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November 11, 2022

Laid Off Due to COVID-19? Here’s What Georgians Can Do

Laid Off Due to COVID-19? Here’s What Georgians Can Do

More than 1.3 million Georgians filed for unemployment between March 21 and April 25, according to the state’s Department of Labor. So, if you lost your job due to COVID-19, you are definitely not alone.

Being laid off under any circumstances can leave you reeling, especially if your partner is also jobless—but what does it mean during a pandemic? Can you get unemployment? Will your savings last until your job returns? How long before you can’t pay the rent or buy groceries?

The following tactics will help you draw a clear plan for your finances. If you’re scared of what you might find, it’s all the more reason to do this now—because the reality is you could be in much better shape than you think.

Start with a budget
How much money do you need in a given month? If you don’t have a household budget, then it’s time to do a financial fire drill:

  • List your baseline expenses. That’s food, shelter, utilities, insurance premiums (if applicable) and essential debt such as car payments or child support.
  • Add up all available monies. That could include unemployment, your partner’s income and any emergency fund savings.
  • Subtract the baseline expenses from available funds. With luck, the numbers more or less match or you’ll have extra money left over.

To get a truly accurate picture of your cash flow during the COVID-19 crisis, you have to factor in the financial relief measures enacted specifically in response to it. For example, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed in March 2020 means millions of Americans have received or will be receiving sizeable, one-time stimulus payments and extra unemployment benefits. And depending on your situation, your credit card bills, student loans, mortgages and rent may be deferred for a time.

Georgians with specific questions about stimulus payments, unemployment benefits, housing and other financial issues can head to GeorgiaLegalAid.org for detailed answers and information. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of what you should consider.

Stimulus payments: The first payments from the federal government started going out in mid-April; it may take several weeks or months to distribute every payment. If you didn’t file your 2019 taxes, your eligibility will be based on your 2018 filing.

Individuals who made less than $75,000 receive $1,200. Those who made between $75,000 and $99,000 get a smaller payment, depending on their income; the upper income limit increases $10,000 for each of your qualifying children under age 17.

Married couples with a combined income of less than $150,000 receive a $2,400 payment. Smaller payments go out to couples who made between $150,000 and $198,000. Again, the upper income limit will change depending on your number of dependents age 16 and younger. Parents also receive a $500 payment for every child under 17.

Unemployment benefits. Under the CARES Act, those who qualify for unemployment insurance benefits get a $600-per-week federal payment in addition to state benefits. The federal payment lasts for four months, and the legislation extends normal state unemployment benefits to 39 weeks.

What’s different about COVID-19 unemployment is that self-employed people—including gig economy workers, independent contractors and freelancers—who normally couldn’t get unemployment insurance benefits might be eligible for federal assistance, according to Stephen A. Woodbury, senior economist with the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and professor of economics at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

“In the pandemic, self-employed workers who have stopped working have in virtually all cases been laid off in some sense,” says Woodbury. “The work that they did has gone away.”

If you haven’t already, he suggests applying for unemployment even if you think you aren’t eligible. You can learn more at the Georgia Department of Labor website.

Debt relief. Some creditors have made changes in response to COVID-19. For example, many credit card issuers are offering deals to cardholders, such as reduced minimum payments or the option to skip payments without incurring interest charges.

Beverly Blair Harzog, credit expert for U.S. News & World Report, suggests that laid-off workers make minimum payments in order to preserve cash and ask about other options. “Have some bullet points ready so you can share why you’re having problems,” she says. “Credit card issuers have really been trying to help.”

Federal student loans have also been put into “administrative forbearance” through September 30, which means you can temporarily stop paying your loan if you so choose. There’s been a halt to evictions and foreclosures for those with federally backed mortgages, too, including those backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For renters, it’s a bit more complicated. While some states have ordered a halt to all evictions, Georgia is not one of them, though certain protections may be in place for a limited time depending on where you live. That said, the CARES Act does stipulate a 120-day moratorium on evicting tenants in properties that have government-backed mortgages through July 25, 2020.

Regarding rent payments, while some Georgia landlords are delaying or canceling rent during the pandemic, others are keeping a normal payment schedule. If you haven’t already, talk to your landlord right away about the best way to handle things going forward. And if you have questions about or need help with paying rent, check the Local Tenant Rights, Laws and Protections: Georgia information hub provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Finally, banks and credit unions are offering a variety of relief measures, such as deferred home and auto loan payments, forgiven fees and waived penalties for early CD withdrawal. Contact your financial institution to see what programs it’s offering and be sure you understand all the details. For example, you might be able to skip car payments, but finance charges could accrue.

Try a fresh set of eyes
Sometimes creating a budget can feel overwhelming, especially if all you can think about is the money that’s not coming in right now. Getting a fresh set of eyes on your funds can help. The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling can set you up for a free 1-hour session with a credit counselor, who will help you create “an action plan with options you can use,” according to NFCC spokesman Bruce McClary.

These counselors also have up-to-the-minute information on those creditor programs, he says, which helps you determine how long you can stretch available funds or work out a payment plan with your landlord.

“It’s always easier to negotiate when you have the most information,” McClary says.

Consider a safety net
You may be eligible for additional help making payments or putting food on the table during this time. Visit Benefits.gov or Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services website to investigate your options, including:

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps)
  • The Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program (WIC)
  • Healthcare coverage
  • Utility benefits

For immediate food assistance, Feeding America maintains a list of food banks in Georgia; enter your zip code into their search bar to find one near you.