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 being backdated to the date you lost your job.  Additionally, the work search requirement is being relaxed due to the unavailability of jobs.

As different regions of New York begin to reopen, employers may begin offering laid-off employees the opportunity to return to work.  People who have been advised by a medical professional to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns are eligible to continue receiving unemployment benefits through the Federal expansion of unemployment, which is administered through the NY Department of Labor.  If you are concerned that your underlying health condition may put you at increased risk for COVID when you return to work, please consult your primary medical provider.  Additionally, you may consult your employer regarding their safety plan for employees returning to work.  All employers are required to have a written plan in place to enforce social distancing and keep employees safe from exposure, and must provide that plan to employees upon request.

NYS is aware that many people are unable to file for unemployment due to increased web traffic and phone traffic.  The Department of Labor is processing significantly more unemployment applications during the pandemic than it has ever processed before.  The online system is streamlined to allow individuals to get through it more quickly, and the phone system will be able to handle significantly more traffic.  The web address will remain the same as above.  Further, individuals whose applications are incomplete after going through the online system will no longer have to call the Department of Labor to finish their claim.  A Department of Labor staffer will contact the applicant within 72 business hours to complete the claim.  Note that these calls might come from private or restricted numbers due to the fact that many Department of Labor employees are working from home.  The Department of Labor is also reaching out to claimants via text message and email to inform them of the status of their applications from submission through approval.

Individuals need to certify that they continue to be unemployed but looking for work every week.  Weekly certification must begin when the individual applies for unemployment and must continue while the application is pending.  Failure to certify weekly could delay the approval of the application.  Certification can be done through the Department of Labor’s website.

Individuals who are denied for unemployment benefits or who need additional legal assistance applying for these benefits can access employment attorneys free of charge for assistance.  Please visit  https://nysba.org/unemployment-insurance-relief/ for more information and to be matched with a pro bono attorney.

The Federal stimulus package has also initiated Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, which extends unemployment to individuals who would not normally qualify for coverage.  These include self-employed workers, independent contractors, individuals not in the workforce 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.

WHAT IF I 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.  New York State’s Department of Financial Services has enacted protections for insurance policy holders (auto, home, renters, etc.) who have difficulty paying premiums due to COVID-related financial hardships.  These regulations include waiver of late fees for premiums and prohibitions on submitting negative information to credit reporting bureaus for late or missed payments.  Additionally, if an individual can show that they are unable to pay a premium due to a COVID-related hardship, they are eligible to repay that amount over a 12-month period rather than having to pay the entire amount all at once.  Individuals interested in this relief should contact their insurance carriers for more information.

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.    HEAP’s Cooling Assistance Component (CAC) has also extended its benefits.  Now, households that reside in public housing with heat included in their shelter allowance will also be eligible for CAC benefits.  Additionally, the medical documentation requirement for CAC may be waived for individuals who are unable to get the documents due to COVID-19.  Contact information for HEAP offices can be found at https://otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/contacts/.  Finally, the application period for regular benefits and emergency benefits under HEAP has been extended through August 31, 2020, or until the available funds are exhausted.  Online applications for state benefits can be made at myBenefits.ny.gov.

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.  NY has extended the special enrollment period for people to purchase health insurance for any reason through August 31st.

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.  Landlords are also prohibited by NYS law from engaging in any “self help” eviction methods, such as locking a tenant out of their property, removing the tenant’s belongings from the property, or disconnecting utility services, as a result of your failure to pay rent.  The prohibition on self-help eviction methods is permanent in New York.

As of June 22, 2020, evictions for residential and commercial tenants for reasons other than nonpayment of rent are allowed to be filed by e-filing or by mail.  However, these filings must include a statement from the attorney that he/she has reviewed all current state and federal laws, emergency declarations, executive orders, and other regulations regarding evictions during COVID-19 and believes in good faith that this eviction is allowed to go forward.  It also must include a form notice to tenants in English and in Spanish informing them that they may be entitled to additional time to respond to the eviction filing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  This form notice contains a phone number and website that tenants may consult for additional information.  This form notice is published by the NYS court system, and has separate versions for NYC and non-NYC eviction proceedings.

On July 1, 2020, a new law went into effect in NYS that prohibited judges from granting evictions at any point during the COVID emergency (defined as between March 7, 2020 and the time at which all restrictions on business operation, capacity, and non-essential gatherings are lifted in that county) against tenants or other lawful occupants for nonpayment of rent.  This law considers several factors in determining whether a tenant or occupant has a financial hardship.  These factors include the difference between the tenant/occupant’s pre-COVID and current income levels, whether the tenant/occupant qualifies for unemployment or public assistance, whether the tenant/occupant has liquid assets (cash or savings), and any other factor that the judge deems relevant.  If your landlord serves you with an eviction notice and you feel that you are suffering a financial hardship, you should raise the financial hardship as a defense at the court hearing.  You may also want to inform your landlord (or their attorney, if one is listed on the eviction notice) that you have a financial hardship to see if other arrangements can be made.  Keep in mind that many courts are not scheduling hearings for evictions at this time, and your landlord cannot legally remove you from the premises without holding a court hearing, so you do not have to leave your home until a judge orders it.  This does not mean that you do not have to pay rent, or that your rent will be forgiven for the months you do not pay it – under current law, any unpaid rent will need to be paid back eventually.  Under the law, you’re only protected from being physically removed from your home by your landlord for nonpayment of rent.

Landlords are prohibited from charging late fees for rent that is not paid for any rent due dates that fall between March 20, 2020 and August 20, 2020.  Tenants may also use their security deposit to pay back rent, and will be allowed to repay the deposit over time.  If you wish to use your security deposit for this purpose, it must be by written agreement (paper or email).  The repayment of the security deposit will be in monthly payments of 1/12th the amount of the security deposit until it is repaid in full, and these payments cannot become due and owing for at least 90 days after the security deposit is used toward back rent.  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).

Residential mortgage foreclosure proceedings may be filed in state courts by e-filing or mail filing.  New mortgage foreclosure actions must contain a statement from the attorney that the attorney has reviewed all applicable state/Federal laws and believes that the foreclosure is permissible, and must contain a form notice in English and Spanish notifying the borrower that they have additional time to file.  These form notices are available from the New York State court website.  The exceptions to the prohibition on court appearances in foreclosure actions are matters in which lenders want to sell a property that is vacant, matters that the landlords want to discontinue, and matters where both parties are represented by counsel.  In actions where both parties have attorneys, these may be calendared for virtual settlement conferences only.  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).  Even if a mortgage action is pending, courts are prohibited from conducting auctions of foreclosed properties until at least October 15.  Individuals facing foreclosure are not required to leave their homes until after the auction has been completed.

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.

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.  Many DMV offices are accepting appointments for services as New York continues to reopen.  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.