Resources to help people through the coronavirus pandemic

person raising hand out of ocean for help (via pixabay/Gerd Altmann)Did you lose a job or have to reduce your hours because of COVID-19? 

With most businesses closed or operating at reduced capacity, and unemployment rapidly rising, this is a scary time.

Below is a list of resources to help get you through the economic impact of social distancing orders and COVID-19:

  • Public Assistance Programs
  • Coronavirus Emergency Public Assistance Measures
  • Other Emergency Resources

This page was last updated on July 13.


Public Assistance Programs

New Applications

You may be eligible for food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid (MA), cash assistance (TANF), or heating bill assistance (LIHEAP) through the PA Dept. of Human Services. If you need to apply for these benefits, please apply in one of the following ways:

  • Online using Compass at www.compass.state.pa.us
  • By calling Just Harvest for an eligibility screening and/or help with your application Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Contact us  at (412) 431-8960 x602 (leave your name and contact info and the best time to reach you) or by filling out the form on this page. Our team aims to get back to you within 48 hours.

Changes to Your Benefit Amount

If you already receive these benefits, but you’ve lost income, you may be eligible for an increase in SNAP or TANF. If you don’t have paperwork from your job (such as pay stubs or a letter about your hours), you should explain your loss of income in your own words. You can do that in the comments section of Compass.

The state’s County Assistance Offices are closed to the public. Review our tips for communicating with CAO staff during these closures. You should submit information about a change in income in one of the following ways:

Current recipients may also receive the following benefit increases:

  • If you receive SNAP benefits, you may get an extra payment on your EBT card every month to help you buy food during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more about SNAP Emergency Allotments.
  • If you receive SNAP or TANF benefits, you may get an extra one-time payment on your EBT card to help parents buy food for children who would be receiving free or reduced-price school meals if schools were open.

Problems Receiving Benefits

If your benefits are cut off, if your application is denied, or if you have questions about these programs, please call

  • About SNAP/food stamps or TANF/cash assistance: Just Harvest Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at (412) 431-8960 x602 and leave a message. Our team will return your call within 48 hours.
  • About Medical Assistance or other health insurance problems:

Coronavirus Emergency Relief Measures

NOTE:  If your employer is paying you for hours not worked because they received the Paycheck Protection Program grant, your wages count as regular pay when applying for public assistance benefits.

CASH/INCOME ASSISTANCE AND FINANCIAL RELIEF

Individual Stimulus Checks through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act

  • The IRS will be sending one-time payments to people with a social security number based on their tax filing information for 2019 (or for 2018 if they have not filed yet this year).
  • Social Security and VA beneficiaries who typically aren’t required to file a tax return will not have to file a tax return to receive a stimulus payment. They will have their stimulus payments issued automatically through the Social Security Administration. The deadline for SSDI recipients to file to receive a payment in 2020 for dependent children under age 17 was 12pm on APRIL 22. The deadline for SSI and VA recipients to file to receive a payment in 2020 for dependent children under age 17 was MAY 4. Those who missed this deadline can still file to receive their payment in 2021.
  • Stimulus payments are treated like a tax refund; it doesn’t count as income or a resource if you’re applying for public assistance benefits.
  • Read our FAQ on tax filing and the stimulus checks.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)/Cash Assistance

  • TANF/cash assistance can assist families who are unable to work as a result of the pandemic, whether healthy or not, who are not eligible for Unemployment Compensation or the federal paid sick leave provision.
  • The PA Department of Human Services is suspending face-to-face interviews and will not terminate or sanction recipients based on work requirements until further notice.
  • Applicants who expect to be back at work in three months can ask for a TANF diversion, which provides a one-time lump sum payment equal to up to three months of TANF and has fewer reporting requirements than regular TANF. For more info on TANF diversion view our page on cash assistance options.
  • See the New Applications section at the top of the page for info on how to apply.

Emergency Assistance Program

Lost wages, but still have other forms of income that put you over the income limit for TANF? If you have children or are expecting a child you can now apply for the new Emergency Assistance Program.

Unemployment Compensation (UC)

Pennsylvania has set up a website for frequently asked questions around UC. It can be found here.

You may be eligible if:

  • Your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19
  • Your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19
  • You have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19
  • You have been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts

How to apply:

  • Individuals can file for unemployment at www.uc.pa.gov/Pages/covid19.aspx or by calling 1-888-313-7284.
  • The usual one-week wait time necessary to apply for unemployment benefits, as well as the work search and work registration requirement, have been waived until further notice.
  • If you are found eligible for UC you will automatically receive an additional $600/week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), from the week ending April 4, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020.

About receiving UC/PUC

  • If you are eligible for UC, you will ‘ two approval letters and a four-digit PIN, which will arrive in the U.S. mail.
  • If approved, your first benefit payment should arrive within four weeks of filing.
  • Continue filing your bi-weekly claim (every two weeks) even while waiting for approval.
  • PUC doesn’t count as income if you’re also applying for medical assistance or CHIP, but does it count as income for SNAP and cash assistance applications.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Individuals covered under PUA include the self-employed (e.g. independent contractors, gig economy workers, and workers for certain religious entities), those seeking part-time employment, individuals lacking sufficient work history, and those who otherwise do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits.

  • Visit uc.pa.gov to apply for PUA. (If you receive an ineligibility message, you may be eligible for regular unemployment compensation and should file a regular Unemployment initial claim online.)
  • The state will make your benefits effective the week you were first unemployed, not the day you submit your PUA application.
  • If you are found eligible for PUA you will automatically receive an additional $600/week from the week in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), from the week ending April 4, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020.
  • Visit www.philalegal.org/UCFAQ for more information on UC and PUA.

Workers’ Comp (WC):

  • If you believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19 in your workplace, you may be eligible for WC by either:
    • Notifying your employer to file a typical “disease-as-injury” WC claim, which requires you to provide medical evidence that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace
    • Notifying your employer to file an “occupational disease” WC claim, which requires you to show that COVID-19 is occurring more in your occupation/industry than in the general population
  • If your COVID-19 claim is denied, you may file a petition with the Office of Adjudication
  • Learn more at www.dli.pa.gov

Student Loans

  •  The federal CARES Act allows student loan borrowers to suspend their loan payments for six months ending September 30, 2020. Interest is deferred during this period. This relief is available to those with federally-held loans or those who consolidate their commercial loans with federally held loans.

FOOD ASSISTANCE

Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)

  • This one-time payment aims to help parents afford food for children who would be receiving free or reduced-price school meals if schools were open. Learn more in our FAQ.

SNAP/Food Stamps

  • If you are receiving SNAP you may get an extra payment on your EBT card every month to help you buy food during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more about SNAP Emergency Allotments.
  • Congress has suspended the work requirements rule subjecting able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) to a three-month time limit on receiving SNAP/Food Stamps (in any three year period) until one month after the federal emergency declaration ends.
  • The tougher Trump Administration work requirements that were slated to take effect April 1 will not be imposed due to a judicial order, which the Trump Administration is now challenging.
  • The PA Department of Human Services has suspended all interview requirements until May 31. It is also extending all renewals and Semi-Annual reporting deadlines – no one will be terminated for not submitting paperwork for the next three months.
  • SNAP applications can be expedited and benefits can be issued in 5 days.
  • See the New Applications section at the top of the page for info on how to apply.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)

  • WIC has changed operations to promote social distancing. To apply for WIC, call 1-800-WIC -WINS or apply at pa.wic.com. The state will conduct all Intake appointments through Zoom and will mail WIC cards out to new recipients.
  • Current recipients will complete their appointments by phone, and then will be told which locations they can go to to have their WIC SmartCard reloaded. When coming to have your card reloaded, please:
    • Leave your children at home to reduce their risk of exposure
    • Stay at home if you are feeling sick. You may add a proxy over the phone to pick up benefits.

HEALTHCARE & FAMILY CARE

Medicaid (Medical Assistance) and CHIP 

  • These state programs cover medically appropriate laboratory testing for COVID-19 without copays. They also cover associated treatment for COVID-19, although there may be a nominal copay. If you cannot afford the copay at the time you receive the service, you will not be denied treatment, although your provider may send you a bill for the copayment amount.
  • Testing is also free for consumers who are uninsured. If individuals believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and do not have a primary care provider, they should visit a local ER, clinic, or urgent care center.
  • PA is still processing Medicaid applications; individuals should apply as normal. Applicants should note if they have a health emergency related to COVID-19. DHS will continue to prioritize Medicaid applications where there is an immediate health concern, and self-attestations will be accepted.
  • See the New Applications section at the top of the page for info on how to apply for MA.

Paid Family and Medical Leave

  • Until 12/31/2020, employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave if they are unable to work due to a need for leave to care for a child under age 18 because the school or day care has been closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency.
  • Leave pay must be equal to at least 2/3 of regular pay, but employers do not have to pay more than $200/day and $10,000/total per employee nor pay during the first 10 days of leave.
  • This provision does not apply to private businesses with 500 or more employees or to large chains that employ 500 or more employees overall, but have fewer than 500 per physical outlet.
  • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees, certain healthcare providers, and emergency responders may be exempt.
  • Leave pay is also available to the self-employed via a tax credit.

Paid Sick Leave

  • Until 12/31/20, employees are entitled to up to 10 days/80 hours of paid sick time of they are unable to work or telework due to a need for leave because the employee is:
    1. subject to quarantine or isolation order (or caring for someone who is subject to quarantine or isolation order);
    2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to coronavirus concerns;
    3. is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and seeking a medical diagnosis;
    4. caring for their child if their school or day care has been closed, or the child care provider is unavailable, due to coronavirus precautions.
  • Leave pay must be equal to at least two-thirds of regular pay, but employers do not have to pay more than $511/day and $5,100/total per employee. For paid sick leave taken to care for someone else, employers do not have to pay more than $200/day and $2,000/total.
  • Same employer exclusions as Paid Family and Medical (above).
  • Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Days law went into effect March 15, 2020.
    • The ordinance requires employers
      • with 15+ employees to allow them to earn paid sick leave at a rate of 1 hour of leave for every 35 hours worked starting March 15; they can use up to 40 hours per year;
      • with less than 15 employees to allow them to earn unpaid sick leave (at the same accrual rate) until March 15, 2021, at which point they will earn paid sick leave; they can use up to 24 hours per year.
    • Workers using paid or unpaid sick days will have job protection while using the time.
    • Employees who work in the City can be covered under the law if the employer is physically present or does business in Pittsburgh.
    • If you work in Pittsburgh, you may use the time:
      • for you or your family’s illness, injury, or health condition (allowed family members include: your child, grandchild, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, sibling, and any other individuals the employer permits);
      • if there is a public health emergency; or
      • if a family member is exposed to a communicable disease.
    • Pittsburgh UNITED (of which Just Harvest is a member) sent a letter to the city requesting it demand‌ ‌all‌ ‌businesses‌ ‌in‌ ‌Pittsburgh‌ ‌grant‌ ‌14‌ ‌paid sick days‌ ‌to‌ ‌their‌ ‌employees‌ ‌to help any workers recover from COVID-19 and to protect public health. We are still waiting for a clear response.

HOUSING

  • Gov. Wolf has issued a moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures statewide through August 31.
  • The CARES Act, which became law on March 27, 2020, institutes a 120-day suspension on evictions for renters unable to pay rent in Federally-assisted properties, which includes single-family and multifamily properties with loans owned or securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
  • The CARES Act prohibits foreclosures and evictions on all federally-backed mortgage loans for a 60-day period beginning on March 18, 2020, and provides borrowers who have experienced financial hardship related to COVID-19 a 180-day moratorium on making loan payments on federally-backed mortgages. Applicable mortgages include those purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, insured by HUD, VA, or USDA, or directly made by USDA. More info at www.fhfa.gov.
  • Many banks are also participating in the Attorney General’s voluntary PA CARE Package program and offer additional assistance to Pennsylvanians facing financial hardship due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For more on housing policy measures visit housingalliancepa.org

UTILITIES

  • Electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunication and steam utilities are prohibited from terminations due to an emergency order signed by Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). This will remain in place for as long as the Proclamation of Disaster, related to the Coronavirus, is in effect.
  • Comcast’s Internet Essentials program will be offered free for 60 days to new customers. Customers are eligible to receive Internet Essentials if they are eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch program, Medicaid or SNAP and live in a Comcast service area. Furthermore, Comcast has pledged not to disconnect a customers’ service or impose late fees if they can’t pay their bills during the pandemic.

LIHEAP Crisis Benefits

PA has received additional LIHEAP funds from Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stimulus (CARES) Act, which the state will use to fund the LIHEAP Recovery Crisis Program. The program will begin on Monday, May 18 and will offer a crisis benefit as well as a supplemental payment for households that previously received a crisis payment during the 2019-2020 LIHEAP season.

Eligibility:

  • Resident of Pennsylvania
  • Income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level
  • Responsible for primary or secondary heating source, either directly or as an undesignated portion of rent
    •   A secondary heating sources necessary to operate the primary fuel type, such as electricity (which is required to operate a natural gas or oil furnace)
  • Actual or imminent home heating (energy) emergency that can be resolved by the crisis grant (alone or with other resources)
    • For this program, in light of the current moratorium on terminations, DHS will accept a past-due utility bill as evidence of an imminent home energy emergency, provided their utility confirms that the balance due would normally result in termination.
    •   DHS will also issue a Crisis grant to cover a past-due deliverable fuel bill (oil, wood, coal, propane) if the deliverable fuel company will not complete a new delivery due to the past-due balance.

Benefits:

  • Up to $800 Crisis Grant to resolve an imminent home energy emergency for households that have not already received a Crisis grant in the 2019/2020 LIHEAP season.
  • Automatic $100 supplemental Crisis grant for households that received a Crisis grant during the regular 2019/2020 LIHEAP season (Nov. 1, 2019 – April 10, 2020).
    • Supplemental grants will be directed to the utility for which the household last received assistance unless the household otherwise requests the grant to be directed to a different utility.
    • Consumers who received a crisis grant during the 2019/2020 LIHEAP Season may be eligible for additional crisis grant dollars if necessary to resolve a crisis, up to the maximum $800.

How to Apply:

  • Online at www.compass.state.pa.us
  • If you received a LIHEAP Cash or Crisis grant during the regular 2019/2020 LIHEAP season, you may contact your local CAO to apply over the phone.
  • Print and mail a one page (front and back) application, along with supportive documentation. Spanish applications are available.
  • Print and drop off an application, along with supportive documentation, in the drop-box at the local County Assistance Office. Drop-boxes may not be available at all CAO locations.  Be sure to call before visiting the CAO.

Other Emergency Resources

Financial Counseling and Services

Pittsburgh Financial Empowerment Center is offering phone or video sessions, and clients would not need to have a computer to participate so long as they have a working phone.

FEC also has this great guide to Financial Resources for Allegheny County Residents

 

, , , , , , , , ,

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. COVID-19 Resources | New Pittsburgh Courier - April 13, 2020

    […] Just Harvest has a page with resources about policies and programs, including information about the federal stimulus): https://www.justharvest.org/resources-to-help-people-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/ […]

  2. COVID-19 Resources – Loculy - April 13, 2020

    […] Just Harvest has a page with resources about policies and programs, including information about the federal stimulus): https://www.justharvest.org/resources-to-help-people-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/ […]

  3. COVID-19 resources for Pittsburghers, including unemployment support – Loculy - April 20, 2020

    […] Just Harvest has a page with resources about policies and programs, including information about the federal stimulus): https://www.justharvest.org/resources-to-help-people-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic/ […]

Leave a Reply