Thanks to a lagging economy, mandatory business closings and stay-at-home mandates, many employees are struggling for survival in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Experts predict an historic surge in jobless claims, with as many as 2.25 million to 3 million Americans filing for unemployment in the coming weeks. Already, up to 18% of U.S. workers have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
Though many of those employees are eligible for federally-mandated paid leave via the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as many as 71 million Americans who work for businesses with fewer than 50 employees or more than 500 employees are not. Even with paid leave, there’s no telling how long the coronavirus’ economic impact will be felt – or how long the money will last.
Such financial woes get most of the press, but the psychological toll of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be ignored. A recent poll discovered that 66% of Americans are worried they or a loved one will be infected; coupled with financial stress, it’s evident coronavirus concerns weigh heavily on the employee psyche.
While businesses can’t do much about government policies, they can help their employees get the financial and coping resources they need to weather the storm. To that end, here are the top 20 places to get pertinent information for employee assistance.
Employee Coronavirus financial assistance resources
Direct employees to these resources so they can find their financial footing.
Sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Career One Stop features an unemployment benefits finder. Employees can search for state-specific coronavirus unemployment programs and learn where to file claims online and by phone.
This is particularly pertinent since the federal government has granted permission for states to amend their policies and pay benefits when:
- An employee’s employer temporarily ceases operations
- An employee is quarantined, but expects to return to work
- An employee stays home due to risk of exposure or to care for an infected family member
Under the federal guidelines, employees do not need to quit their jobs to receive benefits. However, policies vary since each state manages its own unemployment program. Career One Stop is a quick way for employees to identify benefit eligibility in their state. They can also reference Benefits.govto learn more about unemployment, healthcare and food assistance during the crisis.
The FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Initiative seeks to maintain connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the initiative, more than 550 Internet and telephone companies and associations have pledged to:
- Not terminate service due to inability to pay
- Waive late fees incurred due to disruptions caused by the pandemic
- Open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them
Participating companies include Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Comcast and many more. Employees can find the complete list on the Keep Americans Connected page.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor lists expanded family and medical leave rights for employees on this page. In general, FFCRA provisions state that employees of covered employers are eligible for:
- Two weeks paid leave (up to 80 hours) for quarantined employees at their regular rate of pay
- Two weeks paid leave (up to 80 hours) for employees who must care for a quarantined individual or a child whose school is closed, at two-thirds their regular rate of pay
- Up to 10 additional weeks of paid leave for employees who must care for a child whose school is closed, at two-thirds their regular rate of pay
Employees who work at businesses that employ less than 500 people are generally covered, though certain exemptions are available for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. If eligible, employees should consult with their employers.
The CFPB offers information employees can use to protect themselves financially from the impact of the coronavirus. The page offers advice and resources for those who are struggling to pay their bills and meet other financial obligations. Topics include:
- What to do if you’re unable to pay your bills
- How to work with housing and credit counselors
- How to contact debt collectors
- How to check credit reports
- What to do if you lose your income
- How to steer clear of scams, especially those that target older adults
Employees can follow the CFPB’s outline to address specific needs.
The federal government has waived interest for student loans owned by the U.S. Dept. of Education, but it doesn’t lower the monthly payment. That can be a financial burden for employees who are still repaying student loans. They can use this resource to apply for an administrative forbearance, which suspends payments for 60 days (though it’s possible this will be extended). Since interest is waived during the pandemic, it will not accrue on suspended accounts.
In addition to forbearance information, the page offers an FAQ that helps employees determine:
- How to consolidate FFEL and Federal Perkins loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan that’s eligible for the interest waiver
- What they should do about completing suspended study semesters, which can be a concern for continuing education employees
- How to work with lenders to lower monthly student loan payments
- How they can apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, if applicable
6. Banks, lenders and credit card issuers
New federal regulations may allow homeowners to reduce or suspend mortgage payments for up to 12 months. The rules apply to mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which cover around 50% of U.S. home loans. Employees who have lost income must contact their lenders directly to apply and set up repayment options.
Other banks, lenders and credit card issuers are following suit. Examples include:
- Ally Financial: Mortgage and auto loan customers can defer payments for up to 120 days
- Fifth Third Bank: Mortgage, auto loan and credit card customers can defer payments for up to 90 days
- U.S. Bank: Offers reduced interest and fees on simple and personal loans
Employees who would like to defer mortgage, loan and credit card payments should contact their lenders directly. It’s important they understand the terms before committing to deferred payments: some credit card issuers might freeze their accounts during the suspended period, while some mortgage lenders might require all interest due in a lump sum payment once the suspension is lifted.
7. 211 and food banks
A United Way initiative, 211 helps people find food, pay housing bills and access other essential services. Employees can search by zip code or city to find their local 211 and request assistance.
- Child nutrition programs, including meal waivers and closed school meal programs
- The special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC)
- Supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP), including emergency allotments when states have declared a disaster or emergency
These resources can benefit employees and their families who are struggling to put food on the table, while 211 may help employees figure out how to cover their bills.
8. CARES Act
While not yet signed into law at the time of this writing, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act may provide employees with a recovery tax credit. Employees would be wise to follow the bill’s progress and, if it passes, see if they qualify for the tax credit.
The credit would technically apply to 2020; however, eligible employees would potentially be able to receive an immediate check. More information about the CARES Act and its additional provisions can be found on these sites:
Brookings offers a resource page for employees who have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. Topics covered include:
- Medicaid expansion coverage available to low income individuals. Note that eligibility is dependent on current monthly income, which is reduced for many employees
- Government subsidized coverage, which may be available to individuals via Healthcare.gov. Premiums are based on plan selection, then subsidized by the government based on income. Employees whose circumstances have recently changed might qualify for a special enrollment period
- COBRA coverage, which enables employees to keep health benefits due to job loss or reduced hours
These programs can help employees find or maintain health coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.
10. Industry-specific coronavirus relief resources
Some industry-specific trade associations and foundations have set up relief funds for workers impacted by the coronavirus. Employers can encourage employees to seek help from these resources, which include:
- Armed Forces: Financial assistance for Army, Air Force, and Navy and Marine servicemen and women
- Musical artists: The AGMA Relief Fund offers assistance for musical artists
- Bartenders: The USBG National Charity Foundation offers emergency assistance for bartenders and their families
- Restaurant employees: One Fair Wage offers an emergency coronavirus fund for tipped and service workers. Additional grants and financial assistance can be found on Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
- Domestic workers: In-home care workers, house cleaners and others can apply for emergency assistance via the National Domestic Workers Alliance Coronavirus Care Fund
In addition to these resources, employees should check with state, regional and local agencies to learn more about financial assistance and other relief programs. Many communities are deferring utility bills, for example, while others have set up emergency food banks, grants and low interest loans to help workers weather the storm.
Employee coronavirus coping resources
COVID-19 fears coupled with financial stress can take a toll on mental health. These coping resources can help.
The CDC lists mental health resources and offers tip for coping with coronavirus, including links and numbers to the Disaster Distress Helpline. Topics include:
- How people react to stressful situations
- Self-help, including links to meditation, healthy eating, exercise and sleep resources
- Tips for parents to help children cope
- Tips for people who have been released from quarantine
- How to reduce stress in yourself and others
- Where to get additional help
NAMI offers coping strategies for those who suffer from mental illnesses, including how to access medications and receive therapy during quarantine. Of particular note is the NAMI HelpLine Coronavirus Information and Resources document, which covers:
- How to cope with coronavirus-related anxiety
- How to deal with loneliness and isolation when working from home
- How to get care without health insurance or a regular doctor
- Whether people with mental illnesses are at greater risk for contracting COVID-19
- How to cope with losing a loved one to coronavirus
This guide offers coping and stress management advice for the general population as well as specific groups, including:
- Health care workers
- Team leaders in health care facilities
- Caretakers of children
- Caretakers of older adults
- People in isolation
The guide links to additional resources such as information on where COVID-19 is spreading, the WHO’S coronavirus hub and risk communication for individuals, communities, the travel and tourism sector, the health sector, employers and workers, faith-based organizations and large event organizers.
The ADAA offers tips for managing COVID-19 anxiety, including a list of videos and blog posts that cover topics such as:
- How to manage coronavirus anxiety
- Tips for parents and child caregivers
- Homeschooling during the quarantine
- Social distancing
- Fun and productive quarantine projects
- Building psychological strength
This page’s Resources for Families section links to publications and advice for:
- Taking care of one’s self during infectious disease outbreaks
- Working remotely during COVID-19
- Taking care of family well-being
- Supporting homebound children during COVID-19
- Supporting your family during quarantine or isolation
This article by Christina Oehler lists ten virtual therapy and mental health apps to cope with coronavirus stress, including:
- Better Help
Employees can read the article for the full list plus details on how each app can help them cope with the pandemic.
Employees who have children can consult the NCTSN’s Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease. The publication covers:
- Facts about the coronavirus and how it affects children
- How families can prepare for the coronavirus outbreak
- What parents and caregivers should discuss with their children
- How to reduce your family’s risk of exposure, plus what medical supplies are needed
- How to help children of all ages cope with coronavirus-related stress
- Where to get additional help
The Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers behavioral health resources for coronavirus as part of its movement to transform children’s mental health. Employees who have children can consult it to discover:
- How to talk to their kids about COVID-19
- How to help kids deal with school closings and cancelled plans
- Tips to stay mentally healthy
- How to manage indoor boredom
- How to set healthy routines for young children
19. Psychology Today
Psychology Today walks those impacted by coronavirus through coping techniques designed to alleviate anxiety. Key topics include:
- How to recognize stress and its symptoms
- How to identify and manage stressors – and learn to let go of things outside of one’s control
- How to recognize one’s limits and develop healthy habits
- Self-care advice, including coping mechanisms and activities
This resource is designed for those who feel helpless, angry and/or sad in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It encourages readers to understand how they can choose their responses and offers mental health tips for coping with COVID-19.
Loss of income and jobs, fears about contracting the coronavirus and other stressors could cause some employees to consider irrational or dangerous actions. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention encourages anyone who is struggling to text “TALK” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Good employers take care of their employees, especially when times are tough. Just as businesses are struggling, it’s important to recognize the impact COVID-19 has on employees: loss of income, anxiety and uncertainty take their toll on everyone. Though many businesses are not positioned to financially support employees in the absence of customers, production and sales, they can share financial assistance and coping resources employees need to persevere the pandemic.
The information provided in this blog does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice.