Updated: April 18, 2022
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 have spent more than two years social distancing, self-quarantining and masking, and many countries temporarily closed all but essential businesses.
Vaccines have paved the way for getting back to normal. However, the short-term economic toll of the coronavirus was more obvious than the longer-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. A surge in prices on everything from groceries to real estate is exacerbating those problems.
During the height of the pandemic, measures were taken to relieve the financial burden many people have faced, but much of that relief is now expiring. As always, NEA Member Benefits remains committed to helping members with your personal finances and providing information to help you make smart financial decisions.
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 and any relief options that may be available.
You can click these links to go directly to the sections you’re interested in:
Federal relief • Taxes • Mortgage/rent • Utilities • Banking • Unemployment • Student loan debt • Interest rates • Retirement funds • Your membership benefits
Relief measures from the federal government
The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act passed in March 2020 sent 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.
The mandated leave expired December 31, 2020, and was not renewed or extended. Employers had 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. 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.
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 remained 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.)
These federally funded benefits were administered by the states, and several states ended their participation early 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 $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act provided $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 provided $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, but was restored to the traditional April 15 deadline for the 2021 tax year (technically April 18, 2022, for most U.S. taxpayers due to a holiday).
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. But forbearance and relief programs are now winding down as Covid-19 infections wane.
On September 4, 2020, on the basis of an executive order, the Centers 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, to June 30, 2021. In August 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a further extension by the CDC was not valid and urged Congress to legislate if it deemed further extensions necessary. Some states, such as California, enacted their own legislation for eviction moratoriums.
The moratoriums did not completely stop evictions. 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
If you’re still experiencing financial issues in the wake of Covid-19, check with your phone or internet provider to see if you qualify for relief. 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 have offered refunds on overdraft fees and monthly maintenance fees. Some credit card companies offered refunds on late fees or other forms of hardship relief. Reach out to your current banking institutions to learn more or if you’re having problems managing your checking and credit card accounts.
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 unemployment relief packages ended in September 2021. They have not been extended.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Benefits Finder provides information on filing for help.
Temporary student loan debt relief options
The White House and Department of Education has extended the pause on federal student loan payments and interest to August 31, 2022—a continuation of the policy that has been in place since March 2020. This means that for Direct and federally held FFEL loans, no payment is due and your interest rate is 0%. Commercially held FFEL loans and Perkins loans that are not in default, as well as all private loans, do not qualify for this payment and interest suspension. For additional information and to check the status of your accounts, check the Federal Student Aid website.
In addition to this pause extension, the White House and Department of Education announced several policies that expand access and eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) as well as Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Forgiveness. Some of these changes will be implemented by the DoE automatically; others may require you to take action before the October 2022 deadline. If you’re not sure if or how to benefit from these policy changes, the NEA Student Debt Navigator, powered by the student loan experts at Savi, is a unique resource available to NEA members, and it’s free to get started.
NEA members who use the NEA Student Debt Navigator qualify for an average of more than $28,000 in projected student loan forgiveness. Use this calculator tool to find out if you qualify to lower your monthly student loan payments due to any life changes. You may even qualify to have a portion of your loans forgiven. Savi helps borrowers enroll in the necessary government repayment and forgiveness programs that will lower your monthly payments and get you on track for loan forgiveness. Democratic lawmakers continue to urge President Joe Biden to extend the deadline on suspension of payments through the end of 2022 and to cancel some of the debt, but no official announcements have been made yet.
Interest rates could continue to climb
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 were uncertain, and they’ve reiterated that stance often since then.
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. As inflation continued to rise, the Fed decided in March 2022 to raise its policy rate by a quarter-point and anticipated several more rate hikes for the year while tightening monetary policy.
Mortgage rates had remained low, spurring home-buying and refinancing, but they started to rise by spring 2022 as the Fed signaled its intentions. An acute shortage of housing inventory has pushed up home prices, while a silicon-chip shortage continues to hamper production of new cars and deplete used-car stocks. All of these economic strains are contributing to inflation.
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 they 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 came back in force for 2021, although the rules had previously changed to raise the age for mandatory withdrawals to 72, up from 70½. New legislation going through Congress in 2022 that has strongly bipartisan support would increase the age for RMDs in phased-in steps up to age 75 by 2033. It also increases the limits on catch-up contributions for those ages 62 to 64 to $10,000 a year after an increase of $6,500 in 2021. Those limits will be indexed to inflation starting in 2024, as will catch-up contributions of people ages 50 and over.
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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with us to ask questions about our products or services. We’re available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET.