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A Guide To All of The Money (That Could Be) Coming Your Way

A look at stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, and more.

American society may come out of the current coronavirus pandemic completely changed. We may realize it's at best inefficient and at worst negligent to tie employment to healthcare. We may realize it's not such a bad thing to have the state more carefully monitoring private enterprise. And we may keep universal basic income, a bare-bones version of which Congress agreed to try out when they passed the bill that will give $1,200 to every adult making less than $75,000. Or we may revert back to the old normal. If and when we make it through this, we can use our voices and our votes to advocate for whichever version of government seems like the one the future will require.

But for now, we need to be able to navigate the quick-moving changes to the support systems available to help all of us who are hurting. And the nature of government (slow) and the nature of our country (big, split up into 50 different states, full of citizens with very diverse experiences and needs) has meant that figuring out what money is available to who has been extremely complicated.

You've heard the stories: people who tried to file for unemployment six different times and couldn't get through, small businesses clamoring to qualify for new loan and grant options but getting stuck in the bureaucratic quagmire of doing so.

We've decided to corral all the relevant information on credits, grants, loans, and loan forgiveness or deferral options that are available to you right now, with the goal of this being as useful and transactional a document as possible.

With that in mind, here's an overview of the options available.

Stimulus checks

What is it? A one-time $1,200 credit (that means non-taxable income, so you won't have to pay taxes on this money on your 2020 taxes) going to every adult in America with a social security number who makes less than $75,000 annually. If you're married with no children and you and your partner make less than $150,000, you'll receive $1,200 each. You get another $500 for each child under 16 and you'll get a smaller payment if you make up to $99,000. There are a few corner cases—if you're in college and your parent(s) claimed you as a dependent on their tax return, you won't get it, for instance.

How do I get it? If you filed for taxes in 2018 or 2019, you don't need to do anything. You probably chose to get your refund in a direct deposit, in which case the IRS will send the credit directly to your bank account. If they don't have your bank information, they'll send it to your mailing address. If you need to update your information, your best bet is to finish your 2019 taxes ASAP and include the correct information on there, as that's what they'll use.

When do I get it? Payments should start arriving next week (April 15), but it will likely take several weeks or months until all the checks have been sent out.

Unemployment benefits

What is it? Financial help for workers—including self-employed or part-time workers—to replace lost employment income, whether they were fired, furloughed, asked to stay in quarantine, or had to stop working to care for a sick family member. This money would count as income and would thus be taxed for the 2020 year.

As part of the $2 trillion stimulus signed by Trump in March, jobless workers are eligible for an extra $600 a week on top of their state benefits until July 31. In California, for instance, the maximum weekly benefit is $450. If you worked in California and used to make $1,200 a week but lost your job due to the coronavirus, you could file for unemployment, get the maximum state benefit of $450 a week, and also qualify for the $600 a week federal benefit, giving you $1,050/week.

How do I get it? You'd need to file for unemployment with your state. Go here and enter your state to get started.

When do I get it? That depends on your state. Most unemployment offices are struggling to keep up with a huge inflow of people seeking benefits. The usual waiting period is one week from the date of filing, but that may be extended. The good news is that benefits are retroactive, so if it takes a week to get through and file your claim, that week will be paid out later once you've gotten through. And as far as duration of benefits, most states provide 26 weeks of benefits, and the new federal guidelines provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits.

Small business loans/grants

What is it? Federally-guaranteed loans available to small business owners and self-employed individuals. If a business owner uses the loan to maintain her payroll for up to eight weeks, pay rent and utilities, or pay their mortgage, the loan becomes a grant that doesn't need to be paid back. The loan/grant money is available to small employers (less than 500 employees) in an amount up to 250% of an employer's average monthly payroll (up to a maximum of $10 million).

If, for instance, you're a small business owner who usually pays out $12,000 in monthly payroll (which includes health insurance costs for your employees), you would qualify for a loan of $30,000. For loan money not used for those purposes that will need to be paid back, there are no fees, and interest rates are capped at 4%.

How do I get it? The program has limited funding and the Small Business Administration's website is already crashing with huge increases in traffic, so apply as soon as you can. You need to apply through a bank or other lender (like a credit union), so you should start by contacting the bank you usually use for business. The SBA's search tool to find lenders could be a good place to start if you don't already have a go-to bank, though many banks aren't taking new customers for this program. The application deadline is June 30.

When do I get it? That depends on your state. Most unemployment offices are struggling to keep up with a huge inflow of people seeking benefits. The usual waiting period is one week from the date of filing, but that may be extended. The good news is that benefits are retroactive, so if it takes a week to get through and file your claim, that week will be paid out later once you've gotten through. And as far as duration of benefits, most states provide 26 weeks of benefits, and the new federal guidelines provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits.

Other assistance

  • The federal government has waived two months of payments and interest for federal student loan borrowers and suspended automatic payments until September 30th.
  • The IRS has moved the federal tax filing deadline for 2019 to July 15, but keep an eye on your state income tax deadline changes.
  • The government has waived the 10% penalty on early IRA or retirement plan withdrawals of up to $100,000, if your withdrawal is because of the outbreak.
  • The bill puts a 120-day moratorium on non-payment evictions for renters whose landlords' mortgages are owned by federal entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which is about 70% of all mortgages—look for your address here to see if your landlord's mortgage counts).
  • If you're a homeowner with a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you can delay payments for up to 12 months.
  • Some, though not all, internet companies have said they won't cut customers off for nonpayment. AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are some of the companies who have agreed to do that, though they haven't been clear about how it will work and if customers will need to call and ask for that benefit.
  • Some utility companies are suspending shut-offs, but the government has not mandated that they do so and companies are doing so on a city-by-city and state-by-state basis.

This is an unprecedentedly difficult time for many individuals, families, and communities. We hope these resources can help. If you find yourself with resources to spare, consider donating money to your local food bank, where they may be experiencing up to 10x more demand than usual. You can find a local food bank here.


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