Project Ezrah is committed to providing community members with up-to-date information and resources to protect and manage finances during this difficult time. As the social worker of the organization, I’ve spent the past several weeks helping dozens of people learn about the current financial resources accessible to them. I am constantly finding that there are numerous opportunities to both access and conserve funds in this economic downturn. The CARES Act has made these opportunities available to people struggling financially due to the pandemic. If I had one takeaway for financial survival during the current economic situation it would be perseverance.
Families will want to do two things to stay afloat during these trying times. Firstly they must apply for the financial stimulus benefits of the CARES Act including unemployment and the one-time stimulus check. Don’t forget the CARES act has expanded unemployment to 1099/self-employed and gig workers. Secondly you will want to seek out any and all aid in bill reduction available to you. Both processes are time consuming and frustrating but will result in financial stability during this crisis.
Whether you are applying for unemployment in New York or New Jersey, both systems are overloaded, and users find it can take several days of trying to begin to file a claim. Perseverance really is the key here as these are benefits you are entitled to in order to ride out the storm.
New Jersey now has an option to email them at https://myunemployment.nj.gov/ for assistance with filing your claim. Once you have successfully filed a claim in New Jersey your weekly benefit rate will max out at $713, while in New York the max is $504. In addition to that, you will automatically be entitled to, and begin receiving, a supplementary $600 weekly benefit from the federal government for up to 13 weeks. These two benefits will go a long way and will be well worth the times it takes you to file and receive them. If you are a small business owner, or an individual who was not furloughed but cannot work due to health issues or caregiving needs, you have additional options during this time as well in the form of forgivable loans and paid leave.
Many families are also eligible for a one-time economic impact payment from the IRS. Couples earning less than $150,000/year or individuals earning less than $75,000/year, who are U.S. citizens, should be eligible to receive payments of $1,200 per person. You will also receive $500 for each child under 17 years old claimed as a dependent. This payment gets lower as incomes increase and maxes out at $198,000 per couple and $99,000 per individual. Much like the unemployment websites, https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment has it’s challenges as well. Users trying to get information about their payment may receive error messages for many reasons. Basically, if you are a direct deposit Social Security recipient it was probably deposited into your account weeks ago. Any individual who filed a 2018 or 2019 federal tax return and received a refund via direct deposit should be receiving their benefit as well.
Where does that leave the rest of us? If you are a non-filer you need to apply directly for your benefit here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here. This should be helpful for your emerging adult children as well. If you are required to file and have not, you should do so immediately. If you filed, but the IRS does not have your banking information, they will likely mail you a check in the following months. If you want to persevere and receive it sooner, keep logging in daily until the system allows you to input your deposit information to receive your payment.
Once you have attained the income benefits, it will be time to work on saving money on your monthly expenses. Mortgage forbearance and deferments are available to most homeowners. One should reach out directly to their lender to apply for these benefits. It is important to note that while a deferment may add three months to the end of your mortgage, a forbearance will very likely be expected to be repaid in full at the conclusion of the term. Experts are urging families to continue to try to pay as much as they can toward their mortgages. Governor Phil Murphy has not only forbidden landlords from evicting tenants at this time but has also enacted a law enabling landlords to use a tenant’s security deposit to pay toward their rental obligations.
Utilities such as internet, phone and electricity cannot be shut off during this time. If you persevere you might find your internet or mobile phone provider will now be willing to offer you additional discounts. In fact most any company, if asked, will now offer discounts. One must act quickly as these deals go fast. Last week T-Mobile offered its customers a 50% bill reduction just by calling. A family I work with missed the deadline but was still offered a small reduction for the current month with the option to call back again next month. It never hurts to ask. I reached out to our alarm monitoring company and they reduced my bill by half for the next six months––all it took was a simple phone call.
Most auto leasing companies are offering their customers a temporary deferment of payments while tacking the additional months on to the end of the lease. Some companies are easier to reach, while others take quite a bit more perseverance. Just like with your mortgage, it is important to read the fine print and understand the possible consequences of this option such as needing to pay for the lease for several months after the car has been returned.
The IRS will suspend all repayment plan agreements through July 15, 2020 if you have been affected by the virus. Many student loans will also postpone repayment at this time. Just reach out to your lender. Most auto-insurers are automatically refunding customers up to 25% of their monthly premiums for the next few months as well. Contact your insurer to take advantage of this if you don’t see that refund.
Although there are fewer jobs in this market, companies are still hiring and Project Ezrah is here to help build a search strategy and work with you to be best prepared. In recent weeks we have hosted webinars such as Working From Home with Rachel Book, Employee Rights and Unemployment Protection with Chaim Book and Moskowitz Book, Resume Readiness and Interview Preparation with Jaide Massin, Career Coach and Mortgage Relief with Shmuel Shayowitz, President. Please feel free to reach out to Jeff Mendelson our Director of Employment.
To learn of new upcoming seminars please sign up at https://tinyurl.com/Project-Ezrah-helpful-strategy
Although we are living through unfathomable times with physical, emotional and financial challenges beyond our wildest dreams, if we are willing to persevere there are many opportunities available to relieve some of the financial stress affecting us due to the virus. Project Ezrah is always here to assist community members in navigating these and any other financial challenges. Please reach out to us at [email protected] if we can be of help.
Wishing everyone continued good health.
Tamra Ackerman, MSW, LSW, is a social worker for Project Ezrah.