Providing Resources for Those Affected by the COVID-19 Virus
The events of the past two months regarding the impact of the COVID-19 virus have been shocking to say the least. From the news stories, the frantic rushes to the grocery store and the shutdown of our schools, churches and local businesses, these are certainly trying times for all of us. I believe the COVID-19 virus has had a devastating impact on the health and well-being of all Missourians. As we try to navigate these uncertain times, I wanted to highlight several important programs that I believe will help individuals and businesses in Missouri weather the COVID-19 storm.
Individuals and Families
In March, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Commonly referred to as the CARES Act, the more than $2 trillion economic relief package funds numerous programs to help Americans deal with the impact of the COVID-19 virus. Through the CARES Act, qualifying Americans will receive economic impact payments to provide immediate financial relief. Nearly every American who earns less than $75,000 per year will receive a one-time $1,200 payment. Married couples that make less than $150,000 a year will receive a $2,400 payment. Families will receive $500 for each of their children through the program. Many Missourians have already begun receiving their economic impact payments from the IRS. For more information on the program and the status of your payment, please visit irs.gov/coronavirus-tax-relief-and-economic-impact-payments.
My office has received many calls and heard from numerous individuals that have lost their jobs due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus. The Missouri Department of Labor has provided several resources to help those impacted by the virus. For more information on these specific resources, please visit labor.mo.gov/coronavirus. Eligible individuals may receive unemployment benefits for up to 39 weeks. This weekly benefit could include up to $320 per week in state benefits, and an additional $600 per week from the federal government, under the CARES Act, for four months or until July 31, 2020. Even if you only qualify for partial assistance, you could receive an additional $600 until July 31 under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. If you are out of work due to the COVID-19 virus, but not sure you qualify for regular unemployment, you should still apply. By applying for unemployment benefits, this will provide the proof necessary to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), even if you do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits. The PUA program may cover individuals who are not eligible for regular and extended benefits, or PEUC.
For families and individuals in my district that are facing economic hardships, the Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA) agency provides utility assistance for low-income families through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Applications for the LIHEAP program can be found at mydss.mo.gov/energy-assistance. In addition to LIHEAP, low-income families may also qualify for the Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP). This program helps pay heating and cooling costs when a household’s utilities are shut off, threatened to be shut off or threatened to be disconnected. Although many utility providers have stopped shutting off utilities at this time, I would encourage those that need the assistance to apply to prevent possible disconnection in the future. If you have any questions, you can contact my office or CMCA’s Energy Assistance Program at 573-443-1100.
My heart goes out to the businesses and employees in my district that are struggling to make ends meet. There are two programs that were available through the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help businesses as they endure these tough times. Though these programs have run out of federal funds as of April 16, I am hopeful that Congress will pass new legislation to provide additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Despite the funding status of these programs, I would encourage you to get in touch with your local Small Business Development Center and begin the process of applying for these programs. You can locate a center in your area by visiting sba.gov/local-assistance/find/.
In addition, a business can participate in a shared work plan if they meet the eligibility requirements for Missouri’s shared work program. Through the Missouri Department of Labor, the Shared Work Unemployment Compensation Program is an alternative to layoffs for employers faced with a reduction in available work. It allows an employer to divide the available work among a specified group of affected employees instead of laying them off. As a part of the program, the participating employees would be eligible to receive a portion of their unemployment benefits while working reduced hours. For more information on this program, please visit labor.mo.gov/shared-work.
As I have said before, these are trying times for all of us. While I understand that nothing can replace the hardship caused by a lost job or a shuttered business, I truly hope the programs listed in this report can provide some relief to those suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need help navigating or understanding any state or federal program, please do not hesitate to contact my office. While we might not be in the State Capitol, we are working from home in order to continue providing services to the residents of our community.
It is an honor to be your state senator, and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.