the unacceptable status quo as last in the nation for upward mobility.  

Charlotte did not get here by accident, but rather through decades of deliberate decisions by powerful policy makers and political leaders, as well as refusals to act.   

We can’t expect true, meaningful change to happen without action. We must take affirmative steps to undo the generations of systemically racist policies that currently shape our community.    

Our city, our citizens cannot afford to wait.  

As a founding member of Neighbors 4 More Neighbors CLT, we urge the Charlotte City Council to adopt the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan in June. 

Without action, segregated development will continue; displacement and limited housing supply will continue, and only those who benefit most from the status quo will continue to benefit. 

Myths and Facts About the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan 

Though some opposition from builders and developers mistakenly suggests the aspirational goals and proposals made in the plan are “illegal,” the plan is not a regulation, but a guiding outline of Charlotte’s long-term vision for itself.  

This broad, equity-based vision lifts up Charlotte’s future. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s priorities include protecting financial security and family stability; preserving and expanding affordable housing options; and addressing systemic racism by advocating for removal of barriers and harmful practices that negatively impact communities of color and lower-income Charlotteans.    

We work with homeowners and neighborhood associations to identify problematic practices, educate homeowners about options, and use litigation and advocacy tools as necessary to stop abusive practices.    

Having the City and City Council working with us toward these goals is critical to slowing forced displacement, misleading practices, and unwanted gentrification.  

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy supports the plan’s objectives set out in:  

  • Goal 2 (Neighborhood Diversity and Inclusion),  
  • Goal 3 (Access to Housing for All), and  
  • Goal 5 (Safe and Equitable Mobility).   

These goals can be further developed as we move forward, but it is important to have them in place now.  

The Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan is a cohesive, thoughtful framework needed to guide Charlotte’s development, priorities and legislative advocacy over the next 20 years and is the first since 1975—almost 50 years ago.    

Now is the time for action. We need courage and leadership from our elected officials to make bold, visionary decisions now. Doing so is what’s right for all Charlotteans.  

With your help, we can build the kind of community we deserve—one that is just and equitable for everyone. 

What You Can Do

Join Neighbors for More Neighbors CLT in calling on broad, public adoption of the Charlotte Future 2040 Comprehensive Plan with approval by all City Council members in a June 2021 vote.  

American Rescue Plan FAQs: Stimulus Payments and Tax Updates

Since the American Rescue Plan was signed into law in March 2021, the IRS has been working to implement provisions of the law and provide guidance to make sure taxpayers can receive Economic Impact Payments (EIP or stimulus checks) and take advantage of new tax credits during this current tax season. 

Below are frequently asked questions about the American Rescue Plan will impact this tax season and when people can expect to receive their stimulus checks: 

Stimulus Payments 

How much is the third Economic Impact Payment (EIP3) and am I eligible? 

In this version, the maximum payment is $1,400 per qualified individual or $2,800 for a couple.  

In addition, $1,400 payments are now available for all dependents, including children in college and elderly relatives.  

As with previous rounds of payments, economic stimulus payments are phased out, based on adjusted gross income. However, the upper threshold is reduced from $100,000 of adjusted gross income to $80,000 for single filers and from $200,000 down to $160,000 for joint filers. Payments for dependents are also phased out under these thresholds. 

Mixed-Status Families: 

Children of mixed-immigration status families with valid social security numbers are also eligible for the stimulus payments. 

For married couples who file jointly and only one individual has a valid social security number (SSN), the spouse with a valid SSN will receive up to a $1,400 payment for themselves and up to $1,400 for each qualifying dependent claimed on their 2020 or 2019 tax return.  

For taxpayers who do not have a valid SSN, but have a qualifying dependent who has an SSN, they will receive up to $1,400 per qualifying dependent claimed on their return if they meet all other eligibility and income requirements.  

Do I qualify for the March 2021 Stimulus Check (N.C. Justice Center, English and Español)

Military Families: 

If either spouse was an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the taxable year, only one spouse needs to have a valid SSN for the couple to receive up to $2,800 for themselves, plus up to $1,400 for each qualifying dependent. 

When can I expect to receive my Economic Impact Payment (EIP3)? 

Most eligible U.S. residents received EIP3 in mid-March through direct deposit or will soon receive it by paper check or pre-paid debit card in the coming weeks.

Social Security and other federal beneficiary recipients who did not receive EIP3 through direct deposit can expect the payment in early April the same way as their regular benefits, though some may receive it as a paper check or pre-paid debit card.  

The IRS continues to review data received for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefit recipients and expects to determine a payment date and provide more details soon. 

Check your mail

The IRS urges all expecting an economic impact payment through paper check or pre-paid debit card to check their mail frequently and look out for the payment.  

The IRS hopes to have all payments issued by the end of May, but you can check the status of your economic impact payment with the Get My Payment tool

How is my eligibility for the Economic Impact Payment (EIP3) determined? 

The amount of the third payment is based on the taxpayer’s latest processed tax return from either 2020 or 2019, information from Social Security or other federal beneficiary organization, or information entered previously through the IRS’s Non-tax Filer Tool.  

If the taxpayer’s 2020 return has not been processed, the IRS used 2019 tax return information to calculate the third payment. If the third payment is based on the 2019 return, and is less than the full amount a taxpayer is eligible for, the taxpayer may qualify for a supplemental payment.  

After their 2020 return is processed, the IRS will automatically re-evaluate their eligibility using their 2020 information. If they are entitled to a larger payment, the IRS will issue a supplemental payment for the additional amount. 

Do I need to take any actions to receive my Economic Impact Payment (EIP3)? 

No action is required for most who are eligible for EIP3. 

However, some may need to file a simple 2020 tax return to claim the Recover Rebate Credit to receive some or all of any of the three economic impact payments issued from the federal government.  

Who may need claim the Recovery Rebate Credit? 

The following groups may be among those who should claim the Recovery Rebate Credit and file a 2020 tax return to receive EIP3: 

  • Recent college graduates,  
  • Those who were claimed as dependents in 2019,  
  • Incarcerated or recently incarcerated people,  
  • Mixed-immigration-status families, and  
  • Social Security recipients who did not receive a stimulus payment for their dependents.  

Learn about the Recovery Rebate Credit here.  

What does the third Economic Impact Payment look like (EIP3)? 

For those receiving payments in the mail, the IRS urges these taxpayers to continue to watch their mail for these payments, which could include a paper Treasury check, or a special prepaid debit card called an EIP Card. 

Paper checks will arrive by mail in a white envelope from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  

The EIP Card will also come in a white envelope prominently displaying the seal of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The card has the Visa name on the front and the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A. on the back. Information included with the card will explain that this is an Economic Impact Payment. Each mailing will include instructions on how to securely activate and use the card. 

EIP cards issued for any of the three rounds of payments are not reloadable. Recipients will receive a separate card and will not be able to reload funds onto an existing card. 

The form of payment for EIP3, including for some Social Security and other federal beneficiaries, may be different than earlier stimulus payments. More people are receiving direct deposits, while those receiving payments in the mail may receive either a paper check or an EIP Card. 

 
Tax Refunds and Updates 

When is the tax filing deadline? 

The federal deadline for filing taxes has been extended to May 17. 

In North Carolina, the deadline for filing state taxes is May 17. 

What new tax credits and rebates are available through the American Rescue Plan? 

Earned Income Tax Credit:  

The American Rescue Plan expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2021, raising the maximum credit for childless adults from roughly $530 to close to $1,500, while also increasing the income limit for the credit from about $16,000 to about $21,000, and expanding the eligible age range by eliminating the age cap for older workers. 

Child Tax Credit:  

The American Rescue Plan includes changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for the 2021 tax year: 

  • An increase to $3,600 per qualified child under age 6 and $3,000 for a child up to age 17. 
  • An additional $500 credit is available for dependent children in college who are under age 24. 
  • The phaseout begins at lower levels of $75,000 of adjusted gross income for single filers and $150,000 for joint filers. But many higher-income families can still claim the $2,000 credit subject to the prior phaseout rules. 

The IRS will make advance payments of the credit, beginning in July. The exact logistics of that process are still being worked out. 

Read more about changes to the Child Tax Credit here.

Dependent Care Credit

The new law increases the Dependent Care Credit for the 2021 tax year to a maximum of $4,000 for one child and $8,000 for two or more children for households with an adjusted gross income of up to $125,000. But the credit will be reduced below 20% for those with an adjusted gross income of more than $400,000.  

Read more about the Dependent Care Credit here

Student Loan Forgiveness Credit

The American Rescue Plan creates a tax exemption beginning in the 2021 tax year for student loans made, insured or guaranteed by the federal or state governments, as well as loans from private lenders and educational institutions. This does not apply, however, to loans that are discharged in exchange for services rendered.

Read more about the Student Loan Forgiveness Credit here

Do I need to pay taxes on unemployment benefits I received in 2020?   

The American Rescue Plan exempts from federal income tax up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 by a family with an adjusted gross income under $150,000.  

Normally, those benefits would be fully taxable. This tax break is intended to help taxpayers who might be blindsided by an unexpected tax bill on their 2020 returns.  

Please note that unemployment benefits are still taxable at the state level and need to be reported as income on North Carolina taxes. 

I am eligible for the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit made available by the American Rescue Plan and/or received unemployment benefits in 2020, but I already filed my tax return. What should I do to receive my full refund? 

If you claimed the expanded credit on your tax return and/or included your unemployment benefits on your tax return, the IRS will automatically review your tax return again and issue the correct refund beginning in May and continue through the summer. You do not need to file an amended return. 

The IRS will do these recalculations in two phases, starting with taxpayers eligible for the up to $10,200 exclusion. The IRS will then adjust returns for those married filing jointly taxpayers who are eligible for the up to $20,400 exclusion and others with more complex returns. 

What if I already filed my tax return and did not claim a credit because I was previously ineligible for it? 

There is no need for taxpayers to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return. For example: 

  • The IRS can adjust returns for those taxpayers who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and, because the exclusion changed the income level, may now be eligible for an increase in the EITC amount which may result in a larger refund.  
  • However, taxpayers would have to file an amended return if they did not originally claim the EITC or other credits but now are eligible because the exclusion changed their income. 
  • These taxpayers may want to review their state tax returns as well. 

The IRS has worked with the tax return preparation software industry to reflect these updates so people who choose to file electronically simply need to respond to the related questions when electronically preparing their tax returns. See New Exclusion of up to $10,200 of Unemployment Compensation for information and examples.   

I am eligible for new or expanded rebates/credits made available by the ARP but have not filed my 2020 tax return. What should I do to receive my full refund? 

Complete your 2020 tax return as you normally would. The IRS has supplied a new worksheet to reflect the changes and online tax preparer software agencies have been instructed to adapt their programs to reflect the changes.  

I have health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace (ACA/Obamacare). What should I do about reconciling my financial assistance for coverage premiums this tax season?

The American Rescue Plan Act suspends the requirement that taxpayers pay back all or a portion of their excess advance payments of the Premium Tax Credit for tax year 2020.

What is a Premium Tax Credit

From healthcare.gov: A Premium Tax Credit is a tax credit you can take in advance to lower your monthly health insurance payment (or “premium”).

When you apply for coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace, you estimate your expected income for the year. If you qualify for a premium tax credit based on your estimate, you can use any amount of the credit in advance to lower your monthly premium (APTC).

In a typical tax year, taxpayers use Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit to figure the amount of their PTC (based on actual annual income) and reconcile it with their APTC (based on the annual income estimated).

If at the end of the year you’ve taken more premium tax credit in advance than you’re due based on your final income, you’ll have to pay back the excess when you file your federal tax return.

If you’ve taken less than you qualify for, you’ll get the difference back through claiming a net Premium Tax Credit.

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that taxpayers with excess Advance Premium Tax Credits (financial assistance) for 2020 are not required to file Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, or report an excess advance Premium Tax Credit repayment on their 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, Schedule 2, Line 2, when they file.

Taxpayers can check with their tax professional or use tax software to figure the amount of allowable PTC and reconcile it with APTC received using the information from Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement.

For taxpayers claiming a net PTC for 2020: 
The process remains unchanged. They must file Form 8962 when they file their 2020 tax return. See the Instructions for Form 8962 for more information. Taxpayers claiming a net PTC should respond to an IRS notice asking for more information to finish processing their tax return.

For taxpayers who have already filed:
Taxpayers who have already filed their 2020 tax return and who have excess APTC for 2020 do not need to file an amended tax return or contact the IRS. The IRS will reduce the excess APTC repayment amount to zero with no further action needed by the taxpayer.

The IRS will reimburse people who have already repaid any excess advance Premium Tax Credit on their 2020 tax return. Taxpayers who received a letter about a missing Form 8962 should disregard the letter if they have excess APTC for 2020. The IRS will process tax returns without Form 8962 for tax year 2020 by reducing the excess advance premium tax credit repayment amount to zero.

Again, IRS is taking steps to reimburse people who filed Form 8962, reported, and paid an excess advance Premium Tax Credit repayment amount with their 2020 tax return before the recent legislative changes were made. Taxpayers in this situation should not file an amended return solely to get a refund of this amount. The IRS will provide more details on IRS.gov. There is no need to file an amended tax return or contact the IRS. 

For taxpayers reconciling benefits received prior to the 2020 tax year:
As a reminder, this change applies only to reconciling tax year 2020 APTC. Taxpayers who received the benefit of APTC prior to 2020 still must file Form 8962 to reconcile their APTC and PTC for the pre-2020 year when they file their federal income tax return even if they otherwise are not required to file a tax return for that year. 

The IRS continues to process prior year tax returns and reach out to taxpayers for missing information. If the IRS sends a letter about a 2019 Form 8962, the IRS need more information from the taxpayer to finish processing their tax return. Taxpayers should respond to the letter so that the IRS can finish processing the tax return and, if applicable, issue any refund the taxpayer may be due.

See the  Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, and IRS Fact Sheet for more details about the changes related to the PTC for tax year 2020.

Healthcare.gov Premium Tax Credits and Filing Your 2020 Taxes

Learn more about how the American Rescue Plan impacts the Affordable Care Act and your ability to get health coverage here.

How can I check my status of my tax return? 

Track the status of your tax refund with the Where’s My Refund? tool at IRS.gov or through the IRS2Go App

While most tax refunds are issued within 21 days, some may take longer if the return requires additional review. 

Taxpayers can start checking on the status of their return within 24 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of an electronically filed return or four weeks after the taxpayer mails a paper return. The tool’s tracker displays progress in three phases: 

  1. Return received 
  1. Refund approved 
  1. Refund sent 

To use Where’s My Refund, taxpayers must enter their Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), their filing status and the exact whole dollar amount of their refund. The IRS updates the tool once a day, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more often. 

Additional Resources 

Learn more about the American Rescue Plan 
IRS Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) 
File Your Federal Taxes for Free 
Ready to File Your 2020 Tax Return? 
VITA Offers Free Help Filing 2020 Taxes 
 

Responding to Crisis: Marking One Year of COVID-19

Last March, few imagined that our community would still be grappling with the coronavirus pandemic a year later.

In many ways it seems the pandemic is nearing an end after this year of hardship and loss: vaccines for the virus are increasingly available, and cases have dropped to a point where North Carolina is easing activity restrictions. 

But we are only just beginning to understand the extent to which this virus has driven our neighbors to the margins of safety, economic security and family stability, laying bare the extreme inequities that have long existed in our community. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has spent the last year fighting for our community’s most vulnerable residents as COVID-19 upended daily life.

As we pass this milestone, we take stock of just how much we’ve fought to advance our mission of pursuing justice this past year.  

It’s work we do every day and have always done in our 50+ years of service. But COVID-19 has cast a glaring spotlight on the importance of our mission. 

Pursuing justice: It’s fairness under the law. It’s equal access. It’s meeting basic needs. And it’s making sure our neighbors are equipped to endure any crisis life throws their way, including a global pandemic. 

Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL. 

Over the past year we:

  • Addressed immediate issues related to agency closures in our local Department of Social Services (DSS), allowing for remote application for benefits and limiting terminations and state unemployment insurance systems to tackle issues stalling federal unemployment benefits.
  • Helped clients navigate individual economic stimulus payments and unemployment insurance programs.
  • Prevented illegal evictions and kept vulnerable populations safely housed.
  • Responded to critical needs for protective orders and intervention due to a sharp increase in domestic violence incidents while our courts were operating on a limited capacity.
  • Monitored the changes in Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs to ensure coverage is not disrupted for those who need them in our community.
  • Advocated for language and technological access on administrative applications for health, food and income benefits to ensure all who were entitled to assistance could receive it.
  • Assisted people who have lost their jobs and/or health insurance navigate Affordable Care Act health coverage options and Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs).
  • Ensured members of our community are not falling victim to COVID-19 related scams and losing their income.
  • Helped immigrant families understand the unique ways the pandemic impacts employment, housing, public resources, ICE activity and immigration courts.

Read on to learn more about the need for our services and our impact over the past year.

Meeting Exacerbated Needs

Days after the first cases were reported, we shifted to remote operations, equipping staff to continue our work as the need for help grew exponentially.

For our neighbors living on economic and health margins, the pandemic has further exacerbated their instability in extreme ways.

The need for our services before the pandemic:

  • More than two thirds of low-income households were experiencing at least one civil legal problem that significantly impacted daily life. These rates are much higher for survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, veterans, families, and parents of children with disabilities.
  • In Mecklenburg County, poverty, segregation, and income inequality have pushed residents to the sidelines, concentrating distress in family stability and fortifying barriers to economic opportunity.
  • Children born into poor families in Mecklenburg County are among the least likely in the U.S. to escape poverty.
  • About 300,000 Mecklenburg residents were eligible for our services.

Public agencies closed and delayed services just as newly unemployed individuals found themselves trying to piece together a semblance of stability navigating administrative and public benefits systems for the first time.

Those already depending on these systems (people with disabilities, children, seniors, veterans and their families) were desperate to prevent the illness, hunger and homelessness that could result from losing Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other benefits.

The combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias create multiple barriers for people of color and women as they navigate institutions where entrenched disparities remain the status quo.

This clear intersectionality has yielded disproportionately negative impacts for people of color and women during the pandemic. Because of this reality, we have continued to identify and address systemic racism while fighting to ensure equal access to assistance.

When Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) closed its offices to the public on March 18 with little notice, we fought to make sure our neighbors could still get benefits and services guaranteed to them under the law.

We made DSS agree to:

  • honor the date of phone calls as date of application for applicants to ensure they receive the maximum amounts of benefits allowed;
  • not terminate benefits for missed deadlines; and
  • allow late appeals, and to post clear signage in front of their buildings outlining this information.

The closure sent applicants to the agency’s call center which meant longer wait times for help.

We made sure people understood their eligibility for public benefits, helped them apply and navigate confusing administrative systems, all while ensuring their rights were protected. When programs and services changed, we kept the community informed.

We continue to advocate for extensions and flexibilities that are favorable to beneficiaries, while serving as a watchdog to ensure those policies are appropriately enforced and accessible to applicants of all backgrounds.

‘Things are smoother now.’

Food Insecurity

Before the pandemic, about 12 percent of Mecklenburg residents, including children, were considered food insecure according to Feeding America. The ongoing economic fallout has swollen that number to almost 16 percent who are on the brink of hunger.

In the last year, our staff assisted 371 people and their families with issues accessing food stamps (SNAP benefits), making sure they could successfully get the assistance they needed to remain stable and understood their eligibility for SNAP and other public benefits.

North Carolina was among the earliest adopters of Pandemic EBT (PEBT), which provides food support for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals while schools were closed. Though N.C. took many positive steps in creating this program, there have been hurdles and confusion in the implementation. We have been working closely with clients, partner organizations, and the state to monitor issues on the ground and communicate them to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the program works efficiently and families receive these critical benefits quickly.

Healthcare Access

Our health insurance navigators and call-back volunteers assisted over 1000 community members apply and select an affordable health insurance plan for their budget during Open Enrollment Nov. 1 – Dec. 15. Health insurance is critical to safety, stability, and health–particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.

Before the pandemic, one in six Americans had a civil legal problem that negatively impacted their health. We knew that unmet legal needs related to COVID-19 would dramatically worsen health outcomes.

Thirteen percent of Mecklenburg residents don’t have health coverage. More than 500,000 low-income people in N.C. have no options to get health care because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to receive financial assistance for health insurance.

COVID-19 forced frontline workers to weigh the risks of working to keep their families stable with the chance of falling critically ill and needing to seek medical care they couldn’t afford. Others lost health insurance benefits with their jobs at a time when access to health care mattered most.

Many who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 did not realize they had the option to apply for health care coverage through a Healthcare Insurance Marketplace Special Enrollment Period (SEP) 60 days after losing coverage. Consequently, many went without it due to their inability to afford private insurance.

Johanna Parra, coordinator of the Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project, was among the first in the nation to discover another option for those who were desperate to get coverage and have peace of mind knowing they could get care if they needed it.

Because all 50 states were under the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency declaration, eligible individuals could apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, also referred to as “Obamacare,” for a Special Enrollment Period through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA SEP).

Fighting for Equal Access

As soon as Congress passed the CARES Act to provide economic support and COVID-19 relief, there was confusion around the benefits included in the package.

Understanding the CARES Act and COVID Relief: Stimulus Payments and Unemployment Benefits

Families desperate for financial support needed help making sure they received stimulus checks (Economic Impact Payments) issued by the federal government.

Who was eligible? How would payments be distributed? What if payments didn’t arrive?

We answered these questions and more for our clients and the community to ensure everyone eligible for a payment could receive it.

Staff are now helping people address missing stimulus checks and other issues related to the CARES Act as people try to prepare their 2020 tax returns at a time when collection activities and massive job losses strain taxpayers. We are working to resolve these issues and push the IRS to offer specific remedies for various issues related to stimulus checks.

We are also working closely with clients and partner organizations to ensure the latest COVID-19 stimulus opportunities from the American Rescue Plan are understood and correctly received.

Resource guide: Managing unemployment and benefits
We partnered with WCNC Charlotte to produce a resource page to answer questions about stimulus payments and unemployment insurance.

By May of last year, more than one million North Carolinians had applied for unemployment insurance benefits. The volume of applications paired with implementing new assistance programs under the federal CARES Act has caused significant delays, making the process more challenging for applicants.

Working together, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte answered the calls of thousands of frustrated workers to guide them through the application process and appeals. Through direct action and systemic advocacy, these organizations ensured that those who had fallen through the cracks had access to the full payments they deserved.

Prior to the pandemic and historically, North Carolina’s unemployment system made it difficult for eligible residents to receive unemployment benefits, leaving workers with little to no support.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is focused on removing some of these barriers by focusing on unemployment insurance system reform, essential worker benefits, living wages, and promoting workers’ rights in a right to work state—all of which disproportionately impact People of Color (POC).

We are also monitoring how scams and multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) target unemployed and low-income individuals, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

NC Extra Credit Grant


The NC Extra Credit Grant program provides financial support for families struggling to meet the demands of educating and caring for their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a parent living on minimum wage, $335 is more than he or she will earn in a week. We worked to spread the word to make sure that families who missed the first deadline didn’t miss this final application period and the chance at financial assistance.

Quick action and a strong partnership generated 24,946 applications submitted; $8 million distributed, in just 18 days.

On September 4, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Extra Credit Grant: an additional $335 dollars in COVID-19 relief for N.C parents. While middle and high-income families automatically received the payment, low-income families had to apply through the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR).

These families had just 29 days to learn about the program and apply. Only 10,000 families did so during the initial application period.

Through a pro bono partnership, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Robinson Bradshaw filed a complaint resulting in a court order on Nov.5, 2020 that reopened and extended the application period.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy created a website and extensive communication campaign entitled 335 for NC, which encouraged these parents to apply for the grant through December 7, 2020. More than 32,000 individuals visited the website.

In just 18 days, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Robinson Bradshaw reached hundreds of thousands of families and delivered 24,946 applications to NCDOR resulting in more than $8 million in aid made available to families who needed it most.

Keeping Families Safe and Protected from Exploitation

Housing Rights

State and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures have been implemented and continued over the past year to keep people who couldn’t pay their bills safely housed during the pandemic, but they haven’t been enough to protect everyone.

As we watched infection rates rise, courts in North Carolina started working through backlogged foreclosures. Evictions began ramping up, exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing that existed well before the threat of coronavirus. Homeowners who had to take advantage of forbearance because they could not pay their mortgages will eventually have to repay extraordinary balances on their home loans, many of which cannot be modified. 

The Advocacy Center continues to work with families desperate to keep their homes and stay current on their bills to avoid homelessness and financial ruin. We are making sure people understand their rights and obligations with lenders to help them make informed decisions about their situations. We are also educating the community to make sure our neighbors do not fall victim to scams related to COVID-19.

‘The weight that was lifted off’

Entrepreneur, grandmother, personal shopper, caregiver, and church activist. These are a few of the hats that Mrs. C wears on any given week. She keeps copious amounts of to-do lists to keep herself, her family, and her business in order, a skill she says she learned from the staff at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Immigrant families were already targets for exploitation before the pandemic. Fear of deportation, language barriers, and lack of traditional financial resources make it harder for immigrants to get assistance and leave them vulnerable.

Owners of substandard housing often rent to immigrants because the owners believe those tenants will be afraid to exercise their rights to habitable housing and to continued tenancy.

Traditional financing options are also often unavailable to immigrant families, which makes them easy targets for predatory financing options such as contracts for deed, options to purchase, installment sales contracts or lease with option contracts. These are enforced through eviction procedures and are complicated to defend without legal assistance.

Immigrants are also targeted for predatory sales of mobile homes, which can be substandard. These situations often involve predatory financing methods on land that is rented and are subject to eviction from the land, also requiring complicated defense.

The pandemic hit immigrants especially hard. Primary earners lost jobs as businesses shut down and those without legal status didn’t qualify for COVID-19 assistance.

“Because of the virus we lost our jobs and that put us behind on rent. And now it’s worse because my husband had an accident and our court date is tomorrow so we don’t know what we’re going to do … We don’t get help from anyone, those of us who are undocumented. A lot of us are going through this.”

– Advocacy Center client Ismar spoke to WFAE as her family faced eviction in July. Attorney Juan Hernandez was able to negotiate an agreement with the family’s landlord to prevent them from losing their home. Listen to the full story.

Thinking they could take advantage of families in desperate situations, landlords continued to threaten and illegally remove families from their homes.

At a time when our court system was operating on a limited capacity and resources for assistance were scarce, we helped our clients avoid homelessness, remain stable and exercise their rights.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to find innovative ways to serve our community. In October, our Immigrant Justice Program partnered with Latin American Coalition to host a “curbside” clinic on the CDC Eviction Moratorium. Over thirty clients attended throughout the day to learn how to claim its protections.

We upheld their rights through our work, which included remedies such as cancellation of the contract, recovery of down payment or money paid above and beyond the fair market rental value, damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices, among others. We also conducted community education programs regarding the rights of immigrant renters related to their housing.

Domestic Violence Protection

While officials urged people to stay home to prevent spreading the virus, home wasn’t the safest option for many in our community.

Immigrant women also face additional barriers to escaping domestic violence or abuse, leaving them feeling trapped in abusive situations.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helps low-income immigrants living in Mecklenburg County who are victims of domestic violence. A recent Allstate Foundation national survey found that 64 percent of Hispanic women say they know a victim of some type of abuse and 30 percent have personally been victimized.

Reports of domestic violence incidents increased significantly along with the need for legal assistance to get necessary protection early in the pandemic as people. Advocacy Center staff helped survivors and their families navigate administrative changes to get the protections they needed while our courts were closed.

Our Response Continues

We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.   

The past year has made it clear just how critical access to safety, security and stability is for everyone in our community.

But barriers that prevent equal access to these needs persist. And our current safety net is simply not wide or strong enough to support everyone who needs it.

Much like the Great Recession of 2008, the recovery for those hit hardest by COVID-19, those we serve, will take years. Some will never recover.

The need is everywhere. That’s why we’re here, fighting to help families not only stay afloat but also thrive. And we’re not going anywhere.

Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL. 

Find the latest COVID-19 Updates

Learn about our 2021 Advocacy Agenda

Support Our Work

Access to Justice: ‘Things are smoother now.’

Before COVID-19, Melody had worked at Showmars for 22 years, whipping up the daily specials.

When someone contacts Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for help, they are often struggling to stay afloat in a storm of crisis.

They have a big problem impacting their life but do not know how to fix it. Their problem is a symptom of various unmet legal needs that need to be addressed comprehensively to put that person on a better path.

That was the case for Melody when she contacted Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy last year. We first shared her story last fall.

Like many of our neighbors, she was already struggling when COVID-19 turned her life upside down.

As the primary financial support and caregiver for her family, she was trying to keep up with medical bills and fighting to keep her home as she faced foreclosure for unpaid property taxes from the mid-2000s left from her parents’ estate.

The Advocacy Center had helped her negotiate a payment plan with the county that included forgiveness of a substantial portion of the debt.

“When the pandemic hit, I lost my job,” Melody says. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘How am I going to make those payments?’”

Melody is used to being the one helping others. But when it came to piecing together the support her family needed to remain stable, she could not do it alone. 

Again, she called the Advocacy Center. We connected her with Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte to help her get expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act to support her family.

“I’ve worked all my life and never needed any benefits,” Melody says. “I didn’t really know how that stuff went.”

As part of our work, we learned that Melody’s sister, Wendy’s social security benefits had been terminated despite her disability. The Advocacy Center stepped back in to ensure she was receiving the benefits she was entitled to.

We also helped Wendy apply for food stamps to help their family through this crisis.  Melody would soon turn 65, so we also ensured everything was prepared for her to receive Medicare in a few short months. 

We checked in with Melody recently to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.

It’s been hard.

She’s lost eight family members to COVID-19. In addition to not being able to physically mourn with her loved ones, she’s missed the big family get togethers held every year—egg hunts at Easter and a family reunion in September.

Melody says one thing she’s learned through her experience is “it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay.”

She compares the past year to sailing through a storm and credits the staff at the Advocacy Center for guiding her to calmer waters.

“Just knowing I had them there, I was able to stay in my boat,” she says. “Things are smoother now.”

Despite the past year, she says she is still looking for the silver lining in everything.

She hopes to return to her job whipping up the daily special at Showmars in the City of Charlotte Government Center, where she had worked for 22 years. And she dreams of one day owning her own food truck.

In the meantime, she’s glad to have her health, her family cared for and a place to call if she needs help.

She smiles every time she drives by the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid office on Elizabeth Avenue.

“Look at how much work the people in that teeny little building do!” Melody says. “The work they do, it’s needed. Because sometimes people just need a helping hand. It’s been a blessing.”

Melody, we’re glad we could help. Call us if you need anything.

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign makes success stories like Melody’s possible. Consider making a contribution today!

American Rescue Plan Offers Relief

Third COVID-19 Relief Package Passes as Pandemic Marks One Year  

Updated April 8, 2021

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law as the largest and most recent COVID-19 relief package extending $1.9 trillion dollars in aid to families, businesses, nonprofits, and states. This third round of aid comes as Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy marks a full year fighting to support families under the pandemic.  

And our work is far from done. 

As we learn more about how the plan’s programs and funding will be implemented, we will update our website and social media accordingly. Please contact us at the appropriate numbers below if you or your family are struggling and need assistance.   

This list is not exhaustive, and the bill contains programs and funding not listed here.   

Here is what we know so far:  

ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENTS (STIMULUS CHECKS) AND TAX CREDITS 

The American Rescue Plan includes a third round of tax-free economic stimulus payments. 

In this version, the maximum payment is $1,400 per qualified individual or $2,800 for a couple. In addition, payments are now available for all dependents, including children in college and elderly relatives. Children of mixed-immigration status families with valid social security numbers are also eligible for the stimulus payments

The additional amount for dependents is significantly higher – $1,400 per eligible dependent. 

As before, economic stimulus payments are phased out, based on adjusted gross income. However, the upper threshold is reduced from $100,000 of adjusted gross income to $80,000 for single filers and from $200,000 down to $160,000 for joint filers. Payments for dependents are also phased out under these thresholds. 

The IRS expects to begin sending out payments in March. 

Third Economic Stimulus Payments Will Be Based on 2019 or 2020 Tax Returns: 

The American Rescue Plan provides that if your 2020 tax return is not filed and processed by the time the IRS starts processing your third stimulus payment, the tax agency will use information from your 2019 tax return. If your 2020 return is already filed and processed when the IRS is ready to send your payment, then your stimulus check eligibility and amount will be based on information from your 2020 return.  

If your 2020 return is filed and/or processed after the IRS sends you a stimulus check, but before July 15, 2021 (or September 1 if the April 15 filing deadline is pushed back), the IRS will send you a second payment for the difference between what your payment should have been if based on your 2020 return and the payment sent based on your 2019 return. 

If you have questions about the economic impact payments, contact a tax advocate at 980-202-7329   

Child Support Won’t Be Taken Out of Stimulus Checks

As with second-round checks, third stimulus checks will not be reduced to pay child support arrears. 

Wage Garnishment:

The COVID-Related Tax Relief Act prevented garnishment of second-round stimulus checks by creditors or debt collectors. They could not be lost in bankruptcy proceedings, either. The IRS also had to encode direct deposit second-round payments so that banks knew they could not be garnished. This is in contrast with the CARES Act, which did not provide similar protections for first-round payments. These protections are included for the third stimulus payment as well.

Under the American Rescue Plan, payments will be protected from reduction or offset to pay federal taxes, state income taxes, debts owed to federal agencies, and unemployment compensation debts. (As well as child support, as was discussed above.) However, as with first-round checks under the CARES Act, there will be no additional protections against garnishment by private creditors or debt collectors for third-round payments.

Earned Income Credit 

The American Rescue Plan expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for 2021, raising the maximum credit for childless adults from roughly $530 to close to $1,500, while also increasing the income limit for the credit from about $16,000 to about $21,000, and expanding the age range that is eligible by eliminating the age cap for older workers. 

Child Tax Credit

The American Rescue Plan includes changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Under current law, the CTC is equal to $2,000 for each qualified child under age 17 who resides with you for at least six months of the year. Up to $1,400 of this amount is refundable, but the credit begins to phase out at $200,000 of adjusted gross income for single filers and $400,000 for joint filers. 

This credit will not go into effect until the 2021 tax year, which will be filed in Spring 2022.

The new law provides the following revisions for the 2021 tax year: 

  • An increase in the CTC to $3,600 per qualified child under age six and $3,000 for a child up to age 17. 
  • An additional $500 credit is available for dependent children in college who are under age 24. 
  • The credit is fully refundable. 
  • The phaseout begins at lower levels of $75,000 of adjusted gross income for single filers and $150,000 for joint filers. But many higher-income families can still claim the $2,000 credit subject to the prior phaseout rules. 

Finally, the IRS will make advance payments of the credit, beginning in July. The exact logistics of that process are still being worked out. 

Dependent Care Credits 

The American Rescue Plan substantially increases the Dependent Care Credit for many moderate-to-high income taxpayers. 

Presently, the Dependent Care Credit is available for qualified expenses of caring for children under age 13 to allow you (and your spouse, if married) to be gainfully employed. The credit is generally equal to 20 percent of the first $3,000 of qualified expenses for one child and $6,000 for two or more children. Thus, the maximum credits are $600 and $1,200, respectively. 

The new law enhances the Dependent Care Credit for the 2021 tax year.

It increases the maximum credit to $4,000 for one child and $8,000 for two or more children for households with an adjusted gross income of up to $125,000. But the credit will be reduced below 20% for those with an adjusted gross income of more than $400,000. Finally, the credit for 2021 is refundable. 

This credit will not go into effect until the 2021 tax year, which will be filed in Spring 2022.

Student Loan Forgiveness Credit 

If a debt is forgiven or cancelled, it generally results in taxable income to the debtor. However, in limited cases, debts of student loans that are forgiven may be exempt from tax. 

The American Rescue Plan effectively creates a tax exemption for student loans made, insured or guaranteed by the federal or state governments, as well as loans from private lenders and educational institutions. This does not apply, however, to loans that are discharged in exchange for services rendered.

This provision is effective beginning with the 2021 tax year and lasts through the 2025 tax year but could be extended or made permanent. 

Taxes on Unemployment Benefits  

The American Rescue Plan exempts from federal income tax up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 by a family with an adjusted gross income under $150,000. Normally, those benefits would be fully taxable. This tax break is intended to help taxpayers who might be blindsided by an unexpected tax bill on their 2020 returns. 

Please note that states can still tax unemployment benefits as income.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE 

The American Rescue Plan extends the CARES Act’s unemployment insurance expansion through Sept. 6, 2021. Specifically, this act:   

Provides an additional $300 per week to on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program. 

The first $10,200 of jobless benefits accrued in 2020 would be non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000. Please note that states can still tax unemployment benefits as income.

Extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides continued unemployment assistance to the self-employed, freelancers, gig workers, part-time workers and other individuals in non-traditional employment. It also increases the number of weeks of PUA benefits an individual may claim, from 50 to 79;  

Extends the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, providing additional weeks of federally-funded benefits to workers who have exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits. It also increases the weeks of PEUC benefits an individual may claim, from 24 to 53.  

Apply for unemployment at the Department of Employment Security website or call 1-888-737-0259.

EMERGENCY MORTGAGE, RENTAL AND UTILITY SERVICES 

The plan provides $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, including $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for people experiencing homelessness, survivors of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.  

The plan also sends roughly $20 billion to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent, rent assistance and utility bills. There is $4.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help families with home heating and cooling costs. 

You can apply for utility assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or RAMP Charlotte

The plan does not extend the CDC Eviction, which is set to expire at the end of March or the federally-backed Foreclosure Moratoriums, which are set to expire at the end of June. Read more here

**Update as of March, 29, 2021** The CDC recently extended these moratoriums through June 30, and Gov. Roy Cooper has also extended the statewide residential eviction moratorium for N.C. through June 30.

Read more on how you can use the moratorium to prevent eviction here.  

FOOD AND NUTRITIONAL ASSISTANCE 

Millions of families across the country are struggling to put food on the table. This act addresses food insecurity by:  

  • Extending the current 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits through September 2021, instead of letting it expire at the end of June. 
  • Providing $880 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help increase participation and temporarily improve benefits 
  • Allowing states to continue the Pandemic-EBT (PEBT) program through summer for families with children who qualify for free and reduced meals in school. The program gives families financial assistance to replace the meals the kids would have received if schools had not been closed due to COVID-19. 

If you need assistance with applying for SNAP, PEBT, or other public benefits, contact our Family Support and Healthcare team at 704-376-1600.  

CHILD CARE 

The plan includes a number of provisions to increase access to child care, including an additional $15 billion through Sept. 30, 2021 for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. 

It does not reinstate mandatory paid family and sick leave approved in the CARES Act. But it will continue to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the benefit through October 1, 2021. 

STUDENT LOANS 

Many federal student loans are continuing in forbearance, which is scheduled to end October 1. If student loan debt is forgiven after December 31, 2020, and before January 1, 2026, the cancelled debt won’t be taxed. 

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR HEALTH INSURANCE 

More Help to Pay for Health Coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The American Rescue Plan provides financial assistance to help consumers get health insurance through the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare).  

Under the plan, consumers can receive increased premium tax credits to pay for coverage in 2021 and 2022, eliminating or reducing premiums for millions of current Marketplace enrollees to ensure that no one on the exchange spends more than 8.5 percent of their income on coverage premiums, regardless of their income level.  

This reduces the current 9.83 percent limit for people with income of 300 to 400 percent of the poverty line and establishes a new premium cap for Marketplace enrollees with higher incomes.  

Under the bill, people with income below 150 percent of the poverty line (about $19,000 for a single person and $39,000 for a family of four) would pay no premiums for a benchmark plan, after accounting for premium tax credits. Families who make more will pay a fixed percentage of income toward Marketplace health coverage.  

This will significantly reduce premiums for people who are currently eligible for financial help by increasing their premium tax credits. For example: 

  • A single individual making $18,000 would pay zero net premium rather than $54 per month (3.6 percent of income) and would qualify for the most generous subsidies for deductibles and other cost-sharing amounts.
     
  • A single individual making $30,000 would pay $85 rather than $195 per month in premiums (3.4 instead of 7.8 percent of income) and would qualify for a plan with reduced deductibles and other cost-sharing amounts. Or, with the bigger subsidy, the same person could opt to buy a gold plan with lower cost-sharing charges for $115 per month.
     
  • A family of four making $50,000 would pay $67 rather than $252 per month in premiums for benchmark coverage (1.6 instead of 6.0 percent of their income) and would qualify for generous cost-sharing reductions.
  • A family of four making $75,000 would pay $340 rather than $588 per month in premiums for benchmark coverage (5.4 instead of 9.4 percent of their income). A typical family could purchase a gold plan with lower deductibles and other cost sharing for about $440 per month (roughly 7 percent of income). 

An open enrollment period is open now through August 15 for anyone who wants to sign up for health insurance or change their current Marketplace plan. 

This open enrollment period gives people a new opportunity to get covered and take advantage of the financial assistance enacted as part of the relief package. 

Streamlines process to qualify for ACA subsidies 

The package also enhances premium tax credits (financial assistance) for people who receive unemployment benefits in 2021 by setting their Marketplace eligibility at a projected income levels that guarantee they will get the most generous premium tax credits under an ACA Marketplace plan, regardless of what their actual year-end income ultimately is. This includes people who have previously found themselves in the Medicaid gap. 

The package also eliminates the need to repay ACA subsidies from 2020. Some people lost their jobs early last year but later got new ones and saw higher earnings than they had expected. Others worked additional hours or received bonus pay as essential workers. Under this plan, low- and moderate-income families are exempt from having to repay the premium tax credit (financial assistance) they received in 2020. 

COBRA premiums covered 

Under the relief plan, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30, 2021 for those who lost employer-based coverage due to lay-offs or working reduced hours.  

A person who qualifies for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost COBRA coverage. Someone who leaves a job voluntarily would not be eligible either. 

Incentivizes States to Expand Medicaid Eligibility  

The plan incentivizes states that still have not expanded their Medicaid programs (like North Carolina) to expand eligibility for adults by increasing matching federal funds (raising the state’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage by 5 percentage points) over two years. 

In North Carolina, this means more than 500,000 residents in the Medicaid gap (those who currently make too little to receive financial help for Marketplace coverage and make too much to qualify for Medicaid) would finally have access to coverage and the health care at a time when they need it most. 

This incentive would pump $2.4 billion new federal dollars into the state in just two years if N.C. is willing to take advantage of it. 

States choosing to expand would be required to maintain Medicaid coverage levels to receive the increase, including the newly established requirement to cover COVID-19 vaccine and treatment (see below). 

Covers COVID Testing and Treatment 

The plan also requires Medicaid and Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment without beneficiary cost sharing. Vaccines and vaccine administration costs would be matched at 100 percent until one year after the end of the Pandemic Health Emergency. States also would have the option to provide coverage to the uninsured for COVID-19 vaccines and treatment without cost sharing at 100 percent. Everyone should have access to COVID testing, treatment, and vaccinations regardless of income, insurance, or immigration status.  

Expands Access to Postpartum and Child Health Care 

The plan also gives states five years to extend their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligibility to include pregnant individuals for 12 months postpartum. States choosing this option must provide the full Medicaid benefit for pregnant and postpartum individuals during the 12-month postpartum period. 

Increased Funds for Home and Community-Based Services 

The plan provides temporary one-year FMAP increase to improve home-and-community-based-services as well as FMAP increases for services provided through the Urban Indian Organizations and Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems. The bill also would provide funding to states for the creation of nursing home strike teams to assist in managing COVID-19 outbreaks when they occur. 

Option to create new Medicaid Program for Crisis Intervention Services 

The plan gives states five years to creates a new optional Medicaid covered service for adults by offering mobile crisis intervention services for adults experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis. 

Have questions about how this plan impacts your coverage options or access to health care? Contact our Family Support and Health Care team by calling 704-376-1600 

VITA Offers Free Help Filing 2020 Taxes

The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is available by virtual appointment through tax season to help eligible residents file their taxes.   

If your household income in 2020 was $57,000 or less, you could qualify to have your taxes prepared and submitted through this program.  

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s VITA services will be offered virtually and securely by IRS certified tax preparers, using Adobe Scan, Google Duo, Verifyle, and Zoom to complete returns.  Learn more and register for your free appointment.

An in-person VITA site is open at the Dellwood Center in Huntersville by appointment only until April 10. Learn more and make an appointment

VITA ofrece servicios gratuitos de preparación de impuestos locales 

El programa de Asistencia Voluntaria de Impuestos sobre la Renta (VITA por sus siglas en inglés) del IRS está disponible mediante cita virtual durante la temporada de impuestos para ayudar a los residentes elegibles a presentar sus impuestos. 

Si el ingreso de su hogar en 2020 fue de $ 57,000 o menos, podría calificar para que se preparen y presenten sus impuestos a través de este programa. 

Debido a las restricciones de COVID-19, los preparadores de impuestos certificados por el IRS ofrecerán los servicios VITA de este año de manera virtual y segura, utilizando Adobe Scan, Google Duo, Verifyle y Zoom para completar las declaraciones. Obtenga más información y regístrese para su cita gratuita.

Un sitio de VITA en persona está abierto en el Dellwood Center en Huntersville solo con cita previa hasta el 10 de abril. Obtenga más información y regístrese para su cita.

COVID Scams: 5 things to remember during the vaccine roll out

As North Carolinians begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, the NC Department of Justice is warning about an increase in vaccine-related scams. Here are five things to keep in mind as the vaccines are rolled out:

  1. Everyone who wants a vaccine can have one. Even if you don’t have health insurance, COVID-19 vaccine will be available for free for most people. Those with health insurance should bring this information with them to their vaccination appointment.

  2. Beware of solicitations. Anyone who calls, texts, messages, emails, or posts to social media that you can pay to have the vaccine reserved for you or mailed to you is a scammer.

  3. Legitimate providers will not request your bank account, Social Security, or credit card number to get the vaccine. Beware of websites made to resemble legitimate health department or health care provider websites.

  4. No identification, immigration status, or social security number is required to receive the vaccine. Immigrants regardless of legal status can receive the vaccine without worry of their information being provided to ICE or their immigration status being affected. Any information provided is kept confidential and cannot be shared with ICE or immigration enforcement.

  5. Stay up to date. The best place to learn about vaccine availability and when you may be eligible to receive the vaccine is the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services “Your Spot, Your Shot” website.

    To learn more about vaccine availability in Mecklenburg County, call the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s Public Health Hotline, 980-314-9400 or visit their website.

Learn more about scams related to COVID-19 Vaccine

“Stay Safe from COVID-19 Vaccine Scams” (N.C. Department of Justice)

“Federal Agencies Warn of Emerging Fraud Schemes Related to COVID-19 Vaccines” (F.B.I.)

Living in Fear: Report Documents the Harm Inflicted on Immigrant Families, Children in Charlotte Area, Carolinas

Every day, immigrant families live in fear of separation and suffer from chronic stress while struggling to build a stable life in a community that keeps them on the fringes.

These are the findings of a recent report documenting the harm of the Trump administration’s deliberate attacks on immigrants living in the Carolinas and across the U.S.

In collaboration with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and South Carolina Appleseed, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has released its findings based on interviews with a range of professionals serving the immigrant community—including childcare providers, nursing home visitors, health and mental health care providers, health insurance navigators, nutrition assistance providers, and legal service providers.

“The Trump Administration has repeatedly shown indifference to the effects of its policies and rhetoric on children across the country and in some cases is deliberately using harm to immigrant children as a political lever,” said Madison Allen, co-author of the Carolinas report and senior policy analyst/attorney at CLASP. “We found that parents are altering their daily lives and avoiding public health, nutrition, and education programs because of these relentless attacks. We heard stories about parents being detained in front of their children, kids who are afraid to go outside and play, and chronic stress that will have long-term consequences for many children.”

Charlotte’s foreign-born population makes up 10 percent of the total population, with most individuals coming from Latin America (50 percent) and Asia (31 percent). This population has grown significantly over the past 10 years.

With one in four children having at least one immigrant parent, the report illustrates the deliberate detrimental impact this administration’s rhetoric and policies are having on children and, by extension, our greater community.

Through interviews conducted between January and March 2020 in the Charlotte metro and Columbia, S.C. areas, recurring themes echoed the harmful and deep impacts families experience because of the Trump administration’s harmful rhetoric and zero-tolerance enforcement tactics.

Interviewees shared stories of how the constant, looming fear of immigration enforcement dramatically impacts daily life for immigrant parents and children in their communities.

Parents and caregivers are afraid to leave their homes to work or take care of everyday necessities out of fear that they will not return home to their families. That fear is not limited to adults either. Children of all ages are also experiencing and internalizing chronic stress and anxiety that impacts their health and wellbeing in ways that will linger for years.

Providers shared concerns about the children who are living at homes with chronic ongoing stress and what that means for their future. As a nurse practitioner explained, “the increase in cortisol and the inflammatory markers that go along with stress precipitates a lot of chronic disease.”

Families are also avoiding publicly funded health and nutrition services for which they are eligible specifically due to the administration’s new Public Charge rule. The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.

The rule has faced several court challenges since going into effect with decisions just in the last month that have put it on hold and then resumed it again, adding to confusion about what options families have.

Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Most immigrants with status who do qualify for public benefits along with all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule. Also, several types of public benefits are not included in the assessment, such as WIC, NC Health Choice and Emergency Medicaid. This hasn’t stopped families from withdrawing from stabilizing programs out of fear.

In the report, Advocacy Center staff shared several stories of families choosing not to enroll in benefits.

One story involved a woman from Mexico who had been a U.S. citizen for 20 years. During a meeting to enroll in health coverage, a health insurance navigator shared that the woman was eligible to sign up for food stamps (SNAP benefits) based on her income. The woman declined “… because of the public charge, she thought it applied to her … and she was just really scared.”

Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts to help families fight fear with facts.

“Through education and outreach, we are making sure families understand what they’re entitled to receive and have access to the necessary resources that ensure they remain stable during these uncertain times,” Setaro said.

On top of policy threats at the federal level, immigrant families in the Carolinas face added barriers when accessing safety net programs like Medicaid due to shortcomings in the state eligibility software and training for social services staff. These systems are difficult for most people to effectively navigate without assistance, especially when English is a second language.

CLASP’s research found that conditions for immigrant children and their families in the Carolinas were exacerbated by confusion, misinformation and limited availability of legal services, specifically in South Carolina.

In the Charlotte region, the Advocacy Center is the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services for immigrant families, but additional options for legal assistance are limited beyond hiring a private attorney.

Private immigration attorneys are often not well versed on immigrant eligibility for public benefits, which also adds to confusion and uncertainty.

The Advocacy Center fights to ensure equal access to resources under the law for immigrant families. That includes working with service providers and the immigrant community to help families understand and access local resources that are available, while also holding administrative and government systems accountable to provide services families are entitled to receive.

The report’s findings illustrate the need for policies that equitably ensure safety, economic security and stability for all families, including immigrants.

Such policies would enable all people to live their lives as productive citizens engaging in civic and economic life without fear and build a strong community that allows families to thrive.

Learn more by reading the report, “Trump Administration Immigration Policies Are Harming Children and Families in the Carolinas”.