Out of Work Due to Shelter in Place Orders? Here Are Tips for Getting Benefits and Relief – Including for Contractors and Freelancers. Plus, a Critical Task if You Or Someone You Are Caring for Is at High Risk.

By Rachel Puryear, Attorney at Law

If you have lost your source of income due to Shelter in Place orders, you are not alone. Following drastic efforts to slow the spread of the Covid-19/coronavirus; many who are not able to do their usual work (from home at least) are now faced with very real worries about how they will pay their bills and provide for their households’ basic necessities. Many businesses also face big losses as they are forced to either close or limit their services.

Things are going to be uncertain and difficult – on a lot of levels – for a long time. However, remember that we are all in this together, and we can get through this and recover. So for now, here is some information and tips for getting benefits and relief if you are taking an economic hit right now.

Meme with the word “benefits” in the middle, and various types of public benefits in smaller fonts around it.

Unemployment benefits:

If you lost your job or had your work reduced without fault, you were an employee, you meet minimum past earnings requirements, and you are legally authorized to work in the U.S.; you are probably eligible for unemployment benefits. Even if the situation is temporary and you expect to return to work later, you can still get benefits while you are out of work. Unemployment benefits are not limited to specific income levels, but money you earn while you collect benefits must be reported and your benefit payments will be reduced accordingly. You must normally make efforts to look for work to receive benefits, but some states including CA are waiving this requirement for those expected to return to work soon.

You can apply for unemployment benefits through the Employment Development Department (EDD) online at:

https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov/

Have your employment information for the past eighteen months ready when you apply.

Note: Even if you were fired, you could still be eligible, if you were not fired for certain causes like misconduct. If you are unsure, apply anyway and try.

Another note: If you received a W-2 statement at the end of the tax year and had payroll taxes withheld from your check, you were probably an employee, even if you were part-time or had inconsistent hours. If you received a 1099 form instead, and did not have payroll taxes withheld, you were probably not an employee and will not qualify for unemployment benefits – but keep reading to see what assistance you might qualify for.

Here’s a pretty extensive guide to EDD benefits, thanks to The Legal Aid Society:

If You Are Not an Employee:

What about self-employed people, gig workers, contractors, freelancers, and other non-employees suddenly put out of work? Here’s what’s available to 1099 recipients:

  • If you have an incorporated business and pay into unemployment, you may be eligible for benefits.
  • Some big employers of gig workers – including Uber, Instacart, and Amazon (for some) – are paying leave benefits to affected workers. Check with your company to find out what benefits might be offered.
  • If you have a union, your union may negotiate benefits for affected workers. Ask your shop steward what leave benefits might be available.
  • In the event of a major disaster (as declared by the President), workers ineligible for unemployment may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. See https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/597 for more information, in case a major disaster is declared.
  • If you are a non-employee and none of these above options bring you sufficient relief, read on for information about public benefits.

Public Benefits:

If you do not qualify for other assistance, or if other assistance you receive is not enough to meet your household needs, you can apply for means-based benefits and relief.

Health Care:

If you are losing your health care coverage, that is a qualifying life event that will enable you to apply for health care through Covered California. Depending on your current income level, you might qualify for Medi-Cal, or for a plan through the Affordable Care Act. U.S. citizens, legal permanent and temporary residents, humanitarian immigrants, and worker and student visa holders qualify. You can apply online at:

https://www.coveredca.com/

Food Assistance:

If you meet income requirements, you can apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through CalFresh. Although income requirements apply, rules in recent years have been relaxed regarding asset limits, so that low-income people in need of assistance can preserve their savings and other assets. SNAP is available to U.S. citizens, and some non-citizens who are lawfully present. You can apply online at:

https://www.getcalfresh.org/?source=portal

Student Loan Relief:

If you have had a loss of income, and you are paying on federal student loans, you can request deferment or forbearance temporarily. This is not going to provide income for your household directly, but it will be a bill you do not have to pay for a while, thus letting you keep more money. Alternatively, if you can pay less than your normal amount but still pay something; you can request to be enrolled in an income-based repayment program, or to adjust your payment amount if you are already in one. Visit StudentAid, and also your loan servicers to apply for relief:

https://studentaid.gov/manage-loans/lower-payments/get-temporary-relief

Government Stimulus:

At this time, via the bipartisan H.R. 6201 – Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the federal government has authorized one trillion dollars in relief to the U.S. public. Currently, negotiations are going on as to how much each household will get, and whether high-income Americans will qualify, but it appears very likely that Americans will be getting relief checks in the mail soon. This legislation also includes enhanced unemployment benefits, and paid emergency leave. The details are still being refined for now. Stay tuned.

Other Work Options:

If you want to look for a new work-at-home job, I recommend this site:

https://www.theworkathomewoman.com/

Also, remember that certain jobs will be in greater demand for a while – like those in health care, jobs in stores selling essential items, shipping, and emergency services. If your training and skills could apply well to these industries, consider jobs that are newly in demand.

Make Your Voice Heard:

What I have shown you throughout this article is what policies are in place right now. Those may or may not be everything you want them to be. Whatever you think about that, reach out to your representatives and make yourself heard. See https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

Also, remember to vote – who gets elected at all levels is very important to what policies get put in place. If you want a say in policy, then turn out on election day. (If you cannot vote, you can still do things like make calls and canvass for candidates.

Here’s a Critical Task if You Or Someone You Are Caring for is at High Risk:

If you or a person you are caring for is elderly, disabled, in fragile health, or is otherwise especially at risk if you/they were to be infected with the coronavirus; recall whether you have/ask that person whether they have an Advance Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney document in place. If no such document is in place, it is very important to make one.

An Advance Health Care Directive can let your doctor and other medical staff know what your medical wishes are if you were in such a condition where you could not express your own wishes, or how to handle your remains if you pass away. For instance, you could indicate whether you want extraordinary measures taken to save your life if you are in a persistent vegetative state, or whether you wish to be an organ donor upon your death.

A Power of Attorney document authorizes a designated individual to manage your financial and personal affairs if you become incapable of doing so for yourself. For instance, you could designate who you want to pay your bills and sign contracts on your behalf if you have a medical condition which makes you unable to think clearly.

An Advance Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney document are typically combined into a single document. To be valid, this document must either be signed (by the person creating it) before a Notary Public, or signed by the person creating it plus two qualified witnesses. Given current practical difficulties in finding a Notary Public, you may wish to have two witnesses sign the document.

Qualified witnesses may be adults who are not a health care provider of the person making the document, or an employee of a health care provider of the person making the document, or an operator or employee of a community care facility or residential care facility, or a health care agent. At least one witness may not be related to the person making the document, or someone who will inherit from the person making the document. If the person making the document is in a skilled nursing facility, then the document must also be witnessed by a patient advocate or ombudsman.

Here is a link to a basic Advance Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney form for California:

You can use this form if you do not have this document in place already. Once you have completed the form, and had it notarized or witnessed; you should give copies to your doctor(s) and regular medical providers, and also make your wishes widely known to your family, especially those who will most likely be called upon by medical providers to make decisions for you if you become unable to do so.

Shelter In Place Orders:

Here’s a summary of circumstances under which Californians may and may not leave their homes, under the current Shelter in Place orders: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/17/coronavirus-san-francisco-california-shelter-in-place/5073397002/

Please, stay safe and healthy out there. If you are able to help others in any way, please do so – we will all come out of this much better if people help each other out. If you need help, please ask for it – there will always be others willing to help.

As always, dear readers, thank you for reading and for following me. I hope you enjoyed this, and learned something valuable.

** Got a legal subject or question you are curious about? Email it to me at admin@freerangelaw.net. Your question may be discussed in a future blog post!

Please note that the above is offered for educational purposes only. The information presented may not take into account every exception, variation, or complication which could apply to someone’s legal matters. Accordingly, nothing in this post or blog is ever intended as, nor should be construed by or relied upon by anyone, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney who can give you assistance specific to your needs.

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