Frequently Asked Questions on Government Response to COVID-19

Hopefully this page is useful to constituents in learning how Congress, the Administration and the Commonwealth of Virginia have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress has passed multiple bills into law to assist individuals and small businesses with effects of this pandemic. H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, H.R. 266 the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, the FY 2021 Appropriations legislation which included another pandemic relief package, and most recently the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021Together, these laws dramatically expand critical financial lifelines for families, establish new benefits and protections for workers, create new tools for small businesses to meet payroll and other expenses, and provide relief for students and schools. More information on these laws and how the Commonwealth of Virgnia has responded can be found below. 

Important websites to bookmark:

 

Economic Impact Payments

Who is eligible for the new $1,400 payment?
Virtually all adults are eligible to receive the Economic Impact Payments. The size of your payment depends on your adjusted gross income and family size. Under the American Rescue Plan, individuals with an adjusted gross income of $80,000 or less ($160,000 for joint filers) are eligible for a one-time payment of up to $1,400, plus an additional $1,400 for each dependent child. The payments start to phase out for individuals earning $75,000 and will cut off completely for anyone who makes more than $80,000. For couples filing jointly, the phaseout starts for those making $150,000 and cuts off at $160,000. For those filing as head of household, the phaseout begins at $112,500 and cuts off at $120,000.

If my income was lower in 2020 than in 2019, how does that affect my payment?
The economic impact payment amount to which you are entitled is determined by your 2020 income. As described above, many individuals and families will receive payment automatically in early 2021 based on their 2019 tax return information. Accordingly, for individuals and families who experienced a drop in income between 2019 and 2020, the EIP amount they receive automatically may be less than what they are entitled to based on their 2020 income. Taxpayers can claim a credit on their 2020 federal income tax return for the difference between (a) the amount they are entitled to under law and (b) the amount they received as an advanced payment. Additional information about eligibility is available at: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment-frequently-asked-questions.

When should I expect to receive my payment?
The IRS has begun sending out economic impact payments. You can track the status of your payment here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.


Unemployment Insurance

Should I apply for unemployment?
If you have been laid off or have had your hours reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you should apply for unemployment through the Virginia Employment Commission here: vec.virginia.gov or you via telephone at 1-866-832-2363.

What are the requirements for receiving unemployment insurance in Virginia?
The Virginia Employment Commission processes all unemployment claims in the Commonwealth. You can file online at vec.virginia.gov or if you are filing an initial claim you can call 1-866-832-2363.

I am self-employed, an independent contractor, gig-economy worker that is not normally eligible for unemployment insurance in Virginia. Will I receive assistance?
Yes, the CARES Act created Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and provides a weekly payment for qualifying individuals, which will be managed by each state. The COVID-19 relief bill that was signed into law in December 2021 extends these benefits through March 14, 2021. You can apply for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation or if you are filing an initial claim you can call 1-866-832-2363. More information can be found here: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/html/pua.html

Can I receive both state unemployment insurance and federal pandemic unemployment compensation?
Yes, through March 14, 2021, the federal government will provide a temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) of $300 a week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) benefits. The FPUC will be paid in addition to and at the same time (but not necessarily in the same check) as regular state or federal UC benefits. The FPUC, combined with the underlying state unemployment benefit, will replace 100 percent of wages for the average U.S. worker. Your patience is requested as the Virginia Employment Commission is handling an unprecedented number of claims. vec.virginia.gov or if you are filing an initial claim you can call 1-866-832-2363. More information can be found here: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/html/pua.html
 

Testing for COVID-19

How does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expand access to testing for COVID-19?
H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, requires health insurers and employer-sponsored health plans to cover COVID-19 testing and related services without cost-sharing and without prior authorization requirements. This protection applies across private health coverage, including the individual and the employer-sponsored market. 

Does the free testing protection apply to people who get coverage through their job?
Yes.

Does this law apply to federal health care programs?  
Yes, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, also ensures that those who receive coverage through federal programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE, Indian Health Service, the V.A. and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program will have access to testing without cost. 

Will I have to meet my deductible before I can access free testing? 
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, testing must be available to the patient for free – this includes no copayments, coinsurance, or deductible payments. 

The test is free, but will consumers have to pay for the office visit?
A visit to the doctor’s office for COVID-19 testing is covered by your insurance.

Will the uninsured have access to testing as well?
Yes, in addition to expanding cost-free testing through both private and public health coverage, H.R. 6201 provides coverage of COVID-19 testing for the uninsured.

Vaccine for COVID-19
 

Is there a vaccine available for COVID-19?
As of March 1st, 2021, there have been three vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization in the United States. 

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine will greatly reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 and will ensure that if you do get the virus, you will have only mild symptoms or none at all.

Does COVID-19 vaccine cost money?
No, the COVID-19 vaccine is being offered at no cost. You may, however be asked for your health insurance information if you are covered. No one will have any out-of-pocket costs.

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Right now the number of individuals eligible for the vaccine far exceeds the supply and it will take several months to get everyone eligible in the 1B group vaccinated. Health experts would urge you to get it once it’s available. Once enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19, we can resume more of the everyday activities we enjoyed before the COVID-19 pandemic. More information on the vaccine and current eligibility requirements can be found here: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/vaccination/

 

Paid Leave

Am I eligible for emergency paid sick leave?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created emergency paid sick leave for those employees at companies with fewer than 500 employees. Unlike the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which is unpaid, eligible employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid job-protected leave with the first two being unpaid and the following ten being paid. Employees may use this leave to take care of their children.  


Relief for Small Business

What if my small business cannot afford to pay sick leave? 
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act authorized a refundable payroll tax credit to reimburse small businesses for paid sick leave and family and medical leave. Click here for an explanation of who is eligible and here for more information on the Employee Retention Credit.

I have to close my business to comply with Governor Northam’s executive order during the pandemic. What assistance is available to keep my business running and assist my employees?
There are several programs that were created by the CARES Act through the Small Business Administration to assist your business: the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury and Disaster Loan ProgramEmergency Economic Injury Grants, and the Small Business Debt Relief Program. Please visit www.sba.gov/coronavirus for additional information. You should also contact your local SBA lender. For a full list of SBA lenders in Virginia, please visit: https://www.sba.gov/offices/district/va/richmond/resources/virginia-sba-lenders.

Paycheck Protection Program Loans

  • Funds for payroll costs, continuing group health care benefits, salaries, rent and utility payments among several others
  • Loan payments will be deferred for six months
  • Program are eligible for loan forgiveness if you maintain your workforce, SBA will forgive the portion of the loan proceeds that are used to cover the first 8 weeks of payroll and certain other expenses, including paying your mortgage, rent, utilities, and interest on pre-existing debt obligations

Economic Injury and Disaster Loans Program and Emergency Economic Injury Grants

  • Up to $2 million in assistance that can be used to pay immediate expenses during an emergency
  • $10,000 advance payment that does not need to be repaid for businesses and may be used to keep employees on payroll, pay for sick leave, meet increased production costs due to supply chain disruptions, or pay business obligations, including debts, rent and mortgage payments.

Small Business Debt Relief Program

  • Immediate relief to small businesses with non-disaster SBA loans, in particular 7(a), 504, and microloans
  • SBA will cover all loan payments on these SBA loans, including principal, interest, and fees, for six months

Housing

I am experiencing homelessness, how can I access assistance?
If you are experiencing homelessness, or think you are at risk of losing your housing, you can go to the nearest homeless shelter or other homeless provider to seek assistance. Please find an extended FAQ regarding housing issues here.

Renters

What kind of relief is provided for renters?
For renters living in “covered dwellings” (see next question below for this definition), the CARES Act provides a temporary moratorium on evictions as well as late fees for nonpayment of rent or other charges for a period of 120 days starting on March 27, 2020. Renters should be advised that the moratorium only applies to evictions for nonpayment of rent, not for other causes. Renters should also be advised that although they may be protected from eviction proceedings temporarily under this bill, the bill does not treat nonpayment of rent during this period as forgiven and these unpaid amounts will accrue during this period even if fees are not assessed.

What is a “covered dwelling”?
A “covered dwelling” is rental housing supported by any of the following federal housing programs:

  • Public housing;
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers;
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance;  
  • Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly;
  • Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities;
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA);
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance grants;
  • Section 236 Preservation program;
  • HOME investment partnerships;
  • Rural Development multifamily housing (Section 516 Farm Labor Housing Grants, Section 542 Rural Development Vouchers, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, Section 533 Housing Preservation grants);
  • the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program;

It also includes rental housing with a single-family or multifamily mortgage that is:

  • purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac;
  • insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA);
  • guaranteed, directly provided by, or insured by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA);
  • guaranteed, directly provided by, or insured by the Department of Agriculture (USDA); or
  • guaranteed under HUD’s Native American or Native Hawaiian Home Loan Guarantee programs.

Some renters will know that their home is included because they recognize the name of a federal housing program on the list above that they had to apply and qualify for. However, if you’re not sure whether your rental unit is included, you can search the National Preservation Database, which includes most of the covered dwellings, but not all.

Homeowners

Who is eligible for homeowner assistance?
Homeowners with “federally backed mortgages” are eligible for assistance. You can read more here.

What assistance is available for eligible homeowners?
Homeowners with federally backed mortgages are provided with a foreclosure moratorium of at least 60 days starting on March 18, 2020. This includes the initiation of new foreclosure as well as the continuation of a foreclosure that has already been initiated. Homeowners are also provided with the right to request and receive forbearance on their mortgage payments for up to 6 months (which can be extended for an additional 6 months). Mortgage forbearance is not a forgiveness of debt, and you will have to work out a loan modification or repayment plan with your loan servicer to cover the months your mortgage was in forbearance. You are encouraged to seek out housing counseling assistance. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved counseling agencies can be found here.

Access to Meals

How did the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) affect WIC benefits?
The FFCRA provides half a billion dollars for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the coronavirus emergency. While it is normally required to certify and recertify in person, H.R. 6201 allows for that requirement to be waived. If you are pregnant or have children under the age of five, WIC may be able to help. Visit myvawic.org or call 888-942-3663. Additionally, WIC Virginia is allowing more varieties of certain food items due to COVID-19. To learn more about Virginia WIC’s COVID-19 response and to find updates on expanded food options, visit vdh.virginia.gov/wic/covid19.

How did the FFCRA address the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)?
The FFCRA provided $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist local food banks, $100 million of which can be used to cover the cost of food distribution.

Where can seniors get meals?
The FFCRA provided $250 million to provide approximately 25 million additional home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to seniors who depend on Senior Nutrition programs in their communities. The Food Bank of the Virginia Peninsula and the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore are currently providing food to households that are experiencing food access challenges “drive through style” and posting updates on their websites. Additionally, Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia’s Meals on Wheels clients will continue to receive meal deliveries. Please note that Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia congregate meal sites are closed at the current time and workshops have been delayed. You can call SSEVA for more information at 757-461-9481.

Where can children get meals?
The FFCRA allows child and adult care centers to offer food to-go and gives the Secretary of Agriculture flexibility to grant permission to providers to ensure that meals are distributed in a way that avoids the spread of coronavirus. Along with the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, the Food Bank of the Virginia Peninsula, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, school districts in Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District are providing "grab-n-go" bagged meal services on weekdays while schools are closed. Please click the following links to find out more and note that children may need to be present to pick up meals.

  • Franklin City Public Schools - Lunches and snacks will be provided at S.P. Morton Elementary School from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at eight “meal stops.”
  • Newport News Public Schools – Breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner can be picked up at a number of school and mobile locations from 4 p.m to 5 p.m Monday - Friday. On Fridays, families can pick-up breakfast and lunches for Saturday and Sunday.
  • Portsmouth Public Schools - Breakfasts and lunches can be picked up at schools between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. on school days. Students must be present to pick-up meals. There will also be meal deliveries in select neighborhoods.
  • Chesapeake Public Schools – Meals, either for three or four days at a time, can be picked up between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.  Instructions for reheating will be provided. Families may pick up meals at any school that is convenient for them and students do not need to be present for meal pick-ups.
  • Hampton City Schools – Information on meals or meal kits is available on Hampton City Schools’ website.
  • Norfolk Public Schools – Supper, as well as breakfast, lunch, and a snack for the following day can be picked up each weekday at a number of school and mobile locations.
  • Suffolk Public Schools – Breakfasts and lunches can be picked up from 9 AM to noon each weekday at King’s Fork High School and a number of mobile locations.
  • Isle of Wight County Schools – All students, regardless of financial situation, are eligible to recieve five days-worth of breakfasts and lunches on Fridays at three locations—Georgie Tyler Middle School in Windsor, Smithfield High School, and Carrsville Elementary. Meals can be picked up from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

Please note, in accordance with the FFCRA, the Food and Nutrition Service has granted a nationwide waiver allowing sites to permit parents and/or guardians to pick up meals for their children, without the student needing to be present. 

Virginia 2-1-1 also has information for those in need of assistance during this time. You may call 2-1-1 or visit 211virginia.org. Services include economic assistance, individual family and community support, clothing and household materials, food, mental health, utility assistance, and transportation assistance. 

The United Way of South Hampton Roads can be contacted at (757) 858-777 or via their website, https://unitedwayshr.org/coronavirus-help/. Additional information on resources is available ghrconnects.org.

The National Domestic Abuse Hotline has information about as domestic abuse as well as resources for people. Those in need of assistance may call the hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit their website, thehotline.org

 

Student Loans

When do I have to make my student loan payments? 
Student loan and interest payments are suspended until September 30, 2021 for all federally owned loans without any penalty to the borrower. The Department of Education has halted all involuntary collection of federal student loan debt, including wage garnishment and tax refund offset. 

Do I need to apply to suspend my payments or interest?
No. Through September 30, 2021, the interest rate is set to 0% and payments are suspended for student loans owned by the federal government. Your federal student loan servicer will suspend all interest and payments without any action from you. You do not need to contact your student loan servicer. If you made a payment toward your federally-held student loans, you can request a refund from your student loan servicer. However, if you are financially able to make payments or continue making payments on your student loans, any payments you make will be applied directly to principal. This will help you pay off your loans faster.

How do I know if my loan is eligible? Are interest and payments suspended on all of my student loans, including my private student loans?
No. The suspension of payments applies only to student loans that are held by the federal government, which are the vast majority of student loans issued since 2010. Some federal student loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program are owned by commercial lenders, and some Perkins Loans are held by the institution or school you attended. Your FFEL lender or school may choose to suspend interest and payments on a voluntary basis, but they are not required by law to do so. You can contact your servicer to find out if these options are available to you. The benefits authorized by the CARES Act also do not apply to private (non-federal) student loans owned by banks, credit unions, schools, or other private entities. Many private student loan lenders are offering extended forbearance options and other benefits. However, please note that private lenders may continue to allow interest to accrue during a forbearance. Contact your lender or servicer for more information.

I am working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, what impact can this have on my progress?
If you are working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) you need to be aware of a few key items. Only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF. All Direct Loans are owned by the federal government. For Direct Loans, even though payments are suspended, those suspended payments will count as though you had made a payment toward the 120 required payments for forgiveness under PSLF as long as you have met the other the PSLF program requirements. If you have other types of federal loans and are working in public service, you can consolidate most, if not all, of those loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan, which is eligible for PSLF if other program requirements are met.

My federal student loans are in default. Is there anything I can do?
The Department of Education has stopped the collection of defaulted federal student loans, including garnishment of wages and the offset of tax refunds and Social Security benefits until September 30, 2021. In addition, the CARES Act and the Biden Administration suspended interest for federally-owned loans that are in default, through September 30, 2021. There is no additional action required from you for your federally-owned loans. For all other defaulted federal loans, contact your loan holder to find out about your options.
 


Farmers and Agricultural Producers

Are agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers eligible for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?
Agricultural producers, farmers, and ranchers with 500 or fewer employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States are eligible. Farms are eligible if: (i) the farm has 500 or less employees, OR (ii) it fit within the revenue-based sized standard, which is an average of annual receipts of $1M. Additionally, farms can qualify for PPP if it meets SBA’s “alternative size standard.” The “alternative size standard” is currently: (1) a maximum net worth of the business not more than $15 million, AND (2) the average net income Federal income taxes of the business for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application be not more than $5 million.

Are agricultural, and other forms of cooperatives eligible for PPP?
As long as other eligibility requirements are met, small agricultural cooperatives may receive PPP loans. Other forms of cooperatives may be eligible provided they comply with all other Loan Program Requirements (as defined in 13 CFR 120.10).

Do H-2A or H-2B workers on my payroll count towards my eligibility and total possible loan amount?
Only employees with a principal place of residence in the U.S. count toward eligibility and calculation of the PPP loan amount.

How do sole proprietor farmers provide accurate documentation regarding payroll, when they may not take a traditional salary?
SBA requires sole proprietors, independent contractors, and other eligible self-employed individuals to provide documentation to its lender that the business was in operation as of February 15, 2020. This documentation may include payroll processor records, payroll tax filings, or Form 1099-MISC, or income and expenses from a sole proprietorship. For borrowers that do not have any such documentation, the borrower must provide other supporting documentation to its lender, such as bank records, sufficient to demonstrate the qualifying payroll amount.

For more information on how the CARES Act supports farmers and ranchers, please see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide here.

Other Questions

I need to visit the Social Security Administration office but it is closed. What can I do? 
All Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices are closed to the public due to coronavirus safety concerns for both employees and visitors. To contact your local office, please use this  website: https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp#officeResults or you can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. If you are having difficulty with SSA, my office may be able to assist. For more information on how my office can assist you, or to open up a case, please click here.

Will the DMV be open? 
To minimize customer volume at DMV offices and testing sites, appointments are required for specific services generally necessitating in-person service. More information can be found here

Issues: