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The Sikh Coalition News
April 2, 2020
  • $2 Trillion COVID-19 Federal Relief Analysis

    To read this email in Punjabi, please click here.

    April 2, 2020 (Washington, DC) -- On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, designed to provide some additional relief to families and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. This federal legislation builds on the previous Families First Coronavirus Response Act and is designed to provide more free COVID-19 testing and additional unemployment benefits, while also giving Americans and businesses economic relief. This is the largest financial assistance bill in the history of the United States, but it might not be the last federal emergency aid package in this COVID-19 crisis. As more bills are signed into law, we will continue to provide information--including a detailed follow-up analysis on the specifics surrounding this bill and small businesses.

    This is a high level summary of what the federal CARES Act means for you and your family here in the United States.

    Impact on Citizenship

    Immigrants should be aware that obtaining federally funded benefits, apart from those provided under the CARES Act or previously passed Families First Act, could impact future visa and citizenship applications. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has released a factsheet on the Public Charge Rule and has issued this statement. We encourage any non-U.S. citizen seeking government assistance to speak with an attorney specializing in immigration law and/or public assistance programs who can advise you about what programs you may be eligible for and to what extent receiving these benefits may impact your immigration status.

    Cash Payments

    The CARES Act will provide Americans with a one time, tax-free check that should be delivered in April. You do not need to apply to be eligible. If you have filed income-taxes in 2019 or 2018, have a Social Security Number, and meet IRS residency requirements, the payment will automatically be sent to you. Green card holders are also eligible for payment if they meet these requirements. Individuals without a Social Security Number, such as those with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), will not receive cash payments, even if some of their dependent family members have Social Security Numbers that are valid for employment. If the IRS does not have the taxpayer’s bank account information, look for a letter from the IRS detailing how to receive payment.

    Individuals who have a gross adjusted income up to $75,000 will receive a $1,200 check, plus an additional $500 for every qualifying child age 16 or younger. Married couples earning up to $150,000 will receive $2,400, plus an additional $500 for every qualifying child age 16 or younger. Children claimed as dependents for the $500 rebate must have a valid Social Security Number. Reduced checks, on a sliding scale, will go out to single people earning up to $99,000 or married couples who earn up to $198,000. For most Americans, the money is likely to arrive via direct deposit; mailed checks may take longer.

    If your income has declined between 2018 and 2019, it is recommended that you file your 2019 return. Individuals who earned too much in 2018 and 2019 but now lost their jobs will not be eligible for relief checks right away; instead, they would get a rebate when they file their 2020 taxes next year. Individuals on social security are eligible to receive the relief payment as long as their total income does not exceed the limits above. Low-income individuals on Social Security do not need to file a tax return. As long as they received an SSA-1099 form, the federal government will send them a payment in the same way that they usually get their social security payments. Retirees and people on disability are both eligible for the special payment.

    Sick Leave and Medical Care

    Sick leave was expanded under the Families First Act, and the CARES Act has provided additional clarification for certain individuals. Individuals laid off on March 1, 2020 or later, who were employed for 30 of the 60 days prior to layoff and were then rehired by the same employer, will now be eligible for emergency family and medical leave.

    All testing and potential vaccines for COVID-19 will be covered at no cost to patients. The CARES Act provided important benefits to tax-free accounts. Health Savings Accounts (HSA), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA) can now obtain over-the-counter drugs and medicines without a prescription. Additionally, those with high-deductible health plans can use their HSA to cover telehealth services prior to reaching the deductible. For more detailed information of what was previously passed pertaining to sick leave and medical care, please read our earlier Families First Act analysis.

    Small Business Support

    Once implemented, there will be many new resources available for small businesses, as well as certain non-profits and other employers. This guide by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship provides information about the major programs and initiatives that will soon be available from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address these needs, as well as some additional tax provisions that are outside the scope of the SBA.

    Retirement Funds

    In the event that you or someone in your family needs to access retirement funds during the coronavirus pandemic, this law has waived the normal 10% early withdrawal penalty for amounts up to $100,000. This is retroactive back to January 1, 2020 and is valid through December 31, 2020. Withdrawals will still be taxed like they normally are, but taxpayers can choose to repay them over three years with zero tax liability. Additionally, 401(k) loan limits are increased from $50,000 to $100,000.

    Retirees are not obligated to meet their Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from their IRAs and 401(k) plans (at age 72) for 2020. This gives those accounts more time to recover from the stock market downturns, and retirees who can afford to leave their accounts alone will not be taxed on mandatory withdrawals.

    Relief for Homeowners and Renters

    This latest legislation also provides assistance to homeowners and renters. Homeowners with FHA, USDA, or VA, and those with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, have the right to request forbearance on their payments for up to six months, with a possible extension for another six months without fees, penalties, or extra interest. Homeowners should contact their mortgage servicing company directly.

    Renters residing in public or assisted housing, or in a home or apartment whose owner has a federally-backed mortgage, and who are unable to pay their rent are protected from eviction for four months. Property owners are also prohibited from issuing a 30-day notice to a tenant to vacate a property until after the 4-month moratorium ends. This protection covers properties that receive federal subsidies such as public housing, Section 8 assistance, USDA rural housing programs, and federally-issued or guaranteed mortgages. Renters whose landlord is not abiding by the moratorium should contact the relevant federal agency that administers their housing program or their local Legal Aid office.

    Low income Americans can also obtain assistance for heating and cooling their homes with energy assistance programs. To learn more about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in your state, click here.

    Student Assistance

    Federal student loan payments are postponed until October, 2020 without interest. Borrowers will not have their credit dinged for suspended payments, and the postponement would not interrupt progress towards any federal loan forgiveness programs. This suspension of payments does not apply to private loans. For additional guidance on how to apply and learn about next steps for when this relief becomes available, please visit the U.S. Department of Education.

    Additionally of note, college students will not receive a one-time tax free check if anyone claims them as dependent on a tax return. Usually, students under the age of 24 are dependents to the IRS if a parent pays for at least half of their expenses.

    Additional Unemployment Benefits

    The CARES Act has also increased unemployment benefits by $600 a week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation. Generally, tip workers, gig economy workers, and self-employed workers will not be eligible for this additional unemployment benefit, but may qualify for others. Each state has its own work history requirements to be eligible for unemployment insurance, but the new law will waive the one week waiting period and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits. To learn more about other state benefits that you might be eligible for, check our state benefits page.

    Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a federal program only for work-authorized immigrants (including DACA and TPS recipients, if still work authorized). This does not include undocumented workers or others without work authorization. Receiving unemployment benefits will not create any risk of negative immigration consequences under the new "public charge" rule or any other law or regulation.

    This law also creates a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to assist self-employed and independent contractors who are unemployed, partially employed, or unable to work due to the pandemic. Workers are eligible for retroactive benefits as of January 27, 2020 and can access benefits for a maximum of 39 weeks. However, this program also does not cover undocumented workers. Taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers; Grubhub and Postmate deliverers; Airbnb hosts; and other gig-economy workers and freelance workers will also be eligible to obtain these benefits. How much a gig worker will be eligible to receive depends on their previous income and state unemployment laws. Additionally, cities have created relief funds for gig workers, mutual aid groups have stepped up to help gig workers in need, and some corporations are offering benefits to gig workers who use their services.

    Please expect more COVID-19 support and resources to follow from our team in the days ahead, including any significant updates and additional information on COVID-19 federal emergency funds and legislation as they are passed.

    As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.
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