Keeping Food On The Table

by | Apr 13, 2020 | POLITICS

In the time of coronavirus, many of us have been left without income. Whether you’re a furloughed employee, a gig worker, or a self-employed independent contractor, resources to help survive this time are available. Here’s what you need to know.

As COVID-19 makes its way through America, millions of people have been forced to abandon their jobs for the time being. Basically, if someone does not work in health care, the government or any other job deemed “essential,” then it is likely that they are forced to take a leave of absence from their job as the virus spreads.

Unfortunately, many people’s rent and bill costs have not been reduced in the wake of COVID-19, which begs the question: how the hell are these people supposed to make a living? While it does not seem like there is a perfect solution at the moment, there are several options available in order to lighten the load. 

By now, you’ve likely heard about the Federal Government’s Economic Impact Payments. Anyone who files their 2018 and/or 2019 taxes, and whose yearly income is below a certain threshold, is eligible for relief checks from the Federal Government. Depending on the person’s income and living situation, they can receive up to $1,200 for singles, and $2,400 for married couples. Families with children will also receive an extra $500 dollars per child. Any person with an income below $99,000 ($198,000 for married couples) qualifies for some type of payments, but only people with an income below $75,000 ($150,000) are guaranteed the maximum amount.

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, and are on the brink of an anxiety attack over getting them done on time, don’t worry. The IRS has extended the tax filing deadline to July 15, giving everyone ample time to get their taxes in order. Checks will make their way to everyone through either a direct deposit or a paper check in the mail; when filing, it’s a good idea to make sure the IRS has your bank account info, as direct deposits are expected to arrive faster. Any other questions can be answered at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus or https://faq.coronavirus.gov/financial-help/

But let’s say that Economic Impact Payment isn’t covering it. There are a number of other income support options available in Virginia. If COVID-19 has resulted in you getting laid off, furloughed, or outright fired, you should qualify to receive payments through the Unemployment Compensation program. Generally, in order to qualify you must have lost your job through no fault of your own, meet their state’s earnings requirements, and be actively searching for work. If all of these things apply to you, you can file for unemployment through the Virginia Employment Commission’s website.

If you have continued to work, but have contracted COVID-19 as a result of your work, the Congressional Research Service says you should qualify for worker’s compensation. However, under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act, that will depend on your line of work; according to law firm Vandeventer Black, healthcare workers are most likely to be successful in claiming workers’ compensation. Check with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission if you need more information.

Of course, almost none of this applies to independent contractors, the self-employed, and gig workers. Plenty of gig jobs, like Uber Eats and Grubhub, are still functioning under our newfound self-isolation, and a few of them are even offering benefits to their employees. DoorDash and Postmates both have programs in place that help support employees who contract the virus. Beyond that, however, they mostly just advise taking precautions while working. That means wearing gloves, masks, using hand sanitizer, and practicing social distancing whenever possible. 

Photo by Liam Burnett-Blue on Unsplash

However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has created a great deal of new unemployment relief for workers previously not covered by unemployment insurance. Not only will those receiving unemployment benefits begin receiving $600 weekly payments on top of their current benefits, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig economy workers will be eligible for coverage under a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

At the moment, how that program will be implemented here in Virginia is not entirely clear. However, the Virginia Employment Commission has said that the first step to receiving assistance under PUA is to apply for unemployment in the normal fashion and receive a denial of benefits due to your earnings not being eligible under traditional unemployment. Once you’ve done so, the VEC will apparently be in touch via phone or text with additional instructions for completing your claim under the PUA program.

Those instructions were supposed to come sometime last week, but have not arrived as yet, so if you should be covered under PUA and haven’t received the instructions, there’s no need to panic just yet. Getting complicated programs like these up and running takes time; for now, we’ll just have to hope they get things together before another cycle of bills comes around.

If you run your own business, the CARES Act has over $350 billion set aside to help you too. There are even circumstances in which borrowers for these loans qualify for loan forgiveness. Small businesses have been able to apply for these loans since April 3, and the self-employed since April 10. The deadline for applying to these loans is June 30, so it is a good idea to apply as soon as possible. Information about programs including Paycheck Protection Program and Express Bridge Loans can be found at the Small Business Administration’s website.

No matter what sort of work you do, your income has undoubtedly been affected by the economic shocks this pandemic has caused. But needing to stay home in order to protect your health shouldn’t be an economic death sentence. With government resources to get through this trying time, we can ensure that those of us who survive this pandemic have lives and careers to return to.

Additional reporting by Marilyn Drew Necci. Top Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart

Jonah Schuhart is a Senior Broadcast Journalism Student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Jonah hopes to use his work to spread goodwill and a positive message. Despite this healthy outlook, he survives solely on a destructive diet of Japanese action games and Cheetos.




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