- Help primarily came in the form of direct checks, moratoriums on legal action, increased subsidies, and forgivable loans.
- With unemployment falling to 6% in February 2021, additional aid packages are less likely.
Over the past 12 months,Congress passed six major relief packages totaling$5.3 trillion to help consumers, businesses, and government agencies impacted by COVID-19. Help ranges from direct payments, moratoriums on legal action, forgivable loans, and increased subsidies. Here are the key areas where pandemic-related legislation offers assistance for everyday consumers.
Direct Payments get the most attention because you saw money deposited into your checking account or received a check in the mail. Qualifying households received three direct payments of $1,200, $600, and $1,400 for a total of $3,200 for each adult. Qualified dependents received less in the first round of checks but the same as adults in subsequent payments. The last round encompassed all dependents regardless of age but lowered the income threshold for qualifying households.
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Help with Housing. Housing assistance comes in two primary forms, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and payment assistance. Moratoriums do not equate to debt forgiveness, requiring you to repay past due balances at the end of the reprieve. Payment assistance, delivered through state agencies, can help you catch up on payments if income does not rebound to pre-COVID-19 levels.
Unemployment Benefits add a federal supplement to state unemployment benefits and extend the amount of time you can receive payments. Most states limit benefits to 26 weeks or six months. The CARES Act lengthened unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020. Then the American Rescue Plan added another extension through September 6, 2021. Today workers can receive between 79 and 86 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on the state of residence.
In addition to more weeks of unemployment, the federal government supplements payments by adding $300 per week to the state allotted unemployment benefits.
Small Business Assistance. The most widely discussed assistance comes from the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP. Companies can get loan forgiveness provided they use the funds to keep employees on the payroll and pay for essential bills like rent payments and utilities.
The unemployment insurance will not increase, protecting businesses from higher insurance premiums due to COVID-related layoffs.
Employee retention tax credit available to all business sizes and include both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Companies that closed due to government orders or experienced a decrease in gross receipts of 50% or more from 2019 qualify for the tax credit.
Student Loan Relief. Borrowers with ED-owned federal loans receive an automatic forbearance until at least September 30, 2021. The Department of Education also lowered interest rates to zero percent for the duration. Any payments made during the forbearance would directly reduce the amount owed.
Healthcare Assistance. The American Rescue Act increased premium subsidies and reopened the Marketplace, allowing laid-off workers to enroll outside the traditional enrollment period. The Marketplace is now open through August 15, 2021. The Act also increases subsidies, which could lower the amount you pay out of pocket for your plan of choice.
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The CARES Act also provides free testing and free COVID-19 vaccines but does not include COVID-19 medical care. However, some insurance companies have waived co-pays and deductibles for consumers requiring medical care.
Credit Score Protections. Businesses cannot report most accounts as delinquent during a forbearance. You can also get a free copy of your credit report weekly at www.annualcreditreport.com through April 2022.
How do I know if I qualify for help during COVID-19?
While some benefits like the student loan forbearance happened automatically, you must request assistance in most cases. For payment relief, contact your lender. State agencies may offer payments to help catch up on your rent or utilities.
Who qualifies for housing help?
The aid provided by Congress addresses mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Loans with other lenders may or may not be eligible for a forbearance. Moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures can delay any legal action by your landlord or loan servicer but will not help you catch up on your payments. State agencies have funds available to help you pay your mortgage or rent if you are experiencing financial hardship.
How long can I receive the expanded unemployment benefits?
Extensions could allow you to receive unemployment benefits for up to 86 weeks instead of the typically 26 weeks. The federal supplement will also increase your weekly check by $300 on qualified claims.