Q&A: Federal Aid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed several pieces of legislation to help meet health care needs and provide financial relief to families and businesses. New laws include:

  • Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act
  • Families First Coronavirus Response Act
  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act
  • Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act

Here are answers to some questions you might have about how these laws could affect you:

Am I eligible to receive an economic stimulus check?
Under the CARES Act, all U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) who are not a dependent of another taxpayer and have a work-eligible Social Security number have received, or will receive, a onetime $1,200 payment ($2,400 for joint filers) and an additional $500 per child.

The $1,200 or $2,400 payment drops by $5 for each $100 that a taxpayer’s income exceeds the $75,000 or $150,000 threshold, with income amounts based on 2019 federal tax returns (or, if unavailable, 2018 returns).

Does my health insurance include care related to COVID-19?
Health plans, including private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid, are required to cover diagnostic testing for COVID-19 at no cost to patients. Tests must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration or individual states, provided by labs on an emergency basis or deemed appropriate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If you’re uninsured, you can receive a COVID-19 test and related services at no cost, if your state’s Medicaid program offers that option.

Also, to ensure patients have needed medicines on hand, Medicare Part D plans are required to fill or refill prescriptions for up to a 90-day supply if a patient requests it. If you have private insurance, check to see whether refill limitations have been eased.

What if I don’t have health insurance?
If you’re facing the coronavirus pandemic without health insurance, you may be eligible to enroll in a health plan with standardized benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Those who become uninsured because of a job loss or other factors may be eligible to enroll in an ACA plan outside the usual open enrollment period in the fall. Changes in income or a death in the family can also be considered a Qualifying Life Event that makes it possible to enroll.

Some states have opened special enrollment periods that allow people without health insurance through a job or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid to sign up for health insurance under the ACA.

Visit healthcare.gov to learn about enrollment opportunities in your state.

The American Heart Association and our public health partners are urging federal policymakers to create a special enrollment period for all states.

How have the rules changed for telehealth and remote care?
Check with your health care providers. In general, telehealth services are more readily available now than they were before the pandemic. High-deductible health plans may waive the deductible for telehealth and other remote care services, even if not related to COVID-19. Medicare beneficiaries are not required to have a pre-existing relationship with a provider to use telehealth services from that provider during the COVID-19 emergency period.

Patients on home dialysis are no longer required to have a nephrologist conduct some required evaluations face-to-face.

Am I eligible for COVID-19-related unemployment benefits?
Workers who are furloughed or laid off due to the coronavirus crisis may be eligible for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation supplement of $600 per week, in addition to unemployment benefits offered by their state. The federal benefits last through July 2020.

Other special unemployment programs in response to the coronavirus include the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which extends benefits an extra 13 weeks. In addition, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provides unemployment benefits for independent contractors and self-employed, freelance and part-time workers. Check your state’s unemployment program for details.

Do provisions of these new federal laws apply to home mortgages and rent?
People with home mortgages backed by federal loans may be eligible to have their payments held or reduced. (Check with the company servicing your loan to learn whether it is government-backed and what relief might be available.) Also, renters may be protected from eviction and late-payment fees. Some states have taken similar actions.

Congress also increased funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay their energy bills, and for various federal housing and homeless assistance programs.

What about food assistance?
Congress provided additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, which helps ensure that low-income Americans receive the food they need.

To apply for SNAP, contact your state SNAP office or one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services regional offices.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides food assistance to low-income pregnant women or mothers. Check online to see whether you may be eligible, find out how to apply and learn more about WIC in your state. Congress increased funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help food banks meet increased demand. To find food assistance near you, call the USDA’s National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE.

Congress also provided emergency funding for child nutrition programs nationwide to ensure students still receive free or reduced-price school meals during the pandemic. Rules for each state’s program have been eased.

What if I need to take emergency paid leave from work?
Congress passed emergency paid leave provisions that help protect families’ financial security. See this employee fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Is aid available to help repay student loans?
Federal law now provides broad relief for federal student loan borrowers, including an administrative forbearance that allows student borrowers to stop making payments through Sept. 30, 2020. For some loans, interest will temporarily be reduced to 0%. See this student aid FAQ from the U.S. Department of Education. (The FAQ also includes information about ongoing financial aid while campuses are closed.)

In addition, employers can provide a tax-free student loan repayment benefit this year of up to $5,250. That cap also includes any employer-provided educational assistance such as tuition and books granted under current law. The payment isn’t counted in the employee’s income and is not subject to federal tax.

Where do I find information about small-business loans?
The Small Business Administration is providing forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits through the Paycheck Protection Program.

May I deduct gifts to charity from my federal income tax?
Federal law now lets you deduct up to $300 in cash contributions to charity, whether or not you itemize your taxes in 2020.