|During the past several months, our nation and world have experienced an unprecedented threat in the form of coronavirus (COVID-19). Please know, as your Representative, I remain fully committed to combatting coronavirus and am actively engaged with local, state, and federal health officials.
While the situation is constantly evolving, I want to make sure you have current information on the resources available. Since COVID-19 started spreading throughout the United States, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress to enact policies to help individuals impacted by coronavirus. Below, I have included information to assist you and your family during these uncertain times.
If you have any questions about these materials, please do not hesitate to contact my office. I also encourage you to watch the Unemployment Webinar I hosted with the Texas Workforce Commission, or the webinar I hosted with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to help those in Collin County who have had their finances or employment impacted by this pandemic.
My staff and I are here to assist you in any way possible during these uncertain times. You can reach my office by calling (972) 202-4150 or send me an email online.
Changes to the Paid Family Medical and Leave Program
Due to COVID-19, some employers may be required to temporarily extend Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits to employees who must stay home to care for a minor child whose school or care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. If this situation applies to you, employers would be required to provide you with ten weeks paid leave at two-thirds of your wages. Find specific information here.
Guaranteed Sick Leave Reforms
If your ability to work has been impacted by COVID-19, your employer may be required to temporarily provide for fully paid sick leave. Public and private employers with less than 500 employees will now be required to provide full-time employees with two weeks (80 hours) paid sick leave as well as part-time employees on a pro-rated basis. Employers are required to cover employees not working for specific reasons found here.
Improved Unemployment Program
The CARES Act created a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program that will cover individuals who wouldn't normally be eligible for traditional Unemployment Insurance benefits. This program particularly helps self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and those who are simply unable to work due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to expanded eligibility, under this program unemployment recipients will receive an additional $600 per week for up to four months through July 31, 2020 on top of the amount given to them through their state program. In Texas, weekly unemployment benefits previously ranged between $69 to $521 per week. This program adds an additional thirteen weeks of unemployment benefits to the number of weeks states currently allow. In Texas, unemployment beneficiaries were previously limited to 26 weeks of benefits, this will now bring the total to 39 weeks. The CARES Act provided $250 billion to cover the additional benefits described above. The Texas Workforce Commission has provided a list [DOWNLOAD] of possible scenarios to show how the pandemic may affect unemployment benefit eligibility. Remember, if you get paid your regular pay or sick leave while you are out of work, you may not be eligible or it may affect how much you receive.
Texans can submit an application for unemployment benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission website here or call (800) 939-6631 and speak to a service representative.
On April 30, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott announced Texans can continue to receive unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 response if they choose not to return to work for six specific reasons detailed below:
- Watch a tutorial on how to apply for benefits here
- Visit TWC's website for up-to-date news and announcements
Any other situation will be subject to a case-by-case review by the Texas Workforce Commission based on individual circumstances.
- At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Diagnosed with COVID: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
- Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
- Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
- Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available
To ensure Texans have necessary food resources during this crisis, Governor Abbott extended emergency benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides food assistance to approximately 1.4 million eligible low-income families and individuals in Texas. To determine if you are eligible for benefits, please click here.
To help provide guidance about the resources available to those who may be facing financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19, I hosted an online webinar with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which works to provide Americans with information and tools to help protect themselves from harm when making financial decisions. Experts from the agency provided a presentation on programs and flexibility provided by the CARES Act in regards to topics such as keeping up with your bills, mortgage relief and forbearance, dealing with debt, student loan repayment relief, and protecting your credit. You can view a recording of the webinar here.
|Financial Relief for Workers
As result of legislation passed by Congress, Collin County received more than $171 million in federal aid. I have had several conversations with county and city officials regarding this funding and was proud to see the Collin County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the Collin Cares Recovery Plan. Under this plan, Collin County has used the federal funds to bolster local coronavirus testing and PPE and allocated $45 million to be used for financial assistance through the Collin CARES Program to help local families with housing, utilities, and groceries. This plan also provided $50 million to Collin County cities so they can provide even more assistance tailored to their individual communities.
Applications for financial assistance through the Collin CARES program became available on June 1, 2020. For more information on the program, including eligibility requirements and the application, please visit the Collin Cares website here. You can also listen to a recording of a Telephone Town Hall I hosted on June 3, 2020 on the Collin CARES program here.
Economic Impact Payments
Under the CARES Act, all Americans with a valid Social Security Number who meet certain income thresholds will receive a one-time Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 per adult, or $2,400 per married couple, and an additional $500 payment for each qualifying child under the age of 17. Individuals who receive Social Security benefits are eligible for the Economic Impact Payment so long as they meet the income thresholds.
The full Economic Impact Payment amount is available for those with an adjusted gross income (AGI) at or below $75,000 for individuals, and $150,000 for married couples. For individuals with an AGI above $75,000, the payment amount will decrease by $5 for each $100 increment earned above $75,000, fully phasing out at $99,000. For married couples with an AGI above $150,000, the payment amount will also decrease by $5 for each $100 increment earned above $150,000 fully phasing out at $198,000.
The first wave of payments was distributed to Americans the week of April 13, 2020. As of June 3, 2020, the IRS had sent approximately 159 million Economic Impact Payments totaling more than $267 billion. Of those 159 million Economic Impact Payments, 120 million payments were sent by direct deposit, 35 million payments were sent by check, and 4 million payments were made in the form of a pre-paid debit card. If you have not received your payment, use the "Get My Payment" tool to track the status of your Economic Impact Payment.
Non-filers, who meet the income requirements and receive Social Security retirement benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits, should automatically receive an Economic Impact Payment. Use the IRS tool to determine your eligibility.
Mortgages and Rent
To further help individuals and families hurting due to the pandemic, Congress has enacted policies to assist homeowners and renters facing financial difficulty as a result of coronavirus.
Evictions and foreclosures have been suspended through August 31, 2020 for HUD insured single-family mortgages and mortgages backed by the government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). To determine whether your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or another entity, visit this website. Individuals may also take advantage of receiving free, expert assistance on avoiding foreclosure and advice on which programs they qualify for given their specific situation through a HUD approved housing counselor.
Congress has also provided up to 180 days of forbearance (and the ability to extend the forbearance period for an additional 180 days) for those with a federally-backed mortgage loan. During this period of forbearance, no fees, penalties or interest beyond the amounts scheduled under the terms of the mortgage contract shall accrue on the borrower's account. Applicable mortgages include those purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, insured by HUD, VA, or USDA. For more information on forbearance, please contact your lender.
The CARES Act also provides multifamily property owners with federally-backed loans and have experienced financial hardship resulting from the pandemic 90 days of forbearance. To further help renters stay in their homes, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced servicers are permitted to extend forbearance agreements for multifamily property owners with existing forbearance agreements for up to three months, for a total of six months. Borrowers receiving forbearance may not evict or charge their tenants late fees during the forbearance period.
To find out if your housing is covered by the CARES Act, ask your housing authority, landlord, or management company. You can also visit the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau website which contains property lookup tools to help renters determine if the multifamily property where they reside has a federally-backed mortgage.
At the state level, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs will provide assistance to individuals and families experiencing housing challenges due to COVID-19 through the HOME Tenant Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program. Funds will be used to help tenants by providing up to 100 percent of the cost of rent, security deposit payments, and utility bills to those who qualify. Individuals needing assistance should visit Help for Texans to search for rental assistance providers in their area.
Additional mortgage and rent assistance is available to area families and individuals through the Collin CARES Program mentioned above. Collin County residents may be eligible for up to $2,500 per month in assistance for up to four months to help with mortgage or rent payments as well as utilities and groceries. For more information on the program, including eligibility requirements and the application, please visit the Collin Cares website here.
The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau recommends those facing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic contact their lenders to let them know about the situation. The CFPB and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs. For more information on dealing with debt, review this presentation from the CFPB.
Those who have lost their job and may be at risk of losing their health insurance, there are several options you may want to consider:
- You may be able to retain your former employer’s health coverage for up to 18 months under COBRA. Group health plans are required to send a written notice to covered employees and their families of their rights to COBRA continuation coverage and how to make an election to continue health coverage. If you haven’t received a notification, contact your former employer and insurance provider for additional information.
- Low-income workers may be eligible for a Medicaid plan. Eligibility criteria for Medicaid in Texas, as well as the portal to submit an application, can be found here.
- You may also consider looking at an Affordable Care Act plan. More information can be found here.
The recently passed CARES Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.
It's important to routinely check your reports and dispute inaccurate information. Three national credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are offering free weekly credit reports to all Americans to help them protect their financial health during the pandemic. The free reports will be available via AnnualCreditReport.com through April 2021.
The United States Department of Education has temporarily set interest rates to 0% on federal student loans from March 13, 2020 through September 30, 2020. In addition, each of these borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments, without worrying about accruing interest, until September 30, 2020 to allow them greater flexibility. More information about student loans impacted by coronavirus can be found on the Department of Educations' Federal Student Aid's website.
While this pandemic is far from over, government executives have laid out the framework to reopen our economy and it's important we all work together to do so as safely as possible.
On April 16, 2020, President Trump released his approach to reopening our nation’s economy, a plan focused on empowering governors to tailor a phased reopening based on the health situation of individual states. A detailed explanation of the President’s “Opening Up America Again” plan can be found on the White House's website.
As we work to slow the spread and adjust our coronavirus response to rapidly changing conditions on the ground, please visit the Open Texas Homepage for the most up-to-date information regarding dates and restrictions for families, individuals, and businesses.
In an effort to help connect job seekers with available positions as we begin to open the economy, Texas Workforce Commission encourages those looking for employment opportunities to visit their website which currently has more than 500,000 available jobs posted. On this system, job seekers can browse job postings, find education and training, and complete resumes and state applications.
Additionally, Workforce Solutions for North Central Texas is hosting regularly-scheduled virtual workshops for job seekers on topics like resume writing and job interview skills. A full listing of upcoming virtual events for job seekers can be found here.