An Uncertain Time for Georgians
On March 3, 2020, the first case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in Georgia. Since then, the number of people with the virus continues to rise statewide, and is expected to keep rising. State efforts are underway to help slow the spread of the virus (“flatten the curve”) as well as increase healthcare system capacity for testing and eventually treatment.
While our community is facing this unprecedented health and economic crisis, we want to keep you informed as you navigate this uncertain time. We’ve compiled a list of resources below from national and state agencies, nonprofits, and other partners to help you protect your health, finances, and housing. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
What Should You Do to Protect Your Health?
- Stay informed about COVID-19 cases and current health guidance. On the Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 page, you will find updates from the governor, advice about how to prevent the spread, and other guidance from public health officials. In addition, the Department provides daily tracking of confirmed cases in the state.
- Use your insurance to cover any COVID-19 testing and treatment you seek. At the request of the federal government and the Georgia Insurance Commissioner, some private health insurers have offered to waive co-pays, deductibles, and other cost-sharing for viral tests. Contact your insurance carrier for more information about costs you can expect related to COVID-19 testing and treatment. For guidance about how to manage or dispute a bill, please see our medical debt guide. If you have Medicare or Medicaid, please visit Georgians for a Healthy Future’s resource page to learn about your options.
- If you need health services unrelated to COVID-19, consider making a virtual appointment. Practicing “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus includes reducing our in-person visits to the doctor’s office. If you have internet access, check with your insurance company and doctor to see if you can have a “virtual appointment” using the internet or a video call, instead of going in-person.
- Don’t let lack of insurance stop you from getting tested. The Georgia Department of Health has stated that COVID-19 testing will be free for the uninsured. For more information about accessing healthcare if you’re uninsured, please see our guide here. If you’ve recently lost your job, visit Healthcare.gov to determine if you’re eligible to apply for a Special Enrollment Period to ensure that you are covered for COVID-19 testing.
What Should You Do to Protect Your Finances?
- Your Economic Stimulus Check. Still looking for your check or don’t know if you’re eligible to receive one? Individuals who filed 2018 or 2019 taxes with a Social Security number or receive Social Security benefits are eligible for an economic recovery check. If you’ve already filed your taxes but don’t know where your refund check is, you can visit the IRS website here to find out how and when to expect your check. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has released a new video about how to receive your economic recovery check if you did not file your taxes.
- Apply for Unemployment Insurance Benefits. If your work has been affected by COVID-19, you should file for unemployment online or by phone. As a result of this crisis, employers must file claims on behalf of their full-time and part-time employees whenever it is necessary to temporarily reduce work hours or if there is no work available for a short period. However, if your employer DOES NOT file a claim for you, you should file for unemployment yourself.
- Know your student loan payment options. As of a result of the CARES Act, all borrowers with federally-held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for at least 60 days. Borrowers with federally-held student loans may also request to suspend their payments for at least two months. For borrowers who have federally-held loans that are currently in default, there will be no collection of defaulted federal student loans for at least 60 days. If you have private loans, contact your servicers to discuss your options, such as reduced payment or forbearance. Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website here to learn more about your options. Other helpful resources include:
- Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents (Federal Student Aid)
- Seek credit card payment assistance. If you are unable to make your credit card payments, contact your credit card issuer about options to safeguard your credit score. However, be wary of any assistance that may increase your overall debt burden. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advises consumers to visit a reputable credit counselor for advice about how to manage your debts.
- Know that the state and federal tax filing deadlines have been extended. The IRS extended the tax filing deadline from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. The Georgia Department of Revenue followed suit, automatically extending the state 2019 income tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. Vehicle registrations that expire between March 16, 2020 and May 14, 2020 were extended through May 15, 2020.
- Learn about how you can protect your stimulus check from garnishment. While the CARES Act stimulus checks are meant to help families stay afloat during this difficult time, some debt collectors are seeking to garnish these checks. Read the National Consumer Law Center’s guide here about how you can protect you check from garnishment.
- Be aware of scammers who seek your money and identity information. Governor Kemp has declared a state of emergency and activated the state’s price gouging statute to address consumer exploitation during the COVID-19 crisis. On June 12, 2020, the Georgia Attorney General indicated that the statute would remain active through July 12, 2020. But price gouging is not the only threat facing Georgia consumers during this turbulent time. The U.S. Inspector General has warned about social security scams that involve scammers sending fraudulent letters threatening suspension of Social Security benefits due to COVID-19 or coronavirus-related office closures. Other scams related to the coronavirus often fall into the following categories: fake cures, tests, or vaccines; fake coronavirus charity-related scams; “person in need” requests for cash; social security scams. Scammers are even pretending to run errands for people who are quarantining or forced to stay home. We encourage you to stay informed about COVID-19 scams designed to steal your money and/or personal information.
- Read our factsheet about how to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams.
- Visit Consumer Federation of America for more tips about common COVID-19 scams and how to protect yourself.
- Report potential scams to the Better Business Bureau here.
- The state has set up a hotline (844-442-2681) where you can report possible COVID-19 scams.
- To file a complaint with the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division:
- CALL: 404-651-8600 inside the metro Atlanta area
- CALL: 1-800-869-1123 toll-free outside of the metro Atlanta calling area
- To report online, visit consumer.ga.gov.
- Protect yourself from COVID-19 cyber attacks. Scammers aren’t the only threat to your sensitive information. Since the crisis began, cybercrime has increased significantly. Common types of cybercrime include malware, phishing, password attacks, ransomware, and more. But there are some simple ways you can reduce your and/or your business’s risk of becoming the victim of cyber criminals looking to exploit the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more about how protect yourself against cybersecurity threats here.
- Keep an eye on your credit report. Three of the national credit reporting agencies are giving people weekly access to monitor their credit report — for free. To get your free reports, go to AnnualCreditReport.com. The credit reporting agencies are making these reports free for the next year. Learn more here.
What Should You Do About Energy and Utility Service?
- Find out whether your utility has suspended disconnections. The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) put together a list of all Georgia services that have suspended disconnections due to COVID-19. If you don’t see your service listed, contact your utility or service provider directly as some businesses are offering alternative payment arrangements for this situation.
- As of July 15, Georgia Power lifted its shutoff moratorium. More information is available at https://www.georgiapower.com/covid-19.html. Current options for customers struggling with utility payments include:
- Installment payment plan: Sign up for a special payment plan at www.georgiapower.com/paymentplan, or by logging into the “My Account” section on www.georgiapower.com. You also enroll using our automated system by calling customer service at 1-888-660-5890.
- Prepay plan flexibility: residential customers not enrolled in PrePay can also, where eligible, transition to PrePay. Additionally, PrePay Customers who have a negative dollars remaining balance as of July 12 will have that full amount moved into the account’s Deferred Balance. Learn more at https://www.georgiapower.com/covid-prepay.
- Contact your utility provider to discuss a payment arrangement. If you will not be able to make your next payment, contact your utility provider immediately to discuss your payment options, which may include a payment arrangement. If you require your utility service for your health, please seek a signed statement from your physician and furnish it to your utility provider as soon as possible.
- Ask about emergency financial assistance options. Salvation Army Project Share, HopeWorks, and other local organizations may be able to provide financial assistance to help you avoid utility disconnection. Contact your local United Way by dialing 2-1-1, or reach out to your local community action agency to determine what options are available to you.
- Learn about internet access options in your area. To enable Georgians to adhere to social distancing and stay-at-home rules, broadband providers are temporarily offering various options for internet connectivity. These include free internet service, waiving disconnect and late fees, providing free access to WiFi hot spots, reducing limitation on data-usage, and offering other time-limited options. To find out about WiFi options in your area, visit the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
What Should You Do if You Need Housing Assistance?
- Apply for mortgage payment assistance if necessary. As of March 18, the HUD implemented an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages for 60 days. If your mortgage is not FHA-insured, however, you may have other options. Mortgage Payment Assistance, a program offered by the state, offers up to 24 months of assistance for eligible applicants experiencing an unemployment or underemployment hardship in the last 36 months and need help paying mortgage monthly. Visit the Mortgage Payment Assistance website here to find out if you’re eligible and how to apply. Other helpful resources include:
- Guide to coronavirus mortgage relief options (CFPB)
- CARES Act Mortgage Forbearance: What You Need to Know (CFPB)
- If your mortgage servicer is refusing to provide deferrals for skipped payments, or forcing you into forbearance plans you didn’t ask for, consider filing a complaint with the CFPB. (As of April, one in five complaints to the CFPB were about mortgage issues.)
- If you are experiencing a problem with your mortgage servicer, we’d like to hear from you. Visit here to share your story.
- For more information on FHA mortgages please call 1-800-CALL-FHA (1-800-225-5342), or visit here.
- Find out about the eviction moratorium and whether it applies to your situation. On March 17, Mayor Bottoms issued a 60-day moratorium on evictions and late fees for non-payment of rent in any property either sponsored or funded by city-supported housing providers in Atlanta. In July, Mayor Bottoms extended the moratorium to August 31, 2020. Moreover, the CARES Act passed by the federal government in March stops some landlords from filing evictions through July 25, 2020. This does not apply to eviction cases that were filed before March 27th. Visit here to learn more about the eviction moratorium and your rights under the CARES Act.
- Know the rights of tenants living in motels and seek legal assistance, if necessary. If you are living in an extended stay motel, you have rights as a tenant and should not be forced to move out without an eviction order from the Court. Contact legal aid for help if you are in this situation. Here are a few things you should know:
- Once you have lived in a motel for more than 90 days, the motel is no longer an “innkeeper” under Georgia law because they do not have to pay innkeeper taxes or sales taxes anymore. See O.C.G.A. § 48-8-2(31)(B).
- You become known as a “tenant” under Georgia law, and the motel/landlord should utilize the court eviction process to force the you to move out, regardless of whether rent has been paid. See O.C.G.A. § 44-7-50(a).
- A motel in this situation that forces you to move out without obtaining an eviction order from the Court first may be liable for breaking the law. You should contact your local legal aid for assistance.
- Learn more at the Georgia Department of Law’s Ask Consumer Ed here.
What are Some Other Ways You Can Stay Informed?
The following lists of resources have up-to-date information about the ongoing crisis and resources available for you.
State and Federal Updates:
- Georgia Department of Public Health
- Centers for Disease Control
- Governor Kemp’s Office
- Georgia Department of Law Consumer Protection Division
- COVID-19 Hotline: (844) 442-2681
Other Resources and Information:
- Georgia Small Business/Nonprofit COVID-19 Remote Pro Bono Clinic (State Bar of Georgia)
- Protecting your finances during the Coronavirus pandemic (CFPB)
- Georgia Legal Aid COVID-19 Resource List
- Center for Pan Asian Community Services (help for people who do not speak English as a first language)
- Voices for Georgia’s Children
- Prioritizing Bills – Your Money, Your Goals Toolkit (CFPB)
- COVID-19 Scam Alerts (Cybercrime Support Network)
- Financial Assistance for Seniors (Cobb County)
Read our latest news on COVID-19:
- Better Call Harry: Deadline nears for end of $600 federal unemployment supplement
- Georgia Power Shut-Off Freeze Ends As Summer Heats Up And Pandemic Drags On
- Better Call Harry: Stay away from debt relief firms
- ASK ASA: Title loans trap consumers in long cycles of debt, consumer advocacy group warns
- Ga. Power disconnections to resume
We are continuing to monitor these resources and will update them as new information becomes available. Please check back regularly or contact us if you have any questions. To ensure that the information we provide is relevant, we’d like to hear from you about how the ongoing crisis is affecting your life. Share your story here.