WHAT IF I LOSE MY JOB, OR HAVE TROUBLE PAYING MY BILLS?

New York State has enacted a number of temporary emergency measures designed to assist individuals who are financially suffering during this time.  If you are laid off from work, if your place of employment closes temporarily, or if your work hours are reduced and you work less than 4 days per week (if you normally work 4 or more days per week), you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.  Governor Cuomo has suspended the 7-day waiting period normally required for unemployment benefits, so your eligibility begins on the first day of unemployment.

To find out if you are eligible or to begin filing a claim, you can call the NYS Department of Labor at 1-888-209-8124.  You can also begin filing a claim online at www.labor.ny.gov.  In order to ensure that the systems are not overloaded, new claimants are being asked to space out their filing based on the first letter of their last names.  If the first letter of your last name is A-F, you are asked to file your claim on Monday.  If the first letter of your last name is G-N, you are asked to file your claim on Tuesday.  If the first letter of your last name is O-Z, you are asked to file your claim on Wednesday.  If you missed the day to file based on your last name, you may file on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.  Filing on the correct day will not delay your claim, since all claims are valid as of the Monday of the week in which they are filed.  For all unemployment insurance applicants, applications are being backdated by 2 weeks because of the inability to file.  Additionally, the work search requirement is being relaxed due to the unavailability of jobs.

The Federal stimulus package has extended unemployment to individuals who would not normally qualify for coverage, including self-employed workers, independent contractors, individuals whose sole breadwinners passed away due to COVID-19, and “gig economy” workers such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Grubhub, and other app-based businesses.  These individuals should apply for unemployment benefits through the New York State Department of Labor using the above instructions.

The Federal stimulus has also extended unemployment benefits by an additional 13 weeks, and added an extra $600 in weekly benefits to those granted by states.  This extra $600 is a flat amount, even if it would bring a worker’s unemployment benefits higher than their wages were when they were employed.  These benefits will be administered by the New York State Department of Labor, with no additional application process necessary.

New York has created waivers and special eligibility protections for public assistance for people who are affected by COVID-19.  This includes cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance, Family Assistance and Safety Net programs, Medicaid health insurance, and SNAP (food stamp) benefits.  To apply for these programs, please contact your local Department of Social Services (DSS) office by phone or electronically (see section on status of government offices for contact information).  Alternatively, you can apply for benefits online here: https://otda.ny.gov/programs/applications/2921.pdf.

If individuals need to purchase health insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid, NYS has opened up a special enrollment period for the NY State of Health insurance marketplace.  Individuals can purchase health insurance through the exchange until April 15, 2020 and have coverage effective April 1.  Additionally, individuals who lose their health insurance through job loss can apply for health insurance on NY State of Health (including private plans and Medicaid benefits, if qualified) at any time, not just during the special enrollment period.

New York State has also enacted a number of protections to ensure that people will have access to basic services during the outbreak.  Governor Cuomo has ordered that utility services (heat, electricity, and water) be prohibited from shutting off your service due to nonpayment until further notice.  This means that your utilities cannot be shut off for the time being, even if you can’t afford to pay for them.  The courts in NYS and NYC have also put a moratorium on eviction proceedings and pending eviction warrants until further notice, lasting at least until June 20, 2020.  This means that your landlord cannot force you to leave for nonpayment of rent until evictions are resumed by order of the Governor or the courts.  Further, if your landlord’s mortgage on a rental property is Federally-backed (including HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, rural program vouchers, or VAWA programs), the landlord is prevented from commencing eviction proceedings against you for 120 days from the date on which the Federal CARES Act (stimulus program) was enacted (March 27).

New York State has ordered that all banks suspend mortgage payments for 90 days (until at least June 20) for those facing a financial hardship, and has additionally ordered that no new foreclosure actions be commenced.  This applies to all mortgage loans, including conventional, FHA, VA, HUD, USDA, and any other type of home mortgage.  New York State has also ordered that all overdraft fees, ATM fees, and credit card late fees be waived until at least June 20.

Additionally, HUD, FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which together comprise the majority of mortgages in this country) have announced suspensions of mortgage foreclosure sales and evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak for the next 60 days.  Even if your loan is serviced by a private bank (example, if you make payments to an entity such as Wells Fargo or M&T) your loan may be covered by these new rules, since FHA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and HUD loans are issued through private banks.  FHA loans are also prohibited from commencing mortgage foreclosure actions during this time.  Additionally, individuals experiencing a financial hardship related to COVID-19 can ask for a 12-month forbearance on mortgage payments from all federally-guaranteed mortgage programs (HUD, FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).  You do not need to be diagnosed with COVID-19 to qualify; a hardship such as losing your job will qualify for this program.  During this forbearance period, lenders are not allowed to report changes in status or nonpayment to credit reporting agencies.  They are also not allowed to accrue late fees during this period, and must work with borrowers to establish an affordable repayment plan once the forbearance ends.  Mortgage borrowers who are interested in a forbearance or other hardship relief should contact their mortgage servicer (the company that they communicate with most often, usually the one to which they send payments).

See our recent blog post on mortgage payments here.

Although not required to do so by the government, Charter/Spectrum has pledged not to turn off internet services for nonpayment during this crisis situation.  Charter/Spectrum has also offered free internet services for 60 days to households that do not already have them if the household has students (K-12 or college) who are home from school due to COVID-19 school closures.  Charter/Spectrum will waive installation and setup charges for this service, but the household must cancel the service within 60 days to avoid charges after the 60 day period is over.

The New York State Attorney General has suspended debt payments on medical debt and student loans owed to the state for 30 days.  If you owe money to a state hospital or are delinquent on a student loan debt, and if that debt has been referred to NYS for debt collection, you do not have to make any payments for 30 days beginning March 17, 2020.

If your driver’s license, non-driver ID, or vehicle registration is set to expire after March 1, the DMV has temporarily suspended the expiration of these documents.  You can still renew them online if possible, but you can also wait to renew them until physical DMV offices re-open without penalty.  If your motor vehicle inspection expired on March 1 or later, the expiration date has been extended.  No end date has yet been specified for these extensions.