We have heard stories of lost jobs to short rent/mortgage payments from our clients, family, and friends…this COVID quarantine is placing financial stress on everyone. While everyone might be affected, some people have more financial protections than others. And the protections and help that do exist can be hard to find, understand, or navigate. This really hit home after talking with a client who we’ve grown close to over the years.
Robert has given me permission to use his name and share this information to help others. Robert confided to me that he was laid off two weeks ago and was worried about how he can make ends meet over the next two months. He has struggled in the past to find work that could support his family because of his criminal history. But he has worked really hard and, using his words, “finally got a legit job and off the street.”
I suggested to Robert a few resources I had heard about. At the time, I didn’t know much about these things other than what I heard on the news. Robert told me about how he was running around in circles trying to get unemployment set up (unsuccessfully), his landlord sent him a notice about late rent fees and the threat of eviction, not filing taxes in the past so he wouldn’t be getting the $1200+ stimulus check.
So, my staff and I spent the afternoon getting educated on some of the help available. We gave this information to Robert (who was able to get his unemployment benefits set up) and now we’re offering it to you. We’ll cover Unemployment, Stimulus Checks, Utilities Assistance, and Relief for Renters and Mortgage Holders.
The TWC hit some stumbling blocks at first. The system was overwhelmed and there was much confusion. But it is essential that you give it a consistent effort and don’t let their hiccups deny you of benefits.
Apply for benefits as soon as you can! Your claim starts the week you complete the application and funds are delivered shortly after benefits are approved.
Most everyone reading will apply in Texas. But you must apply for benefits with the state where you worked during your base period. If you worked in more than one state, see If You Earned Wages in More than One State.
If your last job was for a temporary agency or staff leasing company, you have additional requirements:
- If your last job was for a temporary agency, you must immediately contact the temporary agency for a new assignment and wait three business days after your assignment ended before applying for benefits. The agency has three business days to offer you a new assignment.
- If your last job was for a staff leasing company, you must immediately contact the staff leasing company for a new assignment.
Read about how temporary work affects your benefits.
Apply for benefits in one of two ways:
- Apply online at Unemployment Benefit Servicesby selecting Apply for Benefits. Read the Applying for Unemployment Benefits Tutorial for help applying online.
- Call a Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 and speak to a customer service representative.
Information You Need to Apply
You will need:
- Your last employer’s business name, address and phone number
- First and last dates (month, day and year) you worked for your last employer. If you worked for your last employer on more than one occasion, provide the most recent employment dates.
- Number of hours worked and pay rate if you worked the week you apply for benefits (Sunday through Saturday)
- Information about the normal wage for the job you are seeking
- Alien Registration number (if not a U.S. citizen)
Your Unemployment Benefit Services Password
When you sign up for online services, you will select a User ID and password. Your password protects your identity and privacy. It has the same legal authority as your signature on a paper document. Do not give your password to anyone, not even to a family member or TWC employee. You are responsible for any payment request made using your User ID and password.
If you have a User ID and password from WorkInTexas.com, use that User ID and password to logon to Unemployment Benefit Services. For more about the password requirements, go to Managing Your Benefits Password & PIN.
Establish and Change Payment Options
When you apply for benefits, TWC offers you one of two ways to get your benefit payments:
- Direct deposit, which is a direct payment into your personal checking or savings account in a United States bank or credit union
- Debit card, which is issued by the TWC-contracted bank TWCwill deposit payments to the TWC debit card account unless you sign up for direct deposit.
If you signed up for direct deposit on a prior claim, TWC will use the checking or savings account information you previously provided.
To select or change your payment option online or by phone:
- Log on to texasworkforce.organd select Payment Option from the Quick Links menu.
- Call Tele-Serv at 800-558-8321 and select option 5.
OBTAINING YOUR STIMULUS CHECK
Most every taxpayer is entitled to a part of the government-backed CARES stimulus package. If you were/could be claimed by a parent or guardian on their taxes, you will not qualify. However, they will qualify for a little more money because of you. How much you ask?
How do I get mine?
For those who regularly file taxes:
- The IRS will use tax information from 2018 taxes you have filed or 2019 taxes if you have already filed them.
- The check will either be mailed to the address you have on file or they will be directly deposited to your bank account.
- The earliest they will be deposited is sometime in April and the latest someone could see a paper check will be in September.
For those who haven’t filed taxes or who owe back taxes:
Good news! The federal government is still issuing stimulus checks for most individuals who have had tax issues or who haven’t been filing.
- We have found TurboTax to be a great resource to get you going. Use their easy to use step by step guide to claim your stimulus check. Your one stop resource
During this time, it is important to note that our community is coming together to work through this hurdle we all have to jump over. The City of Austin is taking steps to make sure that people facing hardships will continue having access to utilities. In response to COVID-19, the city of Austin has created the Utility Bill Relief.
These measures will be in place from now to September 30, 2020:
- All utility disconnects for non-payment are suspended and all late fees are waived.
- All customers in need will be placed on payment arrangements.
- Regulatory electric charges are reduced by 32% for residential and commercial customers, which will result in about a 4% reduction of the total bill. This change for residential customers is in effect immediately and on May 1, 2020 for commercial customers.
- Rates for all residential electric customers are set at 7.814 cents/kWh for usage above 1,000 kWh.
- Residential water rates (Tiers 1-3) and wastewater (Tiers 1-2) volume are reduced by 10%.
- Customer Assistance Program (CAP) Utility Bill Discounts on electric charges are increased from 10% to 15%. Customers with household incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level may receive the CAP discount.
- The Financial Support Plus 1 fund has received additional funding. Customers who experience financial hardship due to the effects of COVID-19 are eligible for the Plus 1 Program.
RELIEF FOR RENTERS AND MORTGAGE HOLDERS
While everyone is still obligated to pay rent and mortgage during this time, there are three avenues to get some relief.
- Rent Assistance
- Eviction Prevention
- Late Fee Abatement
There are programs that can provide temporary help with costs during this time. As of Monday, April 6, the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Centers will be providing rent and utilities assistance. You can call 512-972-5780 or visit on the web the Austin Public Health Site for more information.
Additional financial assistance may be found through these organizations:
- Catholic Charities of Central Texas (512) 651-6100
- St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church (512) 345-8314
- St. Vincent de Paul, St. Austin’s Catholic Church Submit by email at [email protected].
- Travis County Family Support Services Division (512) 267-3245
- Salvation Army (512) 476-1111
- AIDS Services of Austin (512) 458-2437
- Family Eldercare (population served are seniors and adults with disabilities) (512) 450-0844
- LifeWorks (ages 24 and below) (512) 473-9125
The local courts who deal with evictions have issued rules and guidance that they will not be taking any eviction proceedings for at least 60 days. Effectively, this means that you cannot be evicted in Travis County at this time. The Austin City Council further backed the judges by approving a 60-day grace period. This also applies to businesses and organizations as well. The Texas Supreme Court also issued an order preventing the filing of any evictions through April 19 (however the local rules extend beyond the April 19 date)
If you need relief with your rent, your first step should be to communicate in writing to your landlord. Ask your landlord to offer a plan. Explain that you desire to maintain your living situation and that you are firmly committed to paying your rent however, due to financial circumstances, you need a temporary plan.
Should your land lord be unwilling to establish a workable plan, you can contact a lawyer such as Randy Langford. Randy has a unique approach to establishing a workable solution using law and the current protections afforded to you. He is doing this very affordably for those in need at this time.
Late Fee Abatement
While no legislation has directly dealt with late fees, landlords should strongly consider waiving late fees. Several judges have indicated that they would not include late fees accrued during the COVID quarantine in any future eviction proceedings. We think it is very wise to make as much rent payment as you can during this time. Your efforts will have a strong influence on any eviction proceedings should a landlord proceed with one in the future.
Again, communicate to your landlord in writing. Explain your situation, ask for a plan, and request waiver of late fees.
We hope that these resources help you find some relief. It is imperative that you pursue any and all options, as quickly as you can. As time goes on, these resources may get scarce. Protect yourself and your family while thinking about the future. We will eventually be through this and we hope you all can take the necessary steps to be in a position for success when we return to normal.