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Coronavirus COVID-19

COVID-19 Advisory: WSU Extension is working to keep our communities safe. All Extension programming is being provided virtually, postponed, or canceled. Effective March 16, 2020, WSU Extension county offices and WSU Research & Extension Centers will be closed to the public. We are available via email, phone, and webconference.

Financial Resources in Washington State to Help Get Through COVID-19

The US has the most confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. This global pandemic is impacting households, communities, and businesses. A national survey showed that 1 in 5 households in the US have had their income cut or stopped altogether. The frequently asked questions below highlight some common financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The answer to each question has links to government websites and the types of assistance that might be available. We will be adding additional information as new policies and resources are put into place. Please check the Washington State Coronavirus web site also for the most current information: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/

Can I get unemployment benefits?

Many businesses have closed temporarily or have shortened hours because of the pandemic and laid off employees. This has caused an unprecedented need for the Washington State Employment Security Department (WA ESD) services. The WA ESD has programs to help individuals and businesses during COVID-19. Components of the federal CARES Act make it possible for more individuals to qualify for unemployment benefits and increased benefits. A guide to help those applying for unemployment navigate the available services and benefits from WA ESD can be found here then sign up for unemployment.

WA ESD also has a section of FAQs for Workers. Also, please read the alerts that accompany this web page for the most current information: https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

Am I eligible for any public health insurance or food assistance?

If your income has dropped or stopped, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (WA DSHS) has government assistance programs to help with health insurance, food, and other needed resources. As of March 19, WA DSHS has limited in-person services through the Community Service Office. Please check the web site for the most current information to apply for food stamps/EBT, or Apple Health, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/food-cash-medical

The Insurance Commissioner has extended the order to waive copays and deductibles for any consumer requiring testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) including all state-regulated health insurance plans and short-term limited duration medical plans until June 3, 2020.

As an employee in Washington State, you would be eligible to accrue sick leave and family medical leave. Learn more here.

What if I can’t make my income tax payment?

If you need more time to pay any federal or self-employment income taxes that you owe, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has extended the deadline to both FILE and PAY taxes until July 15, 2020. Up to $1 million dollars in tax payments can be delayed with this 90-day extension without incurring interest charges or fees.

The Internal Revenue Service has a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by COVID-19. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus. This IRS page will be updated as new information is available.

What can my small business do when our sales have dropped or stopped?

Some businesses have been ordered to close and others have lost revenue or shortened their hours. The Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act provides additional resources. Check this web site to find more information on small business loans from the SBA: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.

Is the federal government going to mail me a check?

The CARES Act, legislation signed into law by President Trump is providing Economic Impact Payments of $1,200 to adults with annual adjusted gross income (AGI) up to $75,000; married couples are eligible for $2,400, if their annual AGI is under $150,000, plus an additional $500 per child under 17; and those who files as head of households are eligible for $1,200, plus $500 per child under 17. There are some exceptions and a sliding scale for reduced checks for those with higher incomes.
 
The amount will be determined based on the AGI used on the most recent income tax filed (2019 or 2018). Senior citizens, Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are not typically required to file a tax return do not need to take any action, and will receive their payment directly. The IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099 to generate their Economic Impact Payments.
 
People will receive the payment by direct deposit, if the IRS has current bank account information, or by a mailed check, if the IRS does not. It could take until May for checks that need to be mailed.
 
For more information about the stimulus checks and the status of your check visit the IRS

More details about the stimulus checks including specific information related to individuals or families with dependent children who do not usually file a tax return, reduced checks for higher incomes, check the IRS web site here.

Reminder for SSA, VA, SSI and RRB Benefit Recipients with Dependents:
The IRS has already scheduled payments to taxpayers based on Social Security retirement, disability (SSDI), or survivor benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Veterans Affairs (C&P) benefit payments will be scheduled shortly for payment in mid-May. However, the window has closed to use this tool for these recipients who have a child and don’t normally file a tax return. These recipients who do not receive a payment that includes up to $500 for any qualifying children can file a tax return next year to determine their payment based on 2020 and claim any additional amount they weren’t paid this year.

How can I protect myself against fraud and scammers?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are a few really important things to know since scammers are taking advantage of fear and the unknown:

  1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.
  2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  3. At this time there is no vaccine that will prevent the COVID-19 available to the public. Anyone who tries to sell you one is a scammer.

The FTC encourages anyone who is contacted by a scammer asking for your bank account number or Social Security number to file a complaint on their website: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1. Do you think an identity thief might have stolen your stimulus payment? If so, check out this post and file a report here.

What if I can’t make my mortgage payment, rent, or car loan?

The pandemic may have caused your income to drop or your monthly living expenses may have gone up. If you think that you won’t be able to pay your mortgage, the CARES Act may be able to help if you have a federally held mortgage. The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (WA DFI) site provides a detailed explanation and suggestions for Washington homeowners. CARES Act-specific information, watch the video provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or downloading their guide here.
 
Governor Inslee extended the proclamation prohibiting eviction of renters due to nonpayment of rent as the sole cause through June 4th. Details are available here.

Financial regulators have asked financial institutions to work with borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s best to contact your credit card issuer or loan officer as soon as possible to develop a plan. You can find DFI tips here and check out the Extension COVID-19 publications to help with managing your finances, including: Dealing with a Drop in Income for steps to take in prioritizing bills and contacting creditors or your landlord about a payment plan. It’s best to contact your creditor before you miss a payment so they know you are keeping track and working on the situation. Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website for tips and resources for working with creditors: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/protect-yourself-financially-from-impact-of-coronavirus/

What can I do if I’ve lost my job and can’t make my car insurance payment?

On March 25 Insurance Commissioner, Mike Kreidler issued an executive order requiring insurers that sell property and casualty policies in our state to make it possible for policy holders to retain coverage for their homes, vehicles, other property and liability policies during Washington state’s coronavirus state of emergency for 45 days, until May 9th. Insurers will:

  • Provide a grace period for policyholders to pay their insurance premiums.
  • Waive fees related to any late payments, including late fees and reinstatement fees.
  • Refrain from canceling any policy for nonpayment of premium, unless the policyholder requests the policy to be canceled.

As with all your creditors, do stay in touch with your insurance company and communicate about your current financial situation. Answers to FAQs can be found here.

What if I get behind on utility payments?

As people make hard choices about which bills to keep up with, some may fall behind on water, electric, and natural gas bills. Governor Inslee has called on all public utilities in Washington state to ensure the health and safety of their employees and the public by suspending disconnection tariffs for nonpayment during this emergency; waiving late fees for customers who are out of work or offering customers payment plans; and expanding bill assistance programs for customers who are economically impacted by this emergency. Many utility companies are already doing this. For assistance, contact your utility company. Utility web sites can be found here: https://dfi.wa.gov/coronavirus-financial-resources

What if I can’t make my federal student loan payment?

On March 27, 2020, the president signed the CARES Act into law. As part of that act, federal student loan borrowers are automatically being placed in an administrative forbearance, (effective back to March 13th) which allows you to temporarily stop making your monthly loan payment. This suspension of payments will last until Sept. 30, 2020. You can still make payments if you choose. This order applies only to federal student loans. Do confirm your student loan source.

This will allow borrowers to temporarily stop their payments without worrying about accruing interest. Answers to FAQs can be found here:
Borrower Questions and Answers Visit Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents to stay informed and learn more details.

Should I take money out of my retirement savings to pay for my living expenses now?

The Internal Revenue Service allows hardship distributions from certain retirement plans when you’re faced with an “immediate and heavy” financial need. A retirement plan, such as a 401(K) or 403(b), might offer hardship withdrawals but is not required to and other plans, like IRA’s, have different rules, so you’ll need to check with your specific plan. Visit the IRS website to learn more about hardship distributions: https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-regarding-hardship-distributions#2.

A withdrawal is not considered necessary by the IRS if you still have other options open to you, like getting a bank loan or selling assets. You can find more information in the Extension publication: What to Do When Your Income Drops.
If the worst should happen and a person needs to declare bankruptcy in the future, also keep in mind that most employer sponsored retirement accounts and IRAs are protected from creditors in a bankruptcy and can be used to start over.

Are there other services that can help me keep up with bills?

You can check for local services by calling: 211 or visit the 211.org website: https://wa211.org/, for referrals to food assistance, paying housing bills, accessing child care, or obtaining help with other needs. You’ll be able to enter your zip code on the website to be connected to your local 211 office. Check also for Community Action Programs in your area.

Can a store raise the price on an item when it’s in short supply?

There is not a specific Washington State law regarding raising prices when items are in short supply, but the Attorney General has stated that the office is investigating price gouging in the wake of the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Attorney Generals office is taking formal investigative actions. If you see price gouging, file a complaint: https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint

Online security tips for working from home

Many US workers and school children may be telecommuting — working from home — due to the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission shares helpful cybersecurity tips and links for individuals and small businesses on their blog posts: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity-online-security

Where can I find more information on the virus?

The most current information on COVID-19 can be found at the following sites:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Washington State Department of Health:
https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus
Washington State Coronavirus site:
https://coronavirus.wa.gov/

Additional resources related to COVID-19
https://www.usa.gov/ For answers to other questions, find a complete list of government agency resources related to COVID-19, including Health and Human Service updates and a link to the Federal Trade Commission’s website tracking scams related to the virus.

Adapted for Washington State from Wisconsin State University Extension: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/toughtimes/covid-19-financial-resources/