Updates on COVID-19 Financial Relief

From student debt to taxes to monthly bills, coronavirus is affecting your finances. This round-up can help you find the information you need now.

COVID-19

by NEA Member Benefits

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Updated: May 25, 2021 2:47 p.m. EDT

NOTE: The information related to coronavirus is changing frequently. We’re updating this page as often as possible.

The novel coronavirus that emerged in December 2019 has had a big impact on the health and well-being of people all over the globe. To slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, billions of people spent more than a year social distancing and self-quarantining, and many countries temporarily closed all but essential businesses.

The speedy rollout of vaccines is paving the way for things to get back to normal. However, the short-term economic toll of the coronavirus is more obvious than its expected long-term financial impact. Millions of Americans—including many public-school employees—have been grappling with loss of household income, paying bills, buying essentials and other important money matters.

Over the past year, measures have been taken to relieve the financial burden many people are facing as a result. As always, NEA Member Benefits is committed to helping NEA members with their personal finances—to help you have what you need to make smart financial decisions and remain in the profession you love.

Below, we’ve compiled some information and resources to make it easy for you to find out about important changes that are affecting your financial situation.

You can click these links to go directly to the sections you’re interested in:

Federal reliefTaxesMortgage/rentUtilitiesBankingUnemploymentHealth insurance ­• Student loan debtInterest ratesRetirement fundsYour membership benefits

Relief measures from the federal government

On March 27, 2020, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act was signed into law. That stimulus plan included sending money directly to many Americans through “recovery rebates,” providing funds to qualifying U.S. taxpayers based on your adjusted gross income from previous tax filings. Those rebates weren’t counted as taxable income because they were technically a tax credit advance.

Another round of phased-out and capped economic impact payments was approved in December 2020 as part of a supplemental appropriations act.

Also in March 2020, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which temporarily expanded family and medical leave to Americans who work for certain types of employers. Check with the Department of Labor (DOL) to see whether any leave you took related to coronavirus (for yourself or if you’re caring for a family member) would be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The mandated leave expired December 31, 2020, and was not renewed or extended. Employers have the option of granting the leave voluntarily and were eligible through March 31, 2021, for the refundable tax credit for employees who did not use their allocation in 2020. However, the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March 2021 extended this eligibility through September 30, 2021, and added 10 more days of paid sick leave and expanded coverage.

The American Rescue Plan Act appropriated another $1.9 trillion for COVID-19 relief. This included a third round of economic impact payments of $1,400 each for adults and dependents for qualifying U.S. taxpayers. For this round of payments, incomes were capped at $80,000 for single filers, $120,000 for head of household, and $160,000 for married filing jointly, with steeper phase-outs taking effect.

The Washington Post has updated its free coronavirus stimulus calculator so you can see what you might expect to receive.

As of mid-May, checks for this third round from the American Rescue Plan Act had been sent to approximately 165 million Americans, for a total of $388 billion. Payments are being sent out on a weekly basis and include people for whom the IRS previously did not have information as well as people who qualify for higher payments now due to reduced income.

The “Get My Payment” tool from the IRS helps you track your payment. Be aware that scammers are preying on people who are anxious to receive their stimulus payments–to commit tax-related fraud, identity theft and more. The Treasury Department advises not to give any personal information or processing fees to anyone claiming to be able to send your coronavirus stimulus payment faster.

The IRS isn’t calling, emailing or texting taxpayers, either. If you’ve filed taxes in the past two years, they already have either your direct deposit account information or your mailing address. (The IRS has closed its “Enter Payment Info Here” tool.)

American Rescue Plan Act extended federal unemployment benefits, from March 14, 2021, to September 6, 2021, raising the total to 79 weeks, up from 50 weeks. The federal supplemental benefits remain at $300 a week, the amount set when they resumed on December 26, 2020. (The CARES Act in March 2020 had set the amount at $600 a week, but that expired July 31, 2020.)

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation established under the CARES Act originally provided for federal unemployment insurance for 13 weeks after state benefits expire. That was increased to 24 weeks starting in 2021 and now has been extended to 53 weeks.

Note that these federally funded benefits are administered by the states, and at least 18 states have said they will end their participation between mid-June and early July 2021 because their governors consider the $300 supplemental benefit to be a disincentive to employment that makes it more difficult for employers to find workers. The federal government is exploring ways to maintain the aid.

The NEA maintains a website tracking legislation providing aid and stimulus as well as linking to resources relating to COVID-19. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act provides $130 billion to public K-12 schools to reduce class sizes and hire more staff as well as $40 billion to public higher education to assist with safety protocols and financial assistance for students. It also provides $7.2 billion in emergency funds for the “homework gap” to ensure internet connectivity.

Tax filing and payment deadline extensions

The tax filing deadline for 2020 was extended to May 17, 2021, after the deadline for 2019 was pushed back to July 15, 2020. In both cases, taxpayers were able to defer federal income tax payments without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed, until the new deadlines.

Each state set its own tax deadlines, with 37 states (including the District of Columbia) following the IRS’s lead, and some set even later deadlines. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is maintaining a list with the latest information.

Help for some homeowners

Single-family home mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), were eligible for reduction or suspension of payments initially for up to 12 months without incurring late fees or negatively affecting credit reporting. Forbearance has now been extended twice for three months if COVID-19 directly or indirectly created financial hardship. The deadline to apply for extended forbearance for FHA loans is June 30, 2021, while there is currently no deadline for the extensions for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages.

You can check to see if your mortgage is owned by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and contact your loan servicer to discuss your forbearance agreement options.

Once the moratorium period ends, people will be expected to continue to repay their loan amounts, depending on their lenders’ terms. Loan servicers cannot demand a lump-sum payment for the deferred monthly amounts. They can require borrowers to make past-due payments within six to 12 months. They also have the options of adding the missed payments onto the back end of the mortgage or extending the mortgage terms to 30 years, or even 40 for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans and recalculate the monthly payments. However, experts recommend paying whatever possible during the forbearance period to lessen the load when the bill comes due later.

For renters, the CARES Act provided an eviction moratorium from March 27, 2020, through July 24, 2020, for federally backed multifamily mortgage loan. It prohibited landlords from charging fees, penalties, or other late charges for nonpayment of rent during that period. Also, landlords had to give tenants 30 days’ notice of eviction after the period expired, effectively extending the eviction moratorium through August 24.

On September 4, 2020, on the basis of an executive order, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a federal moratorium on residential evictions, originally due to expire December 31, 2020, but it was extended three times so that the current expiration date is June 30, 2021. Some jurisdictions imposed eviction moratoriums that were even stricter.

The moratoriums did not completely stop evictions, however. Landlords were still allowed to evict, after giving notice, once a lease had expired. Also, the protections under the moratoriums required people to defend themselves in court, and often they were unaware of the possibility or need to do so.

Leniency from internet providers and other utilities

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Keep Americans Connected Initiative, in conjunction with nearly 800 communications providers, to ensure that Americans wouldn’t lose their broadband or telephone connectivity.

The participating companies pledged to keep service on, waive late fees, and open up WiFi hotspots. However, this initiative came to an end June 30, 2020, although some providers announced they would work with customers on payment plans.

If you’re experiencing financial issues, check with your phone or internet provider to see if you qualify for a waiver. You should also contact your other utilities, such as electric and water, to determine if they’re offering leniency for customers who are in financial distress.

Leniency from financial services companies

Many banks offered refunds on overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees. Some credit card companies offered refunds on late fees. Reach out to your current banking institutions to learn more or if you’re having problems managing your checking and credit card accounts.

Bankrate.com has an updated rundown on credit card issuers that have offered to provide assistance to customers experiencing financial hardship from the coronavirus. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has compiled some FAQs about overdrafts, bank branch closures and access to your money that was updated in January 2021.

If you currently use financial services benefits through NEA Member Benefits, check our Member Assistance Program page for details and contact information for our partners.

Unemployment benefits might apply

Even you haven’t been laid off, you still might qualify for unemployment if you haven’t been able to work full-time due to quarantines, shutdowns or furloughs. Check with your state to see what benefits are being offered and what you might be able to qualify for.

The federal government’s COVID-19 relief packages have extended benefits and supplementary aid, as detailed above.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Benefits Finder provides information on filing for help, as well as COVID-19 updates related to unemployment qualifications and benefits.

Emergency health care coverage enrollment

A special enrollment period for health care coverage under Affordable Care Act runs through August 15, 2021, for individuals meeting certain conditions, including loss of coverage. Find out what your other options for coverage are, and check here to see if your state is accepting applications now.

Temporary student loan debt relief options

Borrowers with federal student loans have been able to drop their interest rates to 0% and suspend payments through September 30, 2021, after the initial relief program was extended several times. Check your online federal student loan accounts for billing updates. You can find more information on the Federal Student Aid website.

The federal relief measures don’t apply to private student loans, however. You can check with your loan servicer to see if you can qualify for leniency.

If your income has gone down suddenly due to a layoff or reduction of hours, you may be eligible to have your student loan payment reduced through a federal income-driven repayment program. Check your options using the automatic sign-up tool that was created by Savi, our partners on the NEA Student Debt Navigator benefit, to help NEA members who are dealing with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

Even if you’re not eligible for immediate relief, you can run your numbers through the NEA Student Debt Navigator Tool to see if you might be able to reduce your monthly payments.

President Joe Biden has said he wants to cancel some student debt and is seeking legal advice on whether that can be done through executive order or if it requires congressional action. As with other issues in the pending American Families Plan, plans for loan forgiveness are in considerable flux as lawmakers debate the options.

Interest rate changes could be a benefit now

The Federal Reserve Board lowered interest rates to near zero in March 2020 as part of the response to COVID-19. They also launched an array of asset purchases and liquidity facilities that injected trillions of dollars into the economy. In June 2020, the Fed indicated that rates would remain low as long as the economic outlook and recovery is uncertain, and they’ve consistently reiterated that stance.

In May 2021, however, inflation rose significantly, and the Fed, while maintaining such an increase would be transitory, cautioned that a review of policy might come sooner than the 2024 date many policymakers had indicated.

Mortgage rates have remained low—typically below 3 percent—spurring home-buying and refinancing. Borrowers still can find savings in the form of lower interest rates on new and refinanced mortgages. But an acute shortage of housing inventory has pushed up home prices, while a silicon-chip shortage is hampering production of new cars and depleting used-car stocks. Auto loans remain relatively low, at least for now, and providers are beginning to ease terms on car loans and new credit cards that they had tightened during the height of the pandemic.

Retirement savings rules relaxed

The CARES Act included provisions for retirement savings. Individuals under 59½ could withdraw up to $100,000 without paying penalties if impacted by COVID-19, and could spread out the tax impact over three years. The legislation also waived Required Minimum Distributions for 2020 and allowed savers to reverse any distributions already taken.

RMDs are back in force for 2021, although the rules had previously changed to raise the age for mandatory withdrawals to 72, up from 70½.

NEA Member Benefits and our partners are here to help

If you currently participate in some of our member benefits programs, you may be able to get assistance with your bills now. Check our Member Assistance Program Partner Assistance Information to find details and contact information.

Use our Job Layoff Checklist for Public-School Employees to help you gather the information you need and hunt for a new job in education or a related field.

If you need additional assistance from us directly, please contact our Member Advocacy Center. You can call (800) 637-4636 or email at ask-us@neamb.com with questions about our products or services. We’re available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET.

Financial resources for NEA members