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Update on COVID-19 benefit and relief provisions

 

The following material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or assistance. The information below is based on current law. Legislative and executive actions at the state and federal levels could change the protections and benefits discussed below. Finally, this is not an exhaustive list of information or resources. Check with your local Community Action Agency, United Way, or other social service agency for additional assistance.

May 4, 2021

The American Rescue Plan and other action by the Executive Branch extended many of the relief provisions that would have expired early this year and provided additional benefits for individuals and families.

Stimulus Check:  The American Rescue Plan provided $1,400 economic impact payments for individuals earning less than $75,000, or $112,500 for heads of household, and $2,800 for couples earning less than $150,000. Individuals receiving Social Security, SSDI, SSI, VA, and Railroad Retirement benefits should have automatically received their benefits. If you have not received this third stimulus payment, you can check the status of your payment at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment. If you did not receive your first or second stimulus payment in 2020 or only received a portion, file your 2020 taxes even if you normally do not file to see if you qualify for a 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit. The tax filing deadline is May 17, 2021. Find more information at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.

Child Tax Credit: The American Rescue Plan expands the child tax credit to as much as $3,600 per child, covers children through age 17, and allows advance periodic payments during 2021 rather than requiring families to wait until they file their 2021 taxes to receive the credit. The tax credit is fully refundable, and the minimum earnings requirement is eliminated, making the credit available to families with low or no income. The IRS will make advance payments based on information in the 2020 or 2019 tax filings. Eligible families are urged to file their 2020 taxes if they have not done so already. Find more information at https://www.irs.gov/credits-deductions/advance-child-tax-credit-payments-in-2021.

Earned Income Tax Credit: The American Rescue Plan increases the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless working adults: the amount of the tax credit is raised from $540 to $1,500; the EITC program is expanded to cover 19-24 year olds (who are not students) and those 65 and older; and the income limits for eligibility increase from roughly $16,000 to at least $21,000. 

Unemployment Benefits:  Federal unemployment benefits have been extended to September 6, 2021. This includes assistance for individuals not eligible for state unemployment benefits who lost work for specified COVID-related reasons, an additional $300/week in federal assistance, and additional weeks of federal unemployment benefits after state benefits have been exhausted. For more information visit https://labor.mo.gov/.

Eviction Moratorium and Rental Assistance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the eviction moratorium for tenants who qualify to June 30, 2021. To obtain protection under the eviction moratorium, tenants must complete a CDC declaration form and give it to their landlord. You can find information on qualifying criteria and a copy of the declaration form at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/EvictionDeclare_d508.pdf. The Missouri Housing Development Corporation administers a rental assistance program for individuals impacted by COVID-19. http://www.mhdc.com/COVID%20Assistance/index.htm

Foreclosure Moratorium and Mortgage Forbearance: The foreclosure moratorium for homeowners with federally-backed home loans has been extended to June 30, 2021. The mortgage forbearance window for federally-backed loans has been extended to June 30, 2021, and an additional period of up to six months of forbearance will be available to individuals who request forbearance before June 30, 2021. Find resources for homeowners at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/.

Student loans: The U.S. Department of Education has extended COVID-19 relief through September 30, 2021 and has expanded the measures to include FFEL loans in addition to loans owned by DOE.  The relief measures include a suspension of collection activities on defaulted loans (e.g. wage withholdings and tax offsets), suspension of payments, and 0% interest rate. https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus

Health Care: The American Rescue Plan increases subsidies and lowers premiums for Affordable Care Act marketplace health care plans and provides additional subsidies for individuals who receive unemployment insurance. COBRA premium subsidies are available for up to six months through the end of 2021 for individuals who are unemployed. https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/how-the-american-rescue-plan-will-improve-affordability-of-private-health-coverage/

If you need legal assistance in mid-Missouri, you can apply for legal services from Mid-Missouri Legal Services. Call United Way 2-1-1 number to find available resources for utility, rent, or other assistance. Boone County residents can also go to https://www.como.gov/health/gethelp-coronavirus/

 

 

MMLS Helps Bridge the “Opportunity Gap” for Mid-Missourians

Did you know that Boone County is “among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder?”

Click on the following link to learn more: Missourian

To help reduce this “opportunity gap,” MMLS has launched a Financial Stability Project to expand its representation of low-income consumers in matters that impact their financial stability and economic mobility. MMLS is pleased to welcome consumer attorney Julia Stensby in connection with this project.

Examples of issues for which we can provide legal assistance include:

  • Garnishment and debt collection proceedings;
  • Unlawful and/or predatory loans;
  • Automobile and title cases (including fraud);
  • Credit reporting issues;
  • Employment terminations and wage and hour claims;
  • Appeals of unemployment compensation denials;
  • Contract disputes;
  • Public utility billing practices; and
  • Bankruptcy assistance (limited).

Ms. Stensby will also be working closely with community partners to strengthen collaborations, increase referrals, and connect consumers with financial counseling resources and providers of emergency relief. Community partners, please click this link for a copy of our flyer.

Thank you to Heart of Missouri United Way for providing funds for this project

TIPS TO AVOID CONTRACTOR SCAMS AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS

After a natural disaster, such as the storms and tornadoes that hit Jefferson City this week, community members will come together to help their neighbors with clean-up, re-building, and financial and emotional support. Unfortunately, some people try to take advantage of consumers and homeowners who are anxious to repair their damaged homes. Missouri consumers and homeowners affected by the recent storms and tornadoes need to be on the alert and protect themselves from scams perpetrated by storm-chasers who target survivors of natural disasters.

If you are approached by a company or contractor offering to sell you products or services, take time to ask questions and assess whether the company is a reputable, legitimate business.

Be skeptical – if an offer sounds too good to true, it probably is.

MMLS offers the following tips on warning signs and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Avoid contractors who:

  • Use high-pressure tactics such as offering a “now or never” deal or asking consumers to sign documents immediately;
  • Demand cash up front for the entire amount;
  • Refuse to give an estimate of the job;
  • Are unable to produce local references; or
  • Ask you to obtain the building permit.

The following tips can help you prevent a scam

  • Get recommendations for a contractor from friends, relatives, co-workers, or insurance agent.
  • Check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Home Builder Association, or Attorney General’s Office.
  • Get at least two estimates in writing that itemize the work to be done and separate supplies and labor.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Do not sign a contract quickly without reviewing it carefully. Include an estimated start and end date, the contractor’s obligation to obtain the necessary permits, and any warranties covering materials and workmanship.
  • Ask to see a copy of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance and make sure any subcontractors have liability coverage, preferably under the general contractor’s coverage.  You can ask a friend, relative, or attorney to review the contract. Make sure you have a copy of the signed contract.
  • Get the phone number and street address for the company. If it only gives you a cell phone or post office box, it may be trying to avoid being found.
  • Ask to see the contractor’s business license. A business providing services in Jefferson City and Cole County must have a business license.
  • Ask for and check references from former customers.
  • Never pay in cash. Do not pay full price for services you have yet to receive.
  • Make full payment only when the terms of your agreement have been met.
  • Take a picture of the contractor’s vehicle and license plate number.

Elderly persons and people with disabilities may be targeted by scammers who lie about the extent of damage to parts of the home that the homeowner may not be able to physically access. If you cannot see the damage for yourself, ask for pictures; work with your insurance agent, friends or family to find reputable contractors; and get multiple bids.

Financial exploitation of a person who is elderly or has a disability is a criminal offense. Financial exploitation includes taking money and promising to perform a particular job that the offender does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. You can report financial exploitation to the police or the county prosecuting attorney. Collecting and documenting as much information as you can about the identity, operations, and location of the person(s) taking your money will help the authorities find and charge the perpetrator.

Reporting Scams

Even when a person is careful, they can fall victim to a scam. If you have been a victim of a fraudulent company, report it to the police or the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline. It is not your fault. Reporting the scam can help authorities investigate and stop fraudulent contractors.

Missouri Attorney General Consumer Hotline 800-392-8222 or online https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/consumer-complaints

Other Resources

Mid-Missouri Legal Services www.mmls.org

National Consumer Law Center – Disaster Relief & Consumer Protection https://www.nclc.org/issues/disaster-relief-consumer-protections.html

Attorney General’s Office – Natural Disasters www.ago.mo.gov/civil- division/consumer/consumer-alerts/natural-disasters

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Toll-free 24-hour Elder Abuse/Neglect Hotline: 1-800-392-0210

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Honors a Local Attorney for Pro Bono Service

“Irene Karns, a pro bono attorney for Mid-Missouri Legal Services and a member of the Boone County Bar Association, recently was selected by the Legal Services Corporation of Washington, D.C. to receive a LSC Pro Bono Award. Irene was honored at a Pro Bono Awards Reception on Thursday, January 17, 2019 at Stinson Leonard Street LLP in St. Louis.

Ms. Karns is a retired public defender who has volunteered in MMLS’s Uncontested Divorce Clinic (UDC) for seven years. She has assisted more than 80 clients at the MMLS Columbia office since the Clinic’s inception. The UDC was created by Columbia attorney Brian Taylor, and Ms. Karns has been instrumental in expanding and staffing the Clinic. The UDC is one of the most successful family law clinics in the country, with 90% of participating litigants successfully obtaining their decrees.”

Presenters were from left to right: John Levi, Esq., Chicago, Illinois, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation Irene Karns, Esq., Columbia, MO Victor Maddock of Louisville KY, Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation Jim Sandman of Washington, D.C., Executive Director of the Legal Services Corporation.

Columbia Office

Jefferson City Office