How to get help with rent, unemployment and financial services amid COVID-19 pandemic

Amid furloughs, layoffs and uncertainty during the COVID -19 pandemic, officials want to make it clear: you will continue to have access to basic essentials.

Housing:

Tenants cannot be evicted for missing a payment this month. There is currently an eviction and mortgage foreclosure moratorium throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

"If your landlord tries to evict you by either shutting off utilities, by locking your doors, by removing your stuff from your house, you should call 911," said George Donnelly, Independence Fellow at the Public Interest Law Center.

Donnelly added that landlords can't go through the process to evict tenants because the courts are closed.

"We've set up a tenant hotline for all the legal services agencies in the city for you to call if you are facing what you believe is an illegal eviction," said Donnelly. "That number is 267-443-2500."

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said homeowners will get a 90 day grace period to pay their mortgages.

"Lenders will also lend any late fees or any costs that would otherwise arise as a result of this 90 day grace period," said Murphy.

In a press conference Wednesday, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said there will be no gas, water or electric line shutoffs in the city until at least May 1. Utility service providers like PSE&G and PECO will not shut off services if customers miss a payment.

"We're working with customers to establish payment arrangements for customers who are having difficulty paying their bills and we're also connecting them with customer assistance programs available," said Funmi Williamson, PECO Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer.

Unemployment:

In a statement, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry spokesperson Penny Ickes acknowledged the technical difficulties some individuals have dealt with recently.

A statement reads:

The unemployment compensation mainframe system is functioning. However, many commonwealth websites and online services were temporarily unavailable for a short period this morning.

The unemployment compensation mainframe system did experience technical problems on Monday from approximately 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM. Only people trying to file their biweekly claims were affected - it was not a system wide issue. We apologize to anyone who was unable to file their biweekly claims and assure them they will not lose eligibility for any weeks because of our issue. Biweekly claims can be filed through this Friday, and individuals unable to file Monday should try again. People filing their initial claim were not affected.

Biweekly claims are filed once someone is approved for unemployment compensation in Pennsylvania. They must maintain their eligibility for benefits by filing for two weeks at one time, known as biweekly claims.

We understand the anxiety that workers are feeling during this unparalleled time. For individuals who are filing for UC benefits for the first time, once applications are approved by L&I they must be verified by the federal government as well before they are considered to be officially approved and the first payment can be made. It typically takes two to four weeks for new claimants to receive payment, but it is possible that delays may be occurring as the federal government works to process the historic numbers of claims it is receiving from the states.

The commonwealth's Responding to COVID-19 guide has all of the latest guidance and resources for Pennsylvanians, and we encourage everyone to check that page often for updates.



Financial help:

Credit cards - if you're struggling to make your credit card or loan payments, contact your lender right away. For guidance visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or contact a credit counselor near you.

Mortgage/Rent - if you can't cover your mortgage payment or rent, contact your lender or landlord immediately. Some lenders may work out an agreement with you to waive late fees, set up repayment plans, or offer loan forbearance.

Mortgage information: visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or find a housing counselor near you.

Rental assistance: visit the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Utilities - if you are struggling to pay your utility bills, contact your service provider for possible emergency assistance programs. On March 6, 2020, an emergency order was signed prohibiting certain utilities from shutting off services like electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunication, or steam.

Food assistance:

Food pantries - continue to operate throughout Pennsylvania, although some have updated hours and all are working on ways to connect people with food without risking contact. Find a pantry near you, then call them to make arrangements. Find out more about how to get emergency food assistance.

Meals for students - the PA Department of Education received approval from the federal government to allow K-12 schools in Pennsylvania closed due to COVID-19 to serve meals offsite to students.

These meals will be available at no cost to low-income children and make it possible for kids to receive nutritious meals and snacks while schools are temporarily closed.

See a county map of schools and districts distributing meals at no cost to children under age 18. For more information, contact your local school.

Grocery help for low-income individuals - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps families, older adults, and individuals pay for groceries. Benefits are loaded onto an EBT card, which can then be used to purchase food at grocery stores, supermarkets, some farmers markets, and other stores that accept SNAP.

Emergency SNAP applications can be expedited and issued in five days. Pennsylvanians can apply for SNAP online.

Food for Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) - WIC helps with nutrition for pregnant women, nursing women, postpartum women, and infants and children younger than 5. Benefits can be used for approved grocery items at stores that accept WIC.

Apply by calling the toll-free hotline at 800-WIC-WINS or start your WIC application online.

Meals for Older Adults - Area Agencies on Aging continue to provide meals for older adults throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Call your local Area Agency on Aging and request that you be connected with meals.

The federal CARES Act will soon be expanding unemployment compensation an additional 13 weeks for individuals who exhaust their existing benefits. Many types of workers who are normally not eligible for UC - like the self-employed and gig workers - may be eligible to receive benefits. L&I will have information available about the CARES Act as soon as we receive additional guidance from the federal government. Please check our website for more information in the coming days at wurl HREF="https://www.dli.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx" TARGET="blank" REL="nofollow"
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.