The Legal Aid Society Covid-19 Resource Guide
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Stimulus Check Garnishment
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) authorizes stimulus payments to certain individuals. Consumers have been asking questions including, can debt collectors, banks, or the federal government can take my stimulus payment to cover back debts and what can I do to prevent my payment from being garnished? Please see the below response to these questions from the National Consumer Law Center. Please also check the IRS website, which is being regularly updated, at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus for official information on these stimulus payments.
There are different rules for three different situations: (1) federal debts that the government normally deducts (or “offsets”) from tax refunds; (2) garnishment of bank accounts by a judgment creditor; and (3) debts owed to the same bank that holds your bank account.
Federal offsets. The CARES Act protects stimulus checks from being reduced to pay certain debts owed to the federal government or to repay certain state government debt — back state taxes or excess unemployment compensation — that the federal government normally helps states collect. See § 2201(d). For example, your payment will not be reduced to pay back taxes or federal student loans owed to the federal government. But the payment may be reduced to pay a state child support enforcement order.
Bank account garnishments. The CARES Act does not prohibit creditors from garnishing bank accounts. But some states, including Massachusetts and Ohio, have declared that the payments are exempt from garnishment as public assistance under state law. Other states have temporarily halted issuance or service of garnishment orders, though in some states previously issued orders may still be in effect. A spreadsheet of state and local actions to limit garnishments and debt collection activities can be found here.
Offsets by the bank that holds the deposit account. The CARES Act does not prohibit banks from taking part of the stimulus payment to cover a negative balance, a defaulted loan other than a credit card, or overdraft fees. But many banks have pledged not to do so. If your payment is taken, contact your bank.
Under federal law, if you have a credit card from the same bank that holds your bank account, the bank cannot take money from your bank account unless you authorize repayment that way.
An NCLC summary of steps that consumers and their attorneys can take to prevent garnishment is here:
Coronavirus Emergency: Preventing Garnishment of Stimulus Checks. More detailed information can be found in this NCLC article: Protecting Against Creditor Seizure of Stimulus Checks
Palm Beach County consumers who need help fighting a garnishment order should contact the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. Inc. if they are low income or a senior.
Sites to Consult for Education News and Resources
Please click on the following links for updated information:
Click here for a letter from the Superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, Dr. Donald E. Fennoy II: Summer Learning Information
Official website the School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC) — including important updates about food resources, report cards, summer programs, etc.:
In English https://www.palmbeachschools.org/home
In Spanish https://www.palmbeachschools.org/spanish
In Creole https://www.palmbeachschools.org/creole
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Education Advocacy Project:
In case of difficulty accessing resources or services for students enrolled in SDPBC schools, please first reach out to the classroom teacher, school principal, SDPBC personnel, or links on the websites above. Note: School buildings will be closed after April 3, 2020. If you are not able to get assistance from SDPBC, you may call the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Education Advocacy Project at 561-655-8944, ext. 285; or you may complete an online intake at https://legalaidpbc.org/how-do-i-get-help/.
What PALM BEACH COUNTY renters need to know during the coronavirus pandemic
This document was developed to answer many of the questions that tenants have at this time regarding landlord-tenant relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic. This document is not meant to be a complete summary of Florida’s Landlord/Tenant Law nor is it intended for the purpose of providing legal advice.
I don’t have enough money for this month’s rent. Can my landlord evict me?
On April 2, 2020, Governor Ron Desantis issued an Executive Order suspending and tolling residential evictions. This suspension regarding evictions specifically applies to evictions for non-payment of rent. On April 10, 2020, the Chief Judge of Palm Beach County Courts extended this suspension period for two additional weeks. Therefore, a landlord cannot evict a tenant who resides in Palm Beach County between April 2, 2020 through June 2, 2020 for non-payment of rent. While your landlord can terminate your lease, the issuance of Writ of Possessions are suspended currently. A Writ of Possession is the legal document that gives the Sherriff permission to remove you from your home.
Do I still have to pay rent right now?
Yes. If you can pay your rent, you should pay your rent when it becomes due. Pay your rent like you normally do and get a receipt. If you can’t make your rent payment, talk to your landlord right away. Tell your landlord why you can’t make rent. Keep any papers you have about why you can’t make rent, for example, if you got a letter or an email about losing your job or getting fewer hours.
Can the landlord evict me without going to court?
No. A landlord has to go to court first remove you from your rental unit. A landlord cannot lock you out or do something else to make you leave. If this happens, call the police (911) right away. If your landlord tries to evict you by changing the locks or removing your belongings, then the tenant may sue for money lost or 3 months’ rent, whichever is greater, plus court costs and attorney’s fees.
What if my lease is expiring at the end of the month?
Landlords and tenants should work together to figure out how people can remain in their apartments while this crisis is going on.” Month-to-month leases could be one solution, if a tenant and a landlord can come to an agreement for the duration of the pandemic and then decide what happens once the crisis comes to an end. Such an agreement should be in writing.
Is my landlord required to make repairs during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Your landlord is required under Florida law to comply with local building, housing and health codes. Please note that the COVID-19 pandemic may delay your landlord’s ability to make repairs. For non-urgent repairs, tell your landlord and give your landlord time to make repairs. If the problems in your unit affect your health and safety, ask the landlord to make repairs right away.
Can my landlord raise my rent right now?
If you currently have a lease in effect, “that lease governs.” But if you are at the end of the lease or a month-to-month tenant, a rent increase is still possible.
What if I need help paying my rent or my bills?
If you need help paying your rent, you may be able to get temporary help from the county. You can also call 211 to find out what agencies are providing rental assistance.
If you have any questions or require assistance, please contact the Fair Housing Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. at 561-655-8944 at ext. 326.
Mortgage Relief: Tips and Guidance
The information provided in this guide is to assist you in the event that you are unable to make your mortgage payments due a loss of income or increase of expenses due to COVID-19.
What do I do if I cannot pay my mortgage because of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
If you can, pay your mortgage. If you cannot pay your mortgage, please communicate with your loan servicer preferably in writing to see what programs are available to help you during this crisis.
Have foreclosures been suspended in the State of Florida?
Governor Ron Desantis issued an Executive Order on April 2, 2020 suspending and tolling foreclosures for 45 days which means that no one in the State of Florida will be forced to move out of their home as a result of not paying their mortgage for 45 days from April 2, 2020. Please note that although foreclosures have been suspended in the State of Florida you are still responsible for the monthly payments and have not been relieved of this obligation.
In Palm Beach County, per the 15th Judicial Circuit Order: Administrative Order 12.510 Mitigating Measures in Response to COVID-19 states that all scheduled foreclosure sales are hereby cancelled up to and including May 1, 2020.
Non-essential court proceedings have been suspended beginning March 18, 2020, through the end of business on May 1, 2020, unless the presiding judicial officer determines that the matter may be effectively conducted remotely with all parties using communication equipment. For more information, see AO 12.510.
If foreclosure sales have been suspended in Palm Beach County, do I have still have to pay my mortgage?
Yes, the 15th Judicial Circuit’s Administrative Order (AO) does not excuse or toll any payment that you owe on your mortgage, nor is the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. suggesting that you miss any mortgage payment due. Failure to timely remit your mortgage payment can result in late fees, interest and ultimately foreclosure.
I heard on the news that the federal government has suspended all foreclosures. Is that true?
The suspension announced by President Trump and members of the Administration only apply to limited circumstances to specific mortgage loans owned by federal agencies.
Has the federal government taken any action to impact foreclosures?
**There is no uniform federal policy concerning COVID-19 and suspension of mortgage loan foreclosures. The response varies by loan investor. Many outstanding mortgage loans are subject to rules imposed by these five major investors: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs (VA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Home Service (RHS).
Do you have any advice for contacting my mortgage servicer about any mortgage relief programs that are available?
Our strong advice is to proceed with caution in dealing with your mortgage servicer. While many mortgage loans are eligible for 12 months of forbearance as a result of directives from FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, making that change can throw your escrow out of balance, cause interest and escrow advances to be turned into interest-bearing principal upon a modification or make the accounting more complicated.
Even if you try to communicate by phone with servicers, they are switching their employees who answer the phone to working from home and it is difficult to get through.
Are there any restrictions placed on mortgage servicers from reporting negative information to the credit bureaus?
Currently, there is no prohibition on negative credit reporting during that time frame.
How do I know if my loan is owned by one of the federal agencies that are helping homeowners?
The following are tools to quickly determine which investor’s foreclosure suspension rules apply to a particular homeowner’s mortgage loan:
- FANNIE MAE AND FREDDIE MAC LOANS: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have easy loan look-up websites to determine if they own a mortgage. See https://ww3.freddiemac.com/loanlookup/ and https://www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup#.
- FHA LOANS: To determine if a loan is FHA-insured, look for an FHA case number on the mortgage document, specific language in the mortgage and note forms, or through the payment of an FHA premium on the mortgage statement. In some cases, unfortunately, loans may have been stripped of their FHA-insured status; call HUD’s National Servicing Center at 877-622-8525 if there are questions.
- VA LOANS: A VA guaranteed loan also has specific language in the note and mortgage identifying it as a VA loan, and there are fees paid to the VA noted in closing documents.
- While a borrower with a mortgage directly extended by the RHS will be very familiar with the agency, homeowners with privately serviced RHS-guaranteed loans often do not know the loan’s status. If an RHS-guaranteed loan is suspected, directly ask the servicer to review the homeowners’ closing documents.
How do I find information on any foreclosure moratoriums or foreclosure suspensions?
Below are links to Foreclosure Moratoriums and Suspensions by the Major Mortgage Investors:
- FHA — https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/OCHCO/documents/20-04hsgml.pdf
- VA — https://www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/documents/circulars/26_20_8.pdf
- USDA Direct (bottom of page 1) — https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/USDA_SA_COVID19_SFHContinuity03202020.pdf
- USDA Guaranteed — https://www.rd.usda.gov/sites/default/files/USDA_RD_SA_Foreclosure_and_Eviction_Relief_COVID19_NationalEmergency.pdf
- Fannie Mae — https://singlefamily.fanniemae.com/media/22261/display
- Freddie Mac — https://guide.freddiemac.com/app/guide/bulletin/2020-4
FAIR HOUSING GUIDANCE
The state, local and federal fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, disability, religion, and familial status. In Palm Beach County, residents are protected by four additional protected classes including age, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
Under the fair housing laws:
- It is illegal to deny you housing or shelter because you are from one of the countries most affected by Covid-19 or are perceived as being from such a country.
- It is illegal to have different rules for you than for everyone else because you are from one of the countries most affected by Covid-19 or are perceived as being from such a country.
• It is illegal for a landlord to send you terminate your lease or try to evict you because you are from one of the countries most affected by Covid-19 or are perceived as being from such a country.
This section contains information about credit cards – student loans – property taxes – auto loans
What do I do if I can’t pay my credit card bills?
If you’re not able to pay your bills on time as a result of the coronavirus, contact your credit card companies, lenders and servicers to let them know about your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs.
If you are already experiencing difficulty or anticipating problems making credit card payments as a result of the coronavirus, you should reach out to your credit card company by calling the number on the back of your credit card or on your monthly statements. Credit card companies and lenders may be able to offer you a number of options to help you. This could include waiving certain fees like ATM, overpayments, and late fees, as well as allowing you to delay, adjust, or skip some payments.
What if my credit card debt is being handled by a debt collection company?
If you currently have a debt in collections, you can contact the debt collector and try and work with the collector to identify a realistic repayment plan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a number of resources for contacting and negotiating with debt collection companies.
What if I can no longer afford to pay my student loans?
As of March 20, 2020, all borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days. In addition, each of these borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months to allow them greater flexibility during the national emergency. This will allow borrowers to temporarily stop their payments without worrying about accruing interest.
Who can tell me if my loans will have their interest rate reduced?
Contact your loan servicer (https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/repayment/servicers#your-servicer) online or by phone to determine if your loans are eligible. Your servicer is the entity to which you make your monthly payment. If you do not know who your servicer is or how to contact them, visit StudentAid.gov/login or call us at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243; TTY for the deaf or hearing-impaired 1-800-730-8913) for assistance.
What if I have a student loan through a private lender?
If you have a private student loan, you will need to contact your loan administrator right to see if they are offering any relief or forbearance programs.
Where can I get additional information on student loans relief?
Please visit https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus for additional information.
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
What if I am unable to pay my property taxes?
The State of Florida has extended the deadline to pay your property taxes from March 31, 2020 to April 15, 2020. For further information about property taxes and what to expect if you are unable to pay your property taxes by the extended deadline, please visit www.pbctax.com.
RELIEF FOR CAR OWNERS WITH AUTO LOANS
What if I cannot pay my car payment this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
You should contact your lender as soon as you know that you are not able to meet your monthly payment. You should ask the lender about any programs that you may be eligible for. Your lender may have programs that will reduce your car payment temporarily, allow you to skip a payment or two, or move your monthly payment to the end of your loan.
Relief for Small Businesses
Many small businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. Below is some information and resources to help small business owners who have been impacted by COVID-19.
What if I have not filed my annual report with the State of Florida?
The State of Florida has extended the filing deadline for your annual report to June 30, 2020 on www.sunbiz.org. You will need your business information, document number and a valid form of payment. A late fee of $400 will be assessed if the annual report is not filed by July 1, 2020.
What assistance is available from the federal government?
There are two forms of SBA loans available: Disaster Recovery Loans and Paycheck Protection Loans under the new CARES Act. For more information and to apply visit: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources#section-header-2 and https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/paycheck-protection-program#section-header-2
What assistance is available from the State of Florida?
The State of Florida is offering loans through the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program. The loan is available to small businesses who have sustained economic damage up to $50,000 per eligible small business. For more information, please contact the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity at http://floridasbdc.org/disaster/ebl/.
Can nonprofits apply for any loans or assistance? Florida’s new COVID-19 bridge loan program?
Nonprofit organizations are not eligible for a Emergency Bridge Loan from the State of Florida. However, there are some federal loans and assistance available for nonprofits through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loan program. Additional information for nonprofit eligibility for financial assistance under the CARES Act may be found by visiting https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/trends-policy-issues/loans-available-nonprofits-the-cares-act-public-law-116-132).
Does your business need to have employees to apply for a Paycheck Protection Loan under the CARES Act?
Businesses that employ independent contractors may also apply, the loan amount is limited to $100,000. Please visit https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/paycheck-protection-program#section-header-2 for more info on eligibility and how to apply.
Reemployment Assistance Information
What if I have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you have been laid off, unable to work, or not being paid because of COVID-19, you can apply for Reemployment Assistance online or via phone. Please expect high call volume and issues with the website. You may also file apply for reemployment assistance by paper. For more information visit the Department of Economic Opportunities’ official website: http://floridajobs.org/
I lost my job, have substantially reduced hours, or was forced to take unpaid leave. What are my options:
You may file a claim for Unemployment Insurance benefits (a/k/a Reemployment Assistance) with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). To apply visit: https://connect.myflorida.com/Claimant/Core/Login.ASPX
For more information about Reemployment Assistance as it relates to COVID-19, including eligibility requirements and how to file a claim, please visit http://floridajobs.org/docs/default-source/reemployment-assistance-center/ra-covid-19-faqs-eng.pdf?sfvrsn=805543b0_14. You may also call 800-204-2418 but it may be difficult to reach someone on the phone because of the large number of people calling.
I was denied reemployment assistance, what can I do?
You have a right to appeal your denial. You should immediately request an appeal hearing.
Income Tax Relief
What if I have not completed my 2019 income taxes?
The Internal Revenue Service has extended the federal income tax filing date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.
Do I have to request an extension to take advantage of the new filing date?
No, the extension to file your taxes has been automatically extended to all taxpayers.
Will I be eligible to receive a stimulus check?
Tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals will receive $1,200. Married couples with joint filing status with adjusted gross income up to $150,000 will receive $2,400. Parents will receive an additional $500 per qualifying child. You will not be eligible for a payment if you were listed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
Will I be eligible for a stimulus check if my only source of income is Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits?
Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return do not need to take an action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account. The IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 and Form RRB-1099 to generate $1,200 Economic Impact Payments to Social Security recipients who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019. Recipients will receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits.
How will I receive my stimulus check?
If you have previously received your income tax refund through direct deposit with the IRS, then you will receive your funds automatically. If the IRS does not have your direct deposit information on file then you will receive a paper check in the mail. For additional information, please contact the Internal Revenue Service at www.irs.gov.
What if my Florida driver license is going to expire soon?
All Florida driver licenses, commercial driving licenses and identification cards set to expire in the next 30 days will be granted a 30-day extension beyond their current expiration date. Visit Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website for more information and updates.
How can I apply for food stamps?
To apply for food stamps, you will need to apply online at https://www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/.
I am a caregiver for a senior over the age of 60 years old, where can I get information and resources to help me?
You can contact the Area Agency on Aging for Palm Beach County at 866-684-5885 for help with services for seniors including food and nutrition, health and wellness, long term care, or home care.
What do I do if I suspect that a senior or vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected or financially exploited?
To report any known or suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation or self-neglect of vulnerable adults (elderly or disabled), please call the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Florida Abuse Hotline which receives reports 24 hours a day: 1-800-962-2873. Reports are also accepted online at: https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/.
Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus. Below are some tips from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) websites on how to avoid scams in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The FTC warned about an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure. Testing is available through your local and state governments, but these tests are not delivered to your house. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.
A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.
Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions. Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative.
While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .
Say No if you are contacted by someone who ask you for your Social Security Number, bank account number, any credit card information, Medicare ID number, drivers license number or any other personally identifying information by phone, e-mail, or in person.
Insurance Payment Relief
11 insurance companies that may help you with payments during the COVID-19 outbreak
If you have home or auto insurance through Allstate, you can pause up to two consecutive payments, or you may also choose to pay less than your usual bill amount. The unpaid balance will be evenly distributed among your remaining payments. You can contact your Allstate agent or call 1 (800) ALLSTATE to set up payment relief.
Allstate is also suspending policy cancellations if you can’t pay during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Cincinnati Financial doesn’t provide details about assisting with payments amid the coronavirus pandemic, but according to its website, you can call the following numbers if you want to discuss billing flexibility:
- Commercial lines billing: 1 (877) 942-2455
- Personal lines billing: 1 (513) 870-2002
- Life insurance billing: 1 (800) 783-4479
CNA is continuing premium billing as usual, but the company is pausing policy cancellations until June 1 for customers who can’t pay. You will not have to pay a late fee if you miss a payment.
You can call 1 (877) 276-7507 to discuss your payment schedule with a representative.
Farmers has paused policy cancellation for customers who can’t pay until May 1, and you will not have to pay late fees. You will have to pay the amount that accumulates after the suspension is lifted.
If it’s time to renew your Farmers policy but you can’t afford to do so, call 1 (888) 327-6335 to request an extension.
GEICO has suspended coverage cancellations and policy expirations until April 30 if you’re unable to pay. You’ll still have to pay these bills after the pause is lifted. You can also make partial payments now if you don’t want to pay the total amount all at once later.
If you’re enrolled in auto pay, remember to disable it to pause payments.
Liberty Mutual is extending payments for auto and home insurance customers who have been impacted by the coronavirus, and the company isn’t charging late fees. Liberty will discuss personalized payment assistance with customers, so you can reach out to talk about your options.
MetLife has extended its grace period for people to make late payments without losing coverage. If your grace period was previously shorter than 60 days, it will be bumped up to 60 days. If your grace period was longer than 60 days, you’ll keep the favorable grace period. This rule applies to all premium payments from March 1 onward.
If you can’t pay your insurance bill, Progressive will pause cancellation or nonrenewal from April 1 to May 15. Progressive is offering payment assistance, but the company warns that your account might still show the payment as due because the system is struggling to catch up with requests. You must manually pause automatic payments, otherwise you will be charged.
The amount you’ve deferred will be due after May 15. To discuss payment options, call 1 (800) PROGRESSIVE.
State Farm is working with customers on payment flexibility, but the company has not published any details. Call your State Farm agent to discuss your situation.
Travelers is pausing policy cancellations and nonrenewals until May 15. You will not be penalized for not paying your bill during this time.
USAA is automatically pausing late fees and policy cancellations due to nonpayment until July 17 for customers with auto or property insurance policies.
If you have a USAA Medicare Supplement plan, the company will waive any deductibles or copayments for COVID-19 testing. If you’ve received testing since February 4 and already paid, USAA will reimburse you.
USAA is offering payment assistance on a case-by-case basis for auto, property, health, and life insurance policy holders.