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 have COVID-19 and can’t afford your co-pay, apply for assistance at the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF). PAF’s Co-Pay Relief (CPR) program is now helping patients with COVID-19 and can provide up to $500 for co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles required by the patient’s insurer for medications prescribed to treat and manage their illness. The program may help with all therapeutic and supportive medications, including generic or bioequivalent products prescribed to treat and/or manage the patient’s disease or condition. The program helps patients on a first-come, first-serve basis and processes applicants in the order in which their completed applications are received.
- To apply: visit the portal here (with access available for patients, providers, and pharmacies) OR call toll-free at 866-512-3861. You will know immediately upon completion of the application if you are eligible for assistance, and upon approval you are able to begin using your award right away.
- 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 taxes between 2018 and 2020 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.
- Know the options for military families. The CFPB has developed a new guide specifically for unique financial challenges facing military families. Read the guide here.
- 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. The CARES Act suspended principal and interest payments on federally-held student loans through September 30, 2020, and an Executive Order directed the Department of Education to extend the suspension until December 31, 2020. The Department of Education extended other student loan benefits in the CARES Act until December 31, 2020. President Biden has extended the suspension through September 30, 2021. 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:
- Information for student loan borrowers (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)
- 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.
- 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.
- Resources for military families. Military families are facing unique financial challenges as a result of the pandemic. As a result, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released a new tool to help military families protect their finances. See the tool here.
What Should You Do About Energy and Utility Service?
- Know your payment options. 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. 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. Most homeowners are protected from foreclosure and can temporarily pause or reduce their mortgage payments if they’re struggling financially. You’re protected if your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD/FHA, VA, or USDA. For other loans, you may still have mortgage relief options through your mortgage loan servicer or from your state, even if your loan is not backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the federal government. Other helpful resources include:
- Guide to coronavirus mortgage relief options (CFPB)
- Mortgage and housing assistance during the coronavirus national emergency (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 2020, 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.
- Take a look at the Mortgage Payment Assistance program. 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.
- Find out whether you qualify for CDC protection from eviction. To help families stay in their homes during this crisis, the CDC issued an order protecting qualifying households from eviction. Take a look here to find out if you qualify and how to obtain help.
- 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.
- Utility and rent assistance for City of Atlanta residents. If you are a City of Atlanta resident, you may be eligible to receive assistance for past due rent or utility bills up to $3,000 through the Atlanta COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program. How to apply:
- Text C19-ERA to 898-211
- Dial 2-1-1 to talk to a live agent
- Rental assistance for Georgians. If you’re a Georgia renter who has fallen behind on rent payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may qualify for assistance. The Georgia Rental Assistance Program can provide up to 15 months of rental assistance and utility assistance, paid directly to landlords and service providers on behalf of tenants. Visit here or here to learn more and get started. You may also call 833-827-RENT or 833-827-7368.
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
- CFPB Resources in multiple languages
Other Resources and Information:
- Covid-19 Updates and Resources (Fulton County)
- Revolving Loan Fund for Small Businesses (River Valley Regional Commission)
- 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:
- Covid-19 Resilience – Community Voices: Adrianne Proeller, CHW
- WTOC Investigates: Pandemic fuels high-interest loan complaints, Georgia ranks No. 4 in the nation
- Just 39% of Americans could cover $1K emergency expense, report finds
- Millions of Americans risk losing power and water as massive, unpaid utility bills pile up
- COVID-19 Stakeholder Interview: Liz Coyle, Georgia Watch
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.