Senator Ben Cardin Response to COVID-19

Posted by: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (State of Maryland) on Friday, March 27, 2020

Please stay safe and healthy. This is an extremely difficult time, but I have faith that we will get through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak together.

Meanwhile, my colleagues and I have been working around the clock to try to ease the burden of this pandemic on our nation’s families, businesses, and communities.

In the U.S. Senate, so far we have passed three packages of comprehensive legislation that aim to bring an end to this health crisis and minimize its harm on our society. The most recent package, passed by the Senate on Wednesday and signed into law by the president Friday, March 27th is unprecedented in its size and scope. It provides a $2 trillion investment in America, including a new Marshall Plan for transforming our hospitals. It also provides a multitude of vital lifelines for small businesses, our economic engine.

The newest legislation includes:

  1. $150 billion to invest in our health care system by increasing the availability of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, boosting workforce and training, constructing additional facilities, and more. 
  1. A $150 billion stimulus fund for states and local governments, who have been on the front line of this crisis.
  1. A dramatic expansion of unemployment insurance benefits to match the average paycheck of laid-off or furloughed workers for four months, including for those who are self-employed or work in the gig economy.
  1. More than $377 billion to help small businesses keep their doors openthrough loan coverage or forgiveness, grants to continue paying employees, and immediate relief to assist with operating costs.
  1. Robust support for families and individuals who need it, including increased funding for child care and affordable housing, as well as direct payments of $1,200 per month to those with lower incomes.

Following please find an overview of the steps that we have taken to protect America during this health crisis and information about how you and your loved can access important resources.

See below for...

  • International Travel Resources
  • Resources for Workers and Small Business
  • Resources for Families and Individuals
  • Additional Resources

 

International Travel Resources

The State Department has issued an advisory urging Americans not to travel overseas and to return to the United States if they can. If you are overseas and in need of emergency assistance, click here to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. 

If you are concerned about a loved one overseas, please call the State Department at:  

  • From the U.S. & Canada  - 1-888-407-4747 
  • From Overseas - +1 202-501-4444

My staff is aware that many Americans have been experiencing difficulty working with the State Department to safely evacuate foreign countries and return to the U.S. I have written twice to Secretary Pompeo to express my frustration and implore the State Department to urgently improve its procedures for repatriating Americans that are stuck abroad. You can read my most recent letter here. In addition, I have initiated multiple calls to the State Department on behalf of residents who cannot return home in an effort to immediately expedite their returns.

In the meantime, if you or a loved one is abroad and not able to get the help you need returning home, please reach out to my State Office at (410) 962-4436. You can also check my website for travel advisories and further information.

Contact Global Chamber for more information through members including International SOS.

 

Resources for Workers and Small Businesses

Unemployment Security

Sadly, COVID-19 has caused many individuals to lose their jobs and created significant obstacles to finding new employment. In the wake of this economic recession, our nation’s unemployment insurance (UI) program is an essential a long-term lifeline for millions of workers. That is why I pushed so hard to secure a massive investment in UI in the new stimulus package and to make this critical safety net more accessible than ever.

Here are some of the major provisions in the new stimulus related to unemployment insurance:

  • Full Paycheck Replacement: $600 increase for every individual struggling through the crisis without a paycheck, which equates to 100 percent of average wages.
  • Waiving Waiting Weeks: Gets money in people’s pockets sooner by providing federal incentives for states to eliminate waiting weeks.
  • Extension of Benefits: An additional 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits are immediately be made available.
  • Expanding Access: Allow part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits.

Once these provisions become law, individuals seeking this assistance will have to apply through the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance.

To learn about Maryland’s unemployment insurance policies, click here.

To read frequently asked questions about how COVID-19 affects Maryland’s unemployment insurance benefits, click here

In order to file an unemployment insurance claim:

  • You are strongly encouraged to utilize this NetClaims applicationto file your claim online.
  • You can also call a Claim Center at 410-949-0022. 

For any further questions, claimants can e-mail ui.inquiry@maryland.gov and employers can e-mail dluiemployerassistance-labor@maryland.gov.

Emergency Leave

It is critical that anyone who is sick or who needs to care for family members has the ability to do so without risking his or her livelihood. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act creates an emergency paid leave program to make sure that’s the case.

If you work at a government or private entity with between 50 and 500 employees, these policies will better protect you.

Sick Leave: Your employer must provide employees who are unable to work or telework with immediate paid sick time off. An employer can’t require workers to use any other available paid leave before using the sick time. Employers are prohibited from requiring workers to find a replacement to cover their hours during time off, and from discharging or discriminating against workers for requesting paid sick leave or filing a complaint against the employer.

Family Leave: Your employer must provide as many as 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who are unable to work or telework because they have to care for a child younger than 18 whose school or day care has closed because of the coronavirus. Following the first 10-day period, workers will receive paid leave from their employer that amounts to at least two-thirds of their pay rate.

Note for employers: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides for tax credits to offset the costs associated with these paid family and sick leave requirements. 

For more information, see these resources from the Department of Labor:

Loans and Grants

I am devastated to see the toll that this pandemic is taking on our small businesses, which I have always believed to be the engine of our nation’s economy. As Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I am fighting to get small businesses in Maryland and across the country the support they need to weather this storm.

Federal Loans and Grants

I am very proud that we secured $377 billion for small businesses in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. To help small business owners and entrepreneurs better understand the new programs that will soon be available to them, I have created a comprehensive guide to many of the small business provisions in the stimulus package. These programs and initiatives are intended to assist business owners with whatever needs they have right now. 

When implemented, there will be many new resources available for small businesses, as well as certain non-profits and other employers. This guide 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 SBA. 

To keep up to date on when these programs become available, please stay in contact with your local SBA District Office, which you can locate here.

Download the guide here.

In the meantime, the following questions can help point you towards resources to help your small business. Do you need:

  • A quick infusion of a smaller amount of cash to cover you right now? You might want to look into an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) or Emergency Economic Injury Grant. These grants provide an emergency advance of up to $10,000 to small businesses and private non-profits harmed by COVID-19 within three days of applying for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). To access the advance, you first apply for an EIDL and then request the advance.The advance does not need to be repaid under any circumstance, and may be used to keep employees on payroll, to pay for sick leave, meet increased production costs due to supply chain disruptions, or pay business obligations, including debts, rent and mortgage payments. Click here to learn more and to apply. 
  • Capital to cover the cost of retaining employees? Then the Paycheck Protection Program might be right for you. The stimulus includes nearly $350 billion in funding for a provision to create a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that will provide small businesses and other entities with zero-fee loans of up to $10 million. Under this program, up to 8 weeks of average payroll and other costs will be forgiven if the business retains its employees and their salary levels. 
  • To ease your fears about keeping up with payments on your current or potential SBA loan? The Small Business Debt Relief Program could help. Under this provision, the SBA will cover all payments for standard SBA 7(a), 504 (or microloans) for existing SBA borrowers, including principal, interest, and fees, for six months. This relief will also be available to new borrowers who take out an SBA loan within six months after the president signs the bill.

Where to find more information and apply for financial assistance: 

  • You can learn if your business meets the SBA’s small business size standards here. 
  • Small businesses and private non-profit organizations can apply directly to the SBA for financial assistance here.
  • You can find an SBA-approved lender here. 
  • To keep up to date on when programs become available, please stay in contact with your local Small Business Administration (SBA) District Office, which you can locate here.
  • To be connected with a business counselor who can help you manage through this challenging time, you can turn to your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Women’s Business Center (WBC), or SCORE mentorship chapter. To find a local resource partner, click here. 

Tax Relief

The new stimulus legislation also provides tax assistance for businesses, including:

  • The Employee Retention Credit for Employers will provide a refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers, including non-profits, whose operations have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings. The credit is also provided to employers who have experienced a greater than 50 percent reduction in quarterly receipts, measured on a year-over-year basis.

    • Wages of employees who are furloughed or face reduced hours as a result of their employers’ closure or economic hardship are eligible for the credit.

    • For employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees, all employee wages are eligible, regardless of whether an employee is furloughed.

    • The credit is provided for wages and compensation, including health benefits, and is provided for the first $10,000 in wages and compensation paid by the employer to an eligible employee.

    • Wages do not include those taken into account for purposes of the payroll credits for required paid sick leave or required paid family leave, nor for wages taken into account for the employer credit for paid family and medical leave.

    • The Secretary of the Treasury is granted authority to advance payments to eligible employers and to waive applicable penalties for employers who do not deposit applicable payroll taxes in anticipation of receiving the credit.

    • The credit is not available to employers benefitting from the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program.

    • The credit is provided through December 31, 2020.

  • Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes. This provision would allow taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020, with all 2020 deferred amounts due in two equal installments, one at the end of 2021, the other at the end of 2022. Deferral is not provided to employers that avail themselves of the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program.

For more information about filing taxes as a small business, visit the IRS Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center, available here.

Contracting

If you are a federal government contractor, there are a number of ways that Congress has provided relief and protection for your business. Agencies will be able to modify terms and conditions of a contract and to reimburse contractors at a billing rate of up to 40 hours per week of any paid leave, including sick leave. The contractors eligible are those whose employees or subcontractors cannot perform work on site and cannot telework due to federal facilities closing because of COVID-19.

If you need additional assistance, please reach out to your local Small Business Development Center, Women’s Business Center, SCORE chapter, or SBA District Office. You should also work with your agency’s contracting officer, as well as the agency’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU).

 

Resources for Families and Individuals

Health Care

In order to keep our communities safe, we have to eliminate as many barriers to health care as possible, starting with financial barriers. We also need to increase supports for those whose health challenges may be exacerbated by this public health crisis, including individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Testing and Preventive Services

Congress has mandated that all insurers cover the cost of testing for coronavirus without any cost-sharing or prior authorization requirements. We have also required testing with no cost sharing under the Medicare Advantage Program, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. For uninsured individuals, laboratory reimbursements for diagnostic testing of COVID-19 will be available.

Additionally, the legislation recently signed into law requires all group health plans and insurers offering group or individual plans to cover vaccines and other preventive treatments without cost-sharing, and allows Medicare to do the same for vaccines.

Governor Larry Hogan similarly has required all insurers in Maryland to waive costs associated with coronavirus testing, including copayments, co-insurance, and deductibles.

If you do not have health insurance, I encourage you to take advantage of Maryland’s special enrollment period for uninsured residents, which extends until April 15th.

  • To learn more about Maryland’s special health insurance enrollment period, click here

Substance Use and Mental Health Care

The recently enacted coronavirus relief package provides $425 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This funding will be used to increase access to mental health services in our communities through Community Behavioral Health Clinics, suicide prevention programs, and emergency response spending. This will direct support where it is most needed, including outreach to those experiencing homelessness.

Click here to find a mental health or substance use disorder treatment provider near you.

Additionally, the bill includes provisions that allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to enter into agreements with telecommunications companies to provide broadband for veterans in support of providing tele-mental health care. This will make it easier for our veterans to receive the mental health care they need while social distancing policies make it more difficult to travel to service providers.

Click here to find contact information for your designated VA mental health point of contact.

Financial Relief

Direct Payments

The economic crisis created by the coronavirus is making everyday life much harder for many Americans. In order to help alleviate some of the financial burden that our communities are facing, the new stimulus package provides direct payments to working Americans of up to $1,200 per person, plus $500 per dependent child.

Here is what you need to know:

  • If you are a single filer . . .
    • making less than $75,000 per year, you are eligible for the entire $1,200 rebate.
    • making between $75,000 and $99,000 per year, you are eligible for a partial rebate.
    • making more than $99,000 per year, you are not eligible for this rebate.
  • If you are joint filers . . .
    • making less than a combined $150,000 per year, you are eligible for the entire $2,400 rebate.
    • making a combined $150,000 to $198,000 per year, you are eligible for a partial rebate.
    • making more than a combined $198,000 per year, you are not eligible for this rebate.
  • How to get the rebate:
    • If you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, or you receive Social Security, Social Security Disability, or Railroad Retirement benefits, you will receive the rebate automatically.
      • If you provided bank account information to receive your tax refund as a direct deposit, you will receive your rebate that way.
      • If you did not provide information for direct deposit, you will be mailed a rebate check to the address provided on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever you filed most recent.
      • If you did not file in 2018 or 2019 but you receive Social Security benefits, you will receive the rebate the same way you receive your Social Security benefit.
    • If you do not receive Social Security benefits, and also did not file in 2018 or 2019, then You will need to file a return to receive your rebate.You can find out how to file a return for free at gov.
  • Congress directed the IRS to send the rebates as rapidly as possible. With that said, it could still take a month or longer. The fastest way to receive your rebate is if you already filed a tax return and provided your direct deposit information. If you have not done that, you should file as soon as possible. 

For help filing your taxes, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $56,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. To locate an open VITA site near you, call 800-906-9887. 

For information, including potentially free options, go to irs.gov.

Temporary Cash Assistance

Another available source of financial relief is Maryland’s Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA). This program provides cash assistance to families with dependent children when available resources do not fully address the family’s needs and while preparing program participants for independence through work.

TCA applicants and recipients impacted by COVID-19 and any related closures such as schools, job sites and transportation may be provided with good cause for not completing assigned work requirements. Documentation is not required. This is effective as long as the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) directs Maryland schools to be closed, unless otherwise stated.

To learn more about TCA, click here.

Housing Assistance

In the midst of an economic and public health crisis, no one should have to worry about keeping a roof over their head. The most recent coronavirus package aims to reduce the burden of mortgage, rent, and utilities payments, and to ensure that Americans get to stay in their homes.

Here is what you need to know:

  • For homeowners with federally backed mortgage loans (FHA, VA, USDA, or 184/184A loans, or loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac):

    • The bill includes a 60-day foreclosure moratorium, starting on March 18, 2020. You will not see foreclosure actions and cannot be removed from your home due to foreclosure during that time.

    • You are eligible for up to 6 months’ forbearance on your mortgage payments, with a possible extension for another 6 months.

    • At the end of the forbearance, you can work within each agency’s existing programs to help get back on track with payments. However, you will have to pay missed payments at some point during the loan, so if you can pay, you should continue to do so.

  • For renters of properties with federal subsidies (such as public housing, Section 8 rental assistance vouchers or subsidies, USDA rental housing assistance, or Low Income Housing Tax Credits) or federally backed mortgage loans (including those from the FHA, USDA, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac):

    • Owners of these properties cannot file evictions or charge fees for nonpayment of rent for 120 days following enactment of the bill, and cannot issue a renter a notice to leave the property before 150 days after enactment.

    • After this period renters will be responsible for making payments and getting back on track, so they should continue to make payments if they’re financially able to do so.

    • Renters who receive housing subsidies such as public housing or Section 8 who have had their incomes fall should recertify their incomes with their public housing agency or property owner because it may lower the rent they owe.

  • For help with utilities: The CARES Act provides $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income households with heating and cooling in homes, weatherization, and energy-related low-cost home repairs or replacements.

    • Of that amount, Maryland will receive $34 million. Click here to apply for utilities assistance through Maryland’s Office of Home Energy Programs.

Governor Hogan has also issued the following emergency orders to alleviate housing challenges for Marylanders:

  • Prohibiting Maryland courts from ordering the eviction of any tenant who can show that their failure to pay rent was the results of COVID-19 — for example, because of lost or reduced unemployment, or needing to care for a school-aged child — or because they are diagnosed with, or being assessed for, COVID-19. Click here to read the emergency order.
  • Prohibiting electric, gas, water, sewage, phone, cable TV, and internet service provider companies in Maryland from shutting off any residential customer’s service, or charging any residential late fees. Click here to read the emergency order.

Child Care

The state of Maryland recently announces that Maryland schools will stay closed through April 24th. We recognize that parents in Maryland and across the country will have to ensure that their children are cared for while continuing to work to support their families. That is why my colleagues and I are determined to find child care solutions for America’s workers, beginning with those who are on the front lines of this health crisis.

The new stimulus package includes $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant to provide child care assistance to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to the coronavirus. Maryland would receive more than $45 million for these purposes.

Click here to learn more.

Nutrition Assistance

One of our priorities in responding to the coronavirus outbreak has been to ensure that children and families maintain uninterrupted access to the nutritional programs that they rely upon. Not only that, but we want to make these programs more robust and more accessible. Fortunately, the legislation we have passed so far accomplishes these goals by:

  • Providing funds for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and granting authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to waive certain requirements that could hinder service to WIC participants during the pandemic. For example, in Maryland, the in-person registration requirement has been waived so that you can now receive your benefits remotely. To learn more about WIC, including if you are eligible and how to apply, clickhere.
  • Appropriating $850 million for local food banks to meet higher demand for nutritious food for low-income Americans during the pandemic through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). With many communities suffering from job losses, food banks have seen increased demand.  These funds are critical so food banks can continue to assist those Americans most in need. 

    • To find the closest food bank to you, click here.
    • To see if your organization may be eligible for support from TEFAP, click here
  • Suspending work training requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (i.e., food stamps) and providing other flexibilities to the program. The most recent COVID-19 bill also includes $15.5 billion in additional funding for SNAP to ensure all Americans receive the food they need. To learn more about Maryland’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), clickhere. To file an application, click here.
  • Removing administrative requirements that will allow for increased access to healthy meals for children who would otherwise depend on school meals for nutrition, and providing $8.8 billion in additional funding for Child Nutrition Programs to ensure children receive meals while school is not in session. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) now has the capability to provide three meals a day, and a snack, to students impacted by the statewide closure of schools. MSDE has hundreds of meal distribution centers across the State, which can be found here.

Resources for Senior Citizens

Our senior residents are encouraged to sign up for the Maryland Department of Aging’s Senior Call Check program, which is a free service for those 65 years and older through which you can receive updates regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and information about where to find support.  The verification and enrollment process can be completed within 24 hours Monday – Saturday.

  • You can read more about the program here
  • Senior Call Check phone lines are open M-F 8 am-5 pm and Saturday 9 am-3 pm.  During these hours, seniors can call toll-free 1-866-50-CHECK (1-866-502-0560) and register.  

Because older adults are more likely to experience severe illness if infected by COVID-19, it is even more important that they stay at home as much as possible. That is why Congress provided $250 million for food for home-bound low-income seniors. 

  • Click here to learn about Meals on Wheels, a non-profit organization that brings nutritious meals to seniors. 
  • Additionally, here is a list of services that can deliver groceries directly to your home. 

If you are seeking assistance filing your taxes in order to receive the $1,200 rebate provided by the newest coronavirus legislation, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older. Call 888-227-7669 for TCE services.

Student Loans

We understand that student loan debt is a substantial burden on many Americans under normal circumstances, and that the current health crisis facing our country makes it even more difficult to manage your student loans. That is why the newest coronavirus legislation aims to provide some relief from federal student loans and support for students who are struggling financially.

Here are some more helpful questions and answers about how the latest coronavirus package can provide financial relief to students and those affected by student loans:

What forms of relief are students impacted by COVID-19 eligible for?

Students will be eligible for emergency financial aid grants from their institutions to meet unexpected and urgent needs related to the coronavirus, such as expenses related to food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.

Relief also exists for students who must drop out of school due to COVID-19. Students will have the portion of their student loan taken out for the semester (or equivalent) canceled. Further, students who received a Pell Grant or subsidized student loan will not have those types of financial aid counted toward their lifetime limits. 

What relief is provided to federal student loan borrowers?

Borrowers do not need to make payments on student loans held by the federal government (Direct Loans and FFEL Loans held by the U.S. Department of Education) through September 30, 2020. Borrowers with commercially held FFEL loans and Perkins Loans are not eligible, and private student loan borrowers are also not eligible. No interest will accrue on such loans for the same time period. This provides more than 37 million borrowers with relief from the financial pressure of making monthly payments for approximately 6 months.

During this period, borrowers will not be subject to involuntary collections (garnishment of wages, tax refunds, and Social Security benefits) and will not have any negative credit reporting for late payments during this time period. Student borrowers will continue to receive credit toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Income-Driven Repayment forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation even though they will not be making payments. If borrowers want to continue making payments during this time to pay down principal and previously accrued interest (since no interest is accruing as of March 13) they are free to do so.

When will payments resume for federal student loan borrowers?

Starting in August, student loan borrowers will receive notices to help inform them that their regular loan payments and interest accrual will resume after September 30, 2020. These notices will help protect borrowers by providing them with a transition period to stay on track as regular loan payments resume and to offer them the option to enroll in other relief options (such as income-driven repayment, which can lower a borrower’s monthly payment).

Does the six-month suspension of payments and waiver of interest apply to borrowers who have federally guaranteed but commercially held loans through the FFEL and Perkins Loan Programs?

No. The suspension only applies to all Direct Loans and FFEL loans held by the Department of Education (which is about 25% of the FFEL portfolio). Approximately 37 million borrowers (or 87% of federal student loan borrowers in repayment) will receive relief under this plan. We will be continuing to fight to extend relief to borrowers of commercially held FFEL loans and Perkins Loans. In the meantime, contact your loan provider for potential options.

For more information, see the Department of Education’s page about Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents.

 

Additional Resources

  • To keep up with ongoing updates about the COVID-19, refer to this website from the CDC or this website from the Maryland Department of Health.

  • This website from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) can help you distinguish between rumors and facts regarding the response to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Click here to learn more about the steps that Governor Hogan has taken to reduce the burden of COVID-19 on Maryland residents.
  • Click here for ways that you can help our community.
  • On gov, you can find information related to government benefits and can take theBenefit Finder to find additional benefits for which you may be eligible.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor has resources to help workers and employers respond to the COVID-19 virus.
  • Check out my website for quick links to travel advisories, health notices, official guidance and more.

As we navigate the uncertain road ahead, please know that I will continue fighting to ensure that all Marylanders have access to the federal resources they need to stay safe, healthy and secure. 

Senator Ben Cardin - State of Maryland, USA

 

ps... Please also link to the Global Chamber Resource Page on COVID-19 HERE.

 

 

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