Coronavirus relief programs in New York, from unemployment to rent relief

  • There are resources for those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • You can apply for mortgage forbearance, rent relief, and unemployment insurance. 
  • There are eight regional food banks in New York for those struggling to put food on the table. 
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider’s homepage for more stories.

New York remains one of the states with the most coronavirus cases in the US. The state recently surpassed 1.5 million total cases since the start of the pandemic, with New York City alone accounting for 650,000 of those cases.

Many New Yorkers are facing financial challenges at the hands of the pandemic, including unemployment, rent and mortgage payments, and healthcare costs.

If you’re a New Yorker struggling with your finances during the pandemic, there are resources available for you. The first step toward making the most of these opportunities is to be aware of what your options are.

Mortgage relief

You have the right to ask for a 180-day forbearance under both state and federal law if you’re undergoing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Forbearance is when your servicer allows you to pause or reduce your payments for a set amount of time. 

Government mortgages backed by the FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac qualify for forbearance under the CARES Act. New York’s Banking Law 9-x provides forbearances for privately-owned, non-federally-backed mortgages serviced by a New York State-regulated company.

You must contact your loan servicer to see if you’re eligible for a forbearance. If you qualify, you don’t need to make payments or can make reduced payments during that six-month period.

A forbearance agreement can give you time to get your finances in order, and you have several options for repaying the amount later.

You can request an additional 180-day forbearance if you’re still experiencing financial hardship at the end of your term. During your forbearance period, you won’t rack up additional interest on your delayed payments. Your servicer also can’t charge you a fee for requesting or receiving a forbearance.  

Importantly, you’ll still owe the amount you skipped paying after the forbearance period is over. You won’t have to pay a lump sum but will instead have three options for repayment:

  • Increase the mortgage’s term for the length of the forbearance period
  • Repay the amounts missed during forbearance in monthly payments for the outstanding loan term
  • Complete a loan modification or another option for repayment

If your attempt comes up short and you need assistance enforcing your rights to a forbearance, consider contacting a foreclosure attorney. 

Rent relief

Suppose you can’t afford to pay your rent. In that case, the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 put a moratorium on residential evictions until May 1, 2021, for tenants who have experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic. You must submit a document describing the source of the problem to prevent eviction.

New York City’s tenant helpline can offer free legal counsel and advice to tenants.

Depending on your location, you can find a list of agencies that provide rental assistance to residents. If you’re looking to rent a cheaper option, you can use New York’s affordable housing directory, which lists affordable homes and apartments across the Empire State. 

Additionally, one New York state program provides eligible households with a one-time rental subsidy sent directly to the household’s landlord. Unfortunately, the extended application period for this rent relief program closed on February 1, 2021, but stay on the lookout for future program extensions. The government has already renewed the program once. 

If you live in New York City, the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants can provide more information when you fill out a contact form or call 311. The city’s tenant helpline can offer free legal counsel and advice to tenants.

Unemployment insurance

You may be eligible for either regular unemployment insurance (UI), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) through the federal government. If you qualify for PUA, you may be eligible to receive:

  • Up to 57 weeks of PUA benefits.
  • An extra $300/week for weeks ending January 3, 2021, to March 14, 2021

Determining which benefits you’re eligible for can be confusing, so make sure you use this calculator to get an estimate of what you’re qualified to receive. 

These programs will be available through March 14, 2021, with qualified claimants’ benefits entirely phasing out by April 5, 2021.

The best way to apply is online with a streamlined application for either traditional UI or PUA, depending on your eligibility. Here are the eligibility requirements for PUA specifically:

  • Have lost employment through no fault of your own
  • Have enough prior earnings from employment to establish a claim
  • Must be ready, willing, and able to work, and actively looking for work during each week in which you are claiming benefits
  • Continue to certify weekly while unemployed 
  • You will not be eligible for PUA if you can telework or receive paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits (regardless of meeting a category listed above)

You can estimate your benefits with this calculator. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced a proposal that would allow New Yorkers to work part-time jobs and remain eligible for unemployment benefits. A part-time employee will receive the percentage of the benefit contingent on how many hours they worked and earnings of no more than $504.

If you’ve filed for unemployment benefits and your claim has been denied, you still have options available. You can submit a form through the New York State Bar Association and the organization will pair you with a volunteer lawyer who can assist you.

Paying utilities

If you’re having trouble paying your utility bills, there’s still some good news: Service providers can’t shut off your service for nonpayment if your financial situation changed due to the pandemic.

Until New York’s moratorium on utility and municipal shutoffs expires on March 31, 2021, service providers need to offer deferred payment agreements with no money down and no fees. 

Qualifying utilities include electricity, natural gas, steam, water, and landline telephone. Cable, internet, and cell phone service aren’t covered under the law, but check with your service provider to see if they offer similar protections. Contact your provider as soon as possible to figure out the details of your arrangement.  

Utility providers can’t require you to document a job loss, unemployment filing, or pay cut during the self-certification process. 

Some utility providers may require that you self-certify that you’ve experienced a change in your financial situation due to the pandemic. Still, they can’t require you to document a job loss, unemployment filing, or pay cut during the certification process. 

Additionally, if you need help paying your bills, there are programs designed to support you. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) assists low-income people with paying the cost of heating their homes. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) can help you assess if free energy upgrades would benefit your home.

Food programs

There are many options for households in New York who are struggling to put food on the table. New York has eight regional food banks, each serving different counties, and this food is provided at no cost through the US Department of Agriculture. You can check which regional food bank covers your area here. 

If you qualify for SNAP, your benefits will be increased through June 30, 2021. 

Students going to school in person will be given free daily breakfast and lunch. Students learning remotely may pick up the free two meals at most school buildings. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, also recently received a 15% boost in funding from the federal government through June 30, 2021. SNAP issues benefits to buy food and assists low-income working people, senior citizens, and others feed themselves and their families.

If you live in New York City, you can use this map to see the locations of all food banks across the city, grab and go meals from NYC schools, and grocery stores.

Health insurance 

Fortunately for those without health insurance, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently extended the open enrollment period for uninsured residents through March 31, 2021. This extension means you still have time to apply for coverage through the state’s official health plan marketplace or directly through an insurer.

Your health insurance will usually cover things like doctor’s office visits, telehealth services, and prescription drugs. You may qualify for free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid or other programs through the state’s official health plan marketplace. On the marketplace, you can compare plans and estimate costs, as well as get help with enrollment.

Provided you have health insurance, your insurer will offer both vaccines and COVID-19 tests at no cost. When your provider determines that you need antibody testing, the COVID-19 antibody tests are covered without a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible.

Financial counseling

There are many free online resources to get financial advice from both the federal and state government, and we’ve rounded up some of the top ones for New Yorkers. 

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has tips for avoiding common money scams and managing updated student loan guidelines during the pandemic. Additionally, you can learn more about mortgage and housing assistance options and watch short videos from experts on coronavirus-specific topics. 

If you live in New York City, you can get free, one-on-one professional financial counseling and coaching at one of the city’s financial empowerment centers.

If you’re a young person or a parent, the FDIC has a list of free money curricula for grades Pre-K through 12. These lessons feature exercises and examples and can help you or your child get a head start on managing your financial life after graduating from school.

If you live in New York City, you can get free, one-on-one professional financial counseling and coaching at one of the city’s financial empowerment centers. They offer help setting up a spending plan, developing a strategy to minimize debt, opening a bank account, and more. You can create a financial empowerment portal account to book an appointment online or call 311 to schedule an appointment over the phone. 

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should provide a good starting point for your research into financial counseling.

Ryan Wangman is a reviews fellow at Personal Finance Insider reporting on mortgages, refinancing, bank accounts, and bank reviews. In his past experience writing about personal finance, he has written about credit scores, financial literacy, and homeownership.

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