Aside from anxiety about the COVID-19 virus itself, the economic fallout as businesses shut down and people are asked to stay home presents another layer of stress. Whether you’ve lost your job or don’t have any savings to fall back on during this time of uncertainty, paying your bills the first of the month may feel gut-wrenching.
The U.S. government has taken some steps to help people financially, including signing the CARES Act into law, which provides individuals making less than $75,000 a year a one-time $1,200 stimulus check. And while many stimulus checks are coming in the next three weeks, that doesn’t change that many of your biggest bills may be due today.
We’ve compiled a list of resources that may be helpful if you need financial assistance for everything from paying rent to finding low-cost mental health services and resources for parents of kids with disabilities. Many of these resources are available all the time, but they may be especially needed right now due to COVID-19.
Rent and Housing
If you own a home, contact your mortgage lender. Many are offering support to homeowners who are struggling financially. If your mortgage is managed by the Federal Housing Administration or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federal government has placed a temporary halt on foreclosures and evictions if you can’t pay.
Renters who are struggling to make their rent payments can try working with their landlord or property manager for leniency or temporarily reduced payments to get through the next couple of months. Be sure to check what your state or city has decided for renters. Many cities, like Seattle, Boston and Los Angeles, are preventing landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment due to COVID-19 financial issues. This may require filling out a form or showing proof of financial difficulty, like job loss. Other cities have set up financial assistance programs for renters. This website can help you find out what’s available in your area.
Student loans are a big financial burden for many people in the U.S., and the CARES Act included student loan relief. If you’re struggling financially and want to defer your student loans, you can now apply for a COVID-19-related forbearance to get a break on these loans for up to 60 days. To apply for the forbearance, contact your loan provider.
The federal government’s stimulus package also reduced student loan interest on federally subsidized loans to 0% for at least 60 days, which means your student loan payments are going directly to your balance.
Job loss may mean a loss of your health insurance coverage, which can be scary, especially if you live with a chronic condition. If you had health insurance through your job, you may be eligible to stay on your existing health plan through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). However, these plans can be very expensive to pay on your own.
After a life event (including job loss), you’re eligible to enroll in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance plan on the marketplace outside of the open enrollment period. Depending on your income, you may qualify for subsidies that make many of the plans available more affordable, especially while you’re struggling financially. You can visit the ACA marketplace here.
Depending on your income, if you’re not already enrolled in Medicaid, you may be eligible to apply if your yearly earnings are no more than $17,500 as an individual or your monthly earnings have dropped below $1,470, according to CNN. Visit the Medicaid website to learn more.
Prescription Drug Assistance
Going without your medication isn’t an option for many people with a chronic illness, disability or mental illness. If you’re having trouble paying for your prescription drugs, start by looking up the manufacturer of your medication. Many drug companies offer patient assistance programs for those who don’t have insurance to make medications more affordable. PhRMA’s Medicine Assistance Tool can help you find these resources.
Check discount prescription services like ScriptSave WellRx or FamilyWize, which offer free coupons for most medications that can save you hundreds off the list price without insurance. You can find a list of discount services here.
Low-Cost Mental Health Care
COVID-19 and its resulting economic stress are taking a major toll on many people’s mental health. If you’re already working with a therapist and anticipate having trouble paying for continued treatment, talk to your therapist. Many therapists want to continue supporting clients through this difficult time and many are willing to work with you to find a more affordable payment or come up with a payment plan for the time being.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) created a COVID-19 guide for mental health services that includes resources and information if you’re struggling. You can also call NAMI’s helpline for assistance finding low-cost mental health services in your area at 1-800-950-6264 Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also has a national helpline, which you can reach 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA also put together a list of virtual recovery resources, many of which are free. You can see that list here.
Disability Financial Assistance
A number of government and nonprofit organizations offer financial resources for people with disabilities. Check out your state and local disability nonprofits and see what programs they may have to help you navigate this difficult period, whether that’s additional guidance on what you do to financial assistance programs you can apply for.
You can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) along with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you qualify. According to the Social Security office, to qualify for disability, you must be at least 18 years old, can’t already be receiving Social Security benefits and must have a medical condition that will last at least 12 months and prevents you from working.
Being a caregiver during this time can be especially stressful. It’s important to take time for self-care too. You can try engaging respite care, which offers caregivers a short-term break to take care of themselves at low or no cost to qualifying families. ARCH offers a national respite network locator tool as well as special resources for COVID-19.
The Family Caregiver Alliance offers a tool to locate what assistance may be available in your state for caregivers, which range from government to nonprofit programs. You can check out that tool here.
Parents of Kids With Disabilities
If your family is struggling to make ends meet right now, several programs may be able to provide support. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program offer grants to families in need due to loss of income to pay for essentials like rent, food and medical care for a fixed period of time. You can learn more about TANF and see if you qualify on the website here.
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offers health insurance and dental coverage for kids under age 19 if you earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for private insurance. Each state’s requirements are different, so visit the website to learn more.
Not everyone will be able to afford this option, but if you are still working and want to take unpaid time off from your job to care for your children while they’re out of school, know your job may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave within a 12-month calendar to care for a child or family member while protecting their position.
Utilities, Food and Other Bills
There are many other bills you’re responsible for that are just out of reach right now. From auto loans to credit card payments and utility bills. Check with each company to see if you can defer payment, pay on a fraction of your bill or qualify for special assistance programs.
For help getting food, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly called food stamps) provides benefits to low-income people to purchase groceries. There are limits on the types of food you can purchase with SNAP benefits, and you can find out if you’re eligible on the website here.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers those who are having a hard time paying their phone bill and who qualify as low-income financial assistance through the Lifeline Program. You can find out if you qualify here.
If you’re having trouble paying your credit card bill or auto loan, check with the bank that holds your card. Many banks have said they’re willing to work with customers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19. Bankrate offers a list of major banks with assistance programs.
Many cities and states have told utility companies to pause shutting off service to those who can’t pay their bills right now due to COVID-19. If you’re struggling, call the utility company to see if you can work out a plan. You can also investigate Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which offers assistance for energy bills.
The federal government has a benefit finder on its website that may also be useful in pointing you toward other available resources.
If you lost your job because of COVID-19-related cuts, you may be eligible to file for unemployment. The federal stimulus package passed by Congress makes it easier for workers to file for unemployment and waived the typical 10-waiting period while allowing you to file for an additional $600 a week in unemployment. Each state handles unemployment claims separately, and you can use this tool to find out what you need to know in your state.
While many companies are facing uncertainty because of the economic fall out of COVID-19, there are companies still hiring workers. Large retailers like Amazon and Walmart are hiring many new workers as they work to meet the uptick in online shopping. Some companies may also be hiring remote workers. For an ongoing list of available jobs that allow you to work from home, visit The Mighty’s #NowHiring page or sign up for a profile on Chronically Capable.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet right now due to COVID-19, know you’re not alone. For many people with a disability, chronic illness or mental health issue, life was already pretty unaffordable. COVID-19 just made that more uncertain for everyone.
What other financial resources might be helpful right now? Let us know in the comments.
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