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COVID-19 Economic Benefits How-To Guide

Washington, D.C., April 17 – As more Americans with and without disabilities are caught up in the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are wondering where to find answers to life-or-death questions. In this How-To Guide, the RespectAbility team has compiled clear information about several key Economic Benefits to see you through these challenging times.

This guide includes the latest information and online resources about three key topics: accessing your CARES Act payment, accessing food resources and understanding unemployment insurance. 

What about my Economic Impact Payment?

One of the most important provisions of the CARES Act was the creation of recovery rebates to provide Americans with direct cash payments. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has created a comprehensive website with a rundown of key questions that people have been asking. Do you have questions on eligibility? Want to know the status of your payment? Need to change your address? Go to IRS.gov’s Economic Impact Payment Information Center here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center

IMPORTANT FYI: Thanks to the sustained advocacy of the disability community, the Social Security Administration has announced that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients will automatically receive their Economic Impact Payments directly to their bank accounts, by debit card or by check. Furthermore, Social Security will not consider Economic Impact Payments as income for SSI recipients, and the payments are excluded from resources for 12 months.

Critically, SSI recipients with dependent children still will be required to submit their information online in order to get their payment. To do that, you need to go online here: https://www.freefilefillableforms.com/#/fd/EconomicImpactPayment.

What about accessing food benefits?

From Benefits.gov: “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal nutrition assistance program. SNAP provides benefits to eligible low-income individuals and families via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. This card can be used like a debit card to purchase eligible food in authorized retail food stores.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs the SNAP program and maintains a great website about SNAP eligibility here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility.

While SNAP is a federal program, like most benefits, it is run by state agencies. To find out about your home state’s rules on SNAP benefits, visit this website: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/state-directory.

What about food benefits for women and children?

The USDA also runs the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to help low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five. To learn more about their program, visit this website: https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-how-apply.

Like most benefit programs, WIC has strict eligibility requirements that specifically limit the pool of people who can make use of these resources. To determine your eligibility for WIC, visit this website: https://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/wic-eligibility-requirements.

Like SNAP, WIC is federally funded but is run by the individual state governments. To find contact information for your state WIC program, visit this website: https://www.fns.usda.gov/contacts?f%5B1%5D=program%3A32.

How do I order food online for delivery?

To limit their risk of exposure to the virus, many people with and without disabilities have opted to switch entirely to online grocery deliveries. Unfortunately for many people with disabilities, this is an inaccessible or unavailable option.

Popular options for online grocery deliveries include Instacart, Amazon and Walmart. In ten states, people with disabilities can use their SNAP benefits for online grocery deliveries. However, that leaves 40 states and millions of people with disabilities without an online means of putting food on the table. RespectAbility and other disability organizations such as the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) are actively working to solve this and other critical, COVID related economic challenges. 

What about unemployment insurance?

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) website has a comprehensive run-down on what you as an individual with or without disabilities needs to know about accessing unemployment benefits if you are an eligible worker.

Unemployment insurance (UI) is a joint state-federal program that specifically helps workers who have lost their jobs. With more than 22 million workers now out of their jobs, UI is more important than ever before. 

How do I know if I am eligible?

Each state has its own guideline around who does or does not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Generally speaking, if:

  • You lost your job through no fault of your own or you were separated due to a lack of available work.
  • You also meet specific work and wage requirements.

Then you should qualify for unemployment benefits. However, beyond those basic guidelines, each state has different rules in terms of wages earned and time worked. To find out what your state requirements and guidelines are, visit this website: https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/find-unemployment-benefits.aspx.

DOL also maintains a great list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) here: https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/unemployment-benefits-finder-help.aspx. As well as more comprehensive details here: https://www.careeronestop.org/LocalHelp/UnemploymentBenefits/unemployment-benefits-finder-help.aspx.

FYI: It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.

What about COVID-19 specific unemployment resources?

In response to the pandemic, DOL issued new guidance to address COVID-19 in the workplace and different scenarios involving workers at risk of losing their jobs because of the virus. You can read that guidance here: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20200312-0. 

Who can I talk to for more details?

The DOL’s toll-free call center can assist workers and employers with questions about job loss, layoffs, business closures, unemployment benefits and job training: 1-877-US-2JOBS (TTY: 1-877-889-5627).

What other resources does DOL offer?

DOL maintains a dedicated page for job seekers and unemployed workers looking to access the workforce system. That page includes specific information about finding new job training opportunities as well as disability specific resources.

Where can I find more local information about COVID-19 and other resources?

If you are local to the RespectAbility Washington, D.C. metro office, then check out the Montgomery County Government’s COVID-19 page: https://montgomerycountymd.gov/hhs/rightnav/coronavirus.html.

If you are a RespectAbility subscriber in New York City, check out this local page:  https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page.

For our California subscribers, there are several great website s that provide more detailed information about COVID-19 and how our communities are responding. First, we recommend viewing http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus. Second, Disability Benefits 101, a great website with comprehensive details about living and working as a Californian with disabilities, recently added a new COVID-19 resource page: https://ca.db101.org/news/news_8258.htm. For details on California’s branch of the SNAP program, please visit this website: https://www.freshebt.com/state/california.

Are you part of the intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) community? If you are, then check out the Arc’s comprehensive website here: https://thearc.org/covid.

Job and Training Information

Disability Resources

For more resources and updates from RespectAbility about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the one-in-five people who live with a disability, please visit www.RespectAbility.org/covid-19.

Meet the Author

Philip Pauli
Philip Pauli

Philip Kahn-Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He works with state leaders to develop solutions for youth with disabilities, support job seekers with disabilities and open pathways into the workforce. To reach him, email philipp@respectability.org.

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