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Helping Your Clients Navigate Economic Hardship During the COVID-19 Crisis

Last Updated: August 5, 2020.

Note: The information provided in this post is current as of the date listed above, but the federal and state response to COVID-19 is rapidly changing. We’ll do our best to update as we are aware of new information, but please be sure to stay abreast of national and local news on these issues. The information in this post was compiled by Saba Imran, Carrie Thiele, Laura Wagner and Daniel Wilkinson, with editorial assistance from Meg Gibbon.

While resettlement staff may have the option of working from home, many clients do not. Many industries in which our clients work have been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. Unfortunately, for many clients, this will mean reduced hours or even loss of employment. As clients face challenges related to employment and reach out to you with questions, we want to help you be prepared. Here are some resources to get you started on helping clients to understand their rights and access federal and state benefits, as well as information about other non-governmental resources. 

Caption: Estimates from the U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index, a project from Cornell University Law School and others, indicate that more than 37 million jobs in the United States are vulnerable to layoffs in the short term, many of which are considered low-wage jobs (providing a weekly income of less than $801.47). Visualization by Vox.

Understanding Relief Legislation and Eligibility
The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division has developed a helpful webpage, COVID-19 and the American Workplace, that provides fact sheets, FAQ’s, and posters. Topics include common issues employers and employees face when responding to COVID-19, its effects on wages and hours worked under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Some resources are available in multiple languages.

Several organizations have developed resources summarizing recent legislation as it relates to refugees and other immigrants:

Unemployment Insurance (UI) and the CARES Act
UI provides cash benefits to eligible workers whose jobs have been terminated through no fault of their own and to workers whose jobs have been put on hold. The federal government has provided new guidance for states to add increased flexibility to their UI laws due to COVID-19. The newly passed Federal Economic Stimulus Package has expanded unemployment insurance to provide additional federal payments (e.g. benefits for gig workers) in addition to normal benefits. Reach out to your state unemployment insurance department for the most up to date information. You can help your clients by filing their claims online. It may be helpful to use a smartphone app such as Camscanner (available for iPhone and Android) to scan and upload client documents. To learn more, see Switchboard’s information guide Supporting Clients During Times of Economic Hardship: Accessing Unemployment Insurance Benefits

The CARES Act adds $260 billion to enhance unemployment insurance, among other benefits. Several organizations have developed resources outlining CARES Act benefits for refugees and other immigrants:

Note for Matching Grant (MG) programs: As lay-offs are occurring in many of the industries common to MG employment, note that unemployment insurance is not ‘Public Cash Assistance’. You should encourage and help clients in applying for such assistance, if helpful.  That being said, although unemployment compensation is allowable, it cannot be counted as employment income in determining self-sufficiency status at days 120 and 180.

Small Business Ownership and the CARES Act
The CARES Act also includes provisions for small business owners, independent contractors, and nonprofits. The following materials may be useful for your non-profit organization to consider and/or when you are navigating CARES Act benefits with clients who are entrepreneurs or self-employed.

  • Coronavirus Relief Options
    The U.S. Small Business Administration
    This web page provides information on the temporary small business assistance programs established by the CARES Act.
  • Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act.
    U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
    This guide provides information about the major programs and initiatives available from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address business owners’ needs, as well as some additional tax provisions that are outside the scope of SBA.
  • Infographic – CARES Act for Small Businesses and Nonprofits
    The American Business Immigration Coalition
    This infographic explains the CARES Act benefits for small businesses and non-profits, focusing on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This infographic is also available in Spanish. Also available are a March 31 webinar discussing the Paycheck Protection Program and live updates about relief options and the paycheck protection program.
  • Guide to Independent Contractors’ CARES Act Relief
    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    This guide includes information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans/grants and Small Business Administration SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Under the FMLA, covered employers must provide employees job-protected, unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, which may include the flu where complications arise. Employees on FMLA leave are entitled to the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms as existed before they took FMLA leave. This Department of Labor COVID-19 and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Q&A page provides answers to common questions about FMLA and COVID-19.      

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
This recently passed law goes into effect on April 2, 2020 and will stay in place till December 31, 2020. The FFCRA requires certain employers to provide employees with expanded family and medical leave and emergency paid sick leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. For more details on this law, associated benefits and eligibility, see this Department of Labor Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) page.

The Department of Labor has also developed a downloadable fact sheet, Employee Rights: Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave under The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which is also available in Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Hmong, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Future Legislation
An additional COVID-19 relief package is under development and is set to be passed by the end of May or sooner. A new bill on Relaunching America’s Workforce Act (RAWA) has been submitted which could add an additional $15 billion to workforce development, adult education, and postsecondary education systems.

Other Community Resources to Keep in Mind
Remind clients to reach out to local ethnic and community-based organizations, as well as local food pantries, to get supplies or assistance with paying rent and utilities. Here are a few organizations to reach out to that are working to provide temporary assistance to individuals and small business owners:

Community Assistance for Clients

    • assistance in obtaining food, paying bills and addressing other needs
    • United Way: assistance in obtaining food, paying bills, and addressing other needs
    • localized financial aid for rent, utilities, and food
    • food pantries by state
    • Meals on Wheels: meal delivery for home-bound individuals

Direct Assistance for Workers

Support For Small Business Owners

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