Unemployed or working fewer hours during COVID-19? 5 things to consider

Many people are trying to figure out what their options are after losing their jobs or having work hours reduced during COVID-19. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is here to help. Contact us if you need assistance figuring out your options. Here are 5 ways we can help you and your family remain stable: 

1.  Unemployment Benefits:

  • You should apply for unemployment benefits right away. You can apply online at des.nc.gov or by calling 1-888-737-0259. If you cannot get through, keep trying and document your attempts.
  • Remember to fill out the weekly certifications online at des.nc.gov or by calling 1-888-372-3453 every week, even if your application has not been approved yet or you have been disqualified for benefits and have filed an appeal.
  • If you are self-employed, haven’t worked recently, or you are applying for or receiving disability benefits you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are out of work or unable to work due to COVID-19. This includes parents who must stay home because their children are out of school.
  • During this emergency, the amount of unemployment benefits has been increased by $600 per week through July 31, 2020. You can also receive the benefits for more weeks.
  • Immigrants with work authorization may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, undocumented immigrants are not eligible.
  • Call Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Unemployment Insurance COVID-19 Response Project at 980-256-3979 if you have questions about unemployment benefits, are having trouble applying, or have been denied benefits.

2.  Stimulus Payments:

  • Most people should get a stimulus payment from the IRS of $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child under age 17. You can get this payment even if you are not required to file a tax return.
     
  • You must be authorized to work in the U.S. to be eligible for these payments, typically this means you have a SSN that’s valid for employment. Unfortunately, this means many immigrants may not be eligible for a stimulus payment.
     
  • If you have not received your payment, call Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Taxpayer Clinic hotline at 980-202-7329

3. Evictions, Foreclosures, Utility Cut-Offs and Student Loan payments

  • You cannot be evicted by your landlord or have your house foreclosed until after a court hearing. Those court hearings are on hold at least until June 2020.
  • If you have a federally backed mortgage loan such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, VA, USDA, FHA or Home Equity Conversion mortgage (“Reverse mortgage”), you may be entitled to two 180-day forbearances on your mortgage payments without late fees being added.
  • Utilities, including electric, gas, and water services are prohibited from disconnection for customers unable to pay during the COVID-19 pandemic and from collecting fees, penalties, or interest for late payments until June. Residential customers have at least six months to pay outstanding bills.
  • Certain student loans may be entitled to have their payments suspended through September 2020.
  • Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy or Legal Aid may be able to help you prevent eviction, foreclosure, or utility cut-off. Call us at 704-376-1600.

4. Health Care Coverage:

  • You and your children may now be eligible for Medicaid. 
  • If you cannot get Medicaid, you may be able to enroll in Obamacare/Marketplace coverage with financial assistance if you recently lost your health coverage or had a change in circumstances. You have 60 days after losing your coverage or the change to enroll.
  • If you are already enrolled in Obamacare/Marketplace and cannot pay your premiums, you may qualify for lower premiums.
  • Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Health Insurance Navigator Project can help you find the best and most affordable coverage options for you and your family. We can help you complete an application, update your Obamacare/Marketplace coverage, or answer general health insurance questions. We can also help if you get denied for coverage or services. Call 980-256-3782 to schedule a free, over the phone appointment today!

5. Food Assistance:

  • You may be eligible for food stamps. The amount of food stamp benefits has been increased and time limits/work requirements for some people have been waived during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy can help you apply for food stamps over the phone. We can also help if you get denied. Our help is free. Call us at 980-256-3782.
  • Even families not eligible for food stamps will receive an EBT card in the mail to use to buy food if their children qualify for free and reduced lunch at school. Your immigration status does not matter. If you do not get this card, call us at 704-376-1600.
  • Families with no income can also get cash assistance for their children from Social Services under the Work First program. The amount of Work First benefits have been increased and work requirements waived during the pandemic. 

    Apply by phone by calling Social Services at 704-336-3000. If you get denied or cannot apply, call us at 704 376-1600.

Student Borrower Advocates Call for Canceling Student Debt to Tackle Economic Fallout

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has joined advocates from across the country in calling on Congressional leaders to address student loan debt issues being exacerbated by COVID-19.

Here is the letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

Download a PDF version of this letter

April 13, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader McCarthy, and Minority Leader Schumer:

The 66 undersigned community, civil rights, consumer, and student advocacy organizations thank you for taking swift action to pass the CARES Act to begin to grapple with the ongoing economic fallout caused by the coronavirus. However, much more must be done to ensure that student loan borrowers and the economy recover when this crisis ends. We urge you to include student debt cancellation in the next coronavirus package, and for those who will still have federal student debt, to extend suspension of those payments through March 2021.

We are concerned about the increasingly grim predictions we hear about the state of our economy. Without a comprehensive long-term solution, the CARES Act suspension of federal student loans for eighty percent of borrowers merely kicks the problem down the road to this fall, when jobless claims are predicted to exceed Great Depression-era levels, and the financial crisis will have severely deepened. The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, James Bullard, predicted the U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter, a level five percent greater than was reached during the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs is projecting a record-breaking 24 percent drop in GDP for the second quarter of 2020, and that the world economy is expected to contract by 1 percent this year—which would be a greater worldwide contraction than the one following the 2008 financial crisis. And the downturn is expected to last well beyond this year: Morgan Stanley predicts that GDP in developed markets won’t return to pre-virus levels until the third quarter of 2021.

The student debt relief in the CARES Act fails to address this looming economic crisis. First, the six-month suspension on federally-held federal student loans leaves out an estimated one in five borrowers who owe on commercially-held FFEL loans or Perkins loans. Second, even for the eighty percent of borrowers who benefit from a six-month suspension, many will face the daunting prospect starting in October of choosing between paying for necessities including food, medical care, and rent, or making their student loan payment.

The next stimulus package must take the necessary steps to ensure economic recovery down the line: this means federal student debt cancellation, so the hardest hit don’t struggle, and an extended federal student loan payment suspension that is expanded to all borrowers to at least March 2021, so those who will continue to have payments will have more breathing room to get back on their feet. Without taking these additional steps, the CARES Act sets up millions of federal student loan borrowers to face the daunting prospect of trying to find the means to pay their student loans in the middle of economic devastation.

Cancelling federal student debt would bring impactful relief to 43 million Americans and their families. Loan cancellation would provide the greatest benefit to many struggling low-income borrowers who would likely see their debt extinguished. For those who would still have a balance, suspending payments until the end of the year would prevent them from facing yet another financial shock when the CARES Act federal student loan suspension expires in October. An extended payment suspension would enable many economically distressed borrowers to focus on recovering from a once-in-a-lifetime national emergency and free up extra dollars to inject into the economy. It would also strengthen the finances of student loan borrowers and their families over the long term by ensuring that tens of millions of borrowers come out of this crisis with lighter debt burdens.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic impact, it is crucially important to include student loan debt cancellation as a part of any economic stimulus. We support the proposals that Senate and House Democrats have put forward to cancel student debt by establishing a program to make principal and interest payments on outstanding federal student loans throughout the duration of this crisis. Such a program would ensure that loan balances go down throughout the duration of the crisis, putting millions of households in a better position to deal with the long-term economic fallout this crisis will create. We also support the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act by Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar to cancel a minimum of $30,000 in federal student loans.

Cancelling student debt would ensure that, come fall, borrowers are able to shoulder the ongoing costs of food, supplies, and medications if they, like many workers, face layoffs or smaller paychecks (due to reduced hours or slower business) because of the pandemic. And at a time when student loan servicers are shuttering call centers or reducing capacity, student loan cancellation would ensure there is less need for borrowers to take time out of their days to chase down their servicers and try and secure changes to, or help on, their student loans.

Reports show that cancelling student debt would also boost the economy for everyone in the medium-to-long term. It would boost GDP by up to $108 billion a year, and add up to 1.5 million jobs per year. Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that federal student debt cancellation increases borrowers’ incomes by about $3,000 over a three-year period.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was facing a student debt crisis: outstanding student debt surpassed $1.6 trillion, over 9 million borrowers were in default on their federal student loans, and another borrower goes into default every 26 seconds. The burden of default falls particularly hard on communities of color. Black students must borrow at higher rates and in larger amounts due to racial inequities in incomes and wealth. Additionally, women hold two-thirds of the country’s student debt and on average borrow $3,000 more than men to attend college—yet because of the wealth and wage gap, women find it harder to repay their loans. Three million Americans over the age of 60 still have student debt. More than 40,000 people over 65 have their Social Security payments, tax refunds, or other government payments offset or garnished because they have fallen behind on their student loan payments. According to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) Snapshot report, older borrowers are more likely than those without outstanding student loans to report that they have skipped necessary health care needs such as prescription medicines, doctors’ visits, and dental care because they could not afford it.

Now more than ever, we must ensure that all people prioritize the health and economic wellbeing and that of their families and neighbors. Federal student debt cancellation is an essential factor in making that possible, and we strongly urge you to include this relief in the next COVID-19 package.

Sincerely,

National organizations:
Allied Progress
American Federation of Teachers
Americans for Financial Reform
Association of Young Americans (AYA)
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Economic Integrity
Center for Justice & Democracy
Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Center for Responsible Lending
Center for Survivor Agency and Justice
Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
Economic Opportunity Institute
The Education Trust
EMPath
Hildreth Institute
NAACP
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients) National Women’s Law Center
The Midas Collaborative
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
Public Citizen
Public Justice Center
Public Law Center
Student Action
Student Borrower Protection Center
Student Debt Crisis
Young Invincibles

State and local groups:
ACTION – Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods
Alaska PIRG
Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending
Arkansas Community Organizations
Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy
Convencion Bautista Hispana de Texas
Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council, Inc.
East LA Community Corporation
Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition
Faith Action Network – Washington State
Georgians Against Predatory Lending
Habitat for Humanity of Anderson County, TN
Just-A-Start Corporation
Lawrence CommunityWorks
Maine Center for Economic Policy
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance
Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance
Michigan League for Public Policy
Michigan Poverty Law Program
Montana Organizing Project
New Jersey Citizen Action
New Jersey Tenants Organization
PathWays PA
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
PHENOM (Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts)
Project LIFT
SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center
Tennessee Citizen Action
Tzedek DC
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council
VOICE OKC
Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice
WV Citizen Action Group

Release from Americans for Financial Reform