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:
- New! Understanding Public Benefits in the United States
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
This video series covers the public benefits that may be available to support individuals during times of economic hardship, including during COVID-19. It is available in Arabic, Burmese, Farsi, Spanish, Swahili, and Rohingya.
- COVID-19 Legislation: Quick Facts and Analysis for Refugees and Resettlement Offices
Refugee Council USA (RCUSA)
This document addresses benefits available under all three packages of COVID-19 related legislation relevant to the refugee community and resettlement offices.
- Challenges Refugees Face in Accessing COVID Relief Provisions
This document discusses instances where refugees are having difficulty accessing emergency provisions such as cash payments, unemployment benefits, and COVID-19 testing.
- Immigrant Eligibility for Public Programs During COVID-19
Protecting Immigrant Families
This table provides an overview of federal programs available to individuals and families under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The table includes public charge implications and is available in English and Spanish.
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:
- Understanding the CARES Act: COVID-19 Benefits for Refugees and Asylees:
RCUSA, We Are All America and the National Partnership for New Americans
This April 7, 2020 webinar covered CARES Act topics such as direct cash payments, unemployment insurance during the pandemic, paid family/medical leave, and assistance for small businesses and nonprofits. Also available is an informational flowchart to help refugees and asylees determine if they qualify for CARES Act benefits.
- Receiving the COVID-19 Relief Cash Payment if You Do Not File a Tax Return:
This document provides additional guidance designed to help individuals who did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 access the cash rebate created by the CARES Act.
- Recovery Rebates and Unemployment Compensation under the CARES Act: Immigration-Related Eligibility Criteria
Congressional Research Service
This document reviews the immigration-related eligibility requirements for two types of benefits established by the CARES Act: the recovery rebates and the various forms of federally funded unemployment insurance benefits
- CARES Act Briefs: Explaining the COVID-19 Relief for Latino Families
This series of documents describes provisions related to economic security, education, healthcare, housing, and immigration, specifically for the Latino community. Available in English and Spanish.
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.
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
- 211.org: assistance in obtaining food, paying bills and addressing other needs
- United Way: assistance in obtaining food, paying bills, and addressing other needs
- ICNARelief.org: localized financial aid for rent, utilities, and food
- FoodPantries.org: food pantries by state
- Meals on Wheels: meal delivery for home-bound individuals
Direct Assistance for Workers
- One Fair Wage Emergency Coronavirus Tipped and Service Worker Support Fund: cash assistance to restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery workers, and personal service workers
- Restaurant Workers Community Foundation COVID 19 Crisis Relief Fund: a relief fund for restaurant workers facing economic or health hardships
Support For Small Business Owners
- KIVA: 0% interest loans up to $15,000 with a 6-month grace period
- Restaurant Workers Community Foundation COVID 19 Crisis Relief Fund: 0% interest loans to businesses to maintain payroll, or reopen after the crisis
- Honeycomb Credit: up to $25,000 loans with 6-month interest-only payments