COVID-19 Federal Resources for Rhode Islanders

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. To begin confronting it and reviving our economy, Congress has passed several stimulus bills sending significant resources directly to Rhode Islanders. 

We have compiled a comprehensive list of the COVID-19 support available to Rhode Islanders below. If you don’t see the answer to your question or need assistance working with a federal agency, you can contact my constituent services team here and they will be in touch shortly. 

This page will be updated regularly with new information. For state specific and local information, click here. 

Cash payments are coming to many Rhode Island households to help during this difficult time.

Will I get a check?

Rhode Islanders who file taxes in 2018 or 2019 or receive Social Security benefits will qualify if they meet income requirements.

What are the income requirements?

The benefit amounts start phasing out at $75,000 for a single filer, $112,500 for a head of household, and $150,000 for joint filers.  Filers with income under these amounts will receive the full benefit.  Single filers with an income between $75,000 and $99,000 will receive partial benefits.  Joint filers with an income between $150,000, and $198,000 and heads of household with income between $112,500 and $146,500 will receive partial benefits. 

How is income calculated?

For purposes of this program, the IRS will use adjusted gross income (AGI).  You can find your AGI on line 8b of your tax return. 

How much will I get?

A single filer who is eligible for the full amount will receive $1,200.  Joint filers eligible for the full amount will receive $2,400.  If you have children, you will also receive $500 per child.  For example, a family of four eligible for the full amount will receive $3,400. ($2,400 + $500 x kids.)

How do I get the benefit?

If you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, or you receive Social Security benefits, you will receive the benefit automatically.  If you provided bank account information to receive your tax refund as a direct deposit, you will receive your benefit that way.  If you did not provide information for direct deposit, the government will mail you a check to the address provided on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever you filed most recently.  If you did not file in 2018 or 2019 but you receive Social Security benefits, you will receive the benefit the same way you receive your Social Security benefits.

The IRS launched the “Get My Payment” Web App for Americans to submit direct deposit information and track economic impact payments. Visit the “Get My Payment” App here.

What if I don’t get Social Security benefits, and I also didn’t file in 2018 or 2019?

You will need to file a return to receive your benefit.  You can file your federal return for free on a number of websites, some of which are listed here.

How soon will I get this benefit?

Congress directed the IRS to send these payments as rapidly as possible.  With that said, it could still take a month or longer.  The fastest way to receive your benefit is if you already filed a tax return and provided your direct deposit information.  If you have not done that, you should file as soon as possible. 

Access to COVID-19 testing, prescription drug coverage, and health insurance has been expanded in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

If I have private insurance, will I have to pay for a coronavirus test?

All private insurance plans must cover coronavirus testing without deductibles, coinsurance, or copayments.  Insurers also have to fully cover fees for visits to the ER, an urgent care center, or a doctor’s office associated with getting a test.

If I have private insurance, how does this bill affect the cost of a vaccine when one becomes available?

Under the Affordable Care Act, preventive services and vaccines must be covered by private insurance without cost sharing. Normally, these services and vaccines are covered starting on the first day of the plan year beginning after the vaccine gets a favorable rating or recommendation from an independent panel of experts convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What if I’m uninsured?  How can I access testing and health care coverage?

The Families First Act provides funding to pay for testing uninsured individuals.  If you are uninsured, please talk to your provider or an urgent care center about receiving a test.

Rhode Island has opened a special enrollment period through April 15 for uninsured individuals to sign up for health coverage.  Please visit healthsourceRI.com for more information.

How will seniors access the medications they need when they are being told to stay at home? In the past, Medicare drug plans only let beneficiaries receive a 30-day supply of their prescription.

During the COVID-19 emergency, seniors on Medicare can get up to 90 days of most prescriptions.  Medicare drug plans will also allow beneficiaries to fill prescriptions early for refills up to 90 days, depending on the prescription.

Are there any new health care benefits in light of COVID-19?

Most health plans in Rhode Island are now providing temporary new benefits during the COVID-19 emergency, including telemedicine services and early refills for prescriptions and medical supplies.

More Information

For more information and resources, please visit the following websites:

Rhode Island Department of Health

Medicare and Medicare Fact Sheet 

Marketplace coverage

Congress has expanded unemployment benefits for many Americans.  The expansions include an additional 13 weeks of coverage and a $600 weekly boost to all unemployment benefits through July.  Unemployment benefits are also available to many workers who would not normally qualify, such as the self-employed, gig workers, independent contractors, and workers with irregular work histories.  Note: this information is based on the law as in effect on April 1, 2020.  Congress may act in the future to extend and enhance these programs, or may not do so.     

How much will I receive in unemployment benefits?

Under Rhode Island’s existing system, weekly regular benefits are a percentage of your prior earnings with a maximum weekly benefit of $586.  The federal government will add $600 to all weekly unemployment benefits regardless of your prior income, bringing the temporary maximum benefit to $1,186 per week for Rhode Islanders. 

How long will these benefits last?

The $600 in additional federal benefits will be available to beneficiaries through July 31, 2020.  The new law will also provide Rhode Islanders with an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for a total of 39 weeks.  The federal government is working with states to include the $600 federal benefit to weekly unemployment benefits as soon as possible.  Note: under these timelines, you may receive boosted benefits through July 31 and regular benefits afterward for the duration of the 39 weeks.

Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?

Congress has temporarily expanded unemployment insurance to cover the self-employed, gig-workers, independent contractors, and workers with irregular work history. It has also expanded the list of allowable criteria for claiming unemployment compensation to include many reasons related to COVID-19. 

What if I’ve been out of work because of COVID-19 or another reason for several weeks already?

If you have already used up part or all of the 26 weeks of benefits allowed under Rhode Island’s laws, you will still be eligible for 13 additional weeks of benefits when that period expires.  You are also eligible to receive the additional $600 per week through July 31. 

Is there a waiting period? 

Rhode Island has waived the usual 7-day waiting period to claim unemployment insurance.  Unemployed Rhode Islanders should apply immediately.   

How do I file for unemployment insurance?

You can apply for unemployment benefits online here, or by phone at (401) 243-9100.  Due to the influx of claims being filed, however, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training has advised that online applications will be processed more quickly.  

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has created a number of programs to help small businesses and their workers weather these challenging times.  This document includes an overview of the primary programs as of April 1, 2020.  

New SBA Loans

Congress has established a new 7(a) lending program through the Small Business Administration called the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  The program includes loan forgiveness to cover certain costs, effectively turning portions of a loan into a grant. 

Who qualifies for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program?

The PPP is available to small businesses, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, 501(c)(19) veteran’s organizations, and tribal businesses.  Only entities with 500 or fewer employees qualify.

What are the terms of the loan and what is the maximum loan amount?

Loans will have interest rates of 1% and a maturity of 2 years.  The maximum loan amount under the PPP is $10 million.  An individual entity’s maximum loan will be based on its payroll.

How is loan forgiveness determined?

Borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness for costs during the 8-week period after the origination date of the loan.  The loan is eligible to be forgiven if the funds are used for payroll support, interest payments on a mortgage, rent payments, and utility payments.  For the purposes of forgiveness, not more than 25% of the loan can be used for non-payroll costs.  Costs that are not eligible include compensation over $100,000 (annualized) for an employee, certain taxes, compensation to employees outside of the United States, and sick and family leave for which a tax credit is available.  Forgiveness amounts will be reduced proportionately if there are reductions in staff and payroll.  To obtain loan forgiveness, borrowers will submit a request to their lender, including documentation to verify that the loan was used for eligible purposes. 

What if I’ve already had to lay off some of my employees?

While the amount of forgiveness on a loan will be reduced proportionally by reductions in headcount or salaries, borrowers will not be penalized if they rehire laid-off workers and restore reduced salaries by June 30, 2020.

How do I apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program?

You can apply for a loan under the PPP through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through federally insured depository institutions, federally insured credit unions, and Farm Credit System institutions.  If you need help finding a qualified lender, you can visit the SBA website for a list of SBA lenders.  Small businesses, including sole proprietorships, can begin applying for loans on April 3, 2020, and independent contractors and self-employed individuals can begin applying for loans on April 10, 2020.   

Are there other types of loans that I may qualify for?

Yes, many small organizations are eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL).  EIDLs are low-interest loans of up to $2 million that are available to pay for expenses, like payroll and operating costs, that otherwise would have been paid if not for a disaster.  You can apply for an EIDL directly through the SBA by visiting its website.

Existing SBA Loans

Are there any supports for existing SBA loans?

Yes, the SBA will pay the principal, interest, and other fees that borrowers owe on existing 7(a), 504, and microloan products for six months.

Tax Credits

What other supports are available to me if I do not want to take out an SBA loan?

Congress has included an employee retention tax credit equal to 50% of qualified wages during the COVID-19 crisis.  The credit will be provided for wages and compensation, including health benefits, on up to $10,000 per employee.  Businesses eligible for this tax credit includes employers whose operations have been completely or partially suspended due to a government order limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings.  The credit is also available to employers that have experienced a reduction greater than 50 percent in quarterly receipts year-over-year.  There is no size limit on the businesses that qualify for the employer retention tax credit and employers may request an advance payment of the credit.     

Additionally, Congress has authorized that employers can delay paying the employer portion of FICA taxes for the remainder of 2020.  The deferred taxes would be due in two installments, one at the end of 2021 and the other at the end of 2022.  There is no size limit to employers that qualify to defer payment on a portion of FICA taxes in 2020.   

These tax credits are only available to businesses that do not take out SBA PPP loans.

For more information about the Employee Retention Credit, please visit the IRS website

Paid Leave

Is my employer required to offer paid leave?

If you work for an employer with fewer than 500 employees and can’t work because you’re quarantined, sick, or seeking a medical diagnosis due to COVID-19, you are entitled to 2 weeks of paid sick leave.  You will receive your regular rate of pay up to $511 per day. 

Additionally, if you are unable to work because you are caring for someone under quarantine or a child whose school or care provider is closed due to COVID-19, you are entitled to paid sick leave equal to two-thirds of your regular rate of pay up to $200 per day.

Finally, if you are unable to work because your child’s school or care provider is closed, your employer must provide you up to 10 additional weeks of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds your regular rate up to $200 per day.

Are there any exemptions for small businesses?

Yes, businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be able to apply for exemptions if they can demonstrate that these requirements jeopardize their businesses.

Is help available to employers to cover the costs of paid leave?

Yes, employers are eligible for tax credits equal to the qualifying wages paid for sick and family leave.  Employers can claim the credits beginning on April 1, 2020.  Employers claiming credits may benefit more quickly by reducing their federal employment tax deposits or by requesting an advance payment of the credits from the IRS.    

Congress has put protections in place for veterans and veteran service providers.

What support is included for VA health care facilities and their COVID-19 response?

Congress has passed $19.57 billion in funding to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has the equipment, tests, telehealth capabilities and support services necessary to support veterans and the health care workforce at facilities nationwide.

I’ve been told my appointments will now be through telehealth, but I can’t afford internet services or don’t have a good internet connection.  How will this bill help me?

Talk to your provider and local VA about getting an iPad or other tablet from the VA.  You can call (401.273.7100) or send a secure message to your provider on My HealtheVet to ask about this option.

I need home-based care. Can I still enroll or renew my participation in the Veteran Directed Care program?

Yes.  You can enroll or renew your participation in the Veteran Directed Care program through telephone or telehealth; no in-home visit required.

I use the Veteran Directed Care program for home-based care, but I can’t get to a printer or post office to send in my renewal paperwork due to COVID-19.  Will I be kicked out of the program?

No.  Veterans and their caregivers will not be penalized for late paperwork and will not be dis-enrolled or suspended from the program.

I use the Veteran Directed Care program for home-based care, but I am currently living outside of my home state and can’t travel home due to COVID-19 restrictions and health concerns.  Can my caregiver still be paid for services, even if we are out of state?

Yes.  Veterans and their caregivers will not be penalized for being out of state for more than 14 days during the COVID-19 emergency, and should continue to receive payments for care.

I use VA’s prosthetics service and need to get my prosthetic adjusted, but am nervous to go into a VA facility because I have underlying conditions that make me more at risk of complications from COVID-19.  Where can I go to get my prosthetic adjusted?

The CARES Act gives the VA more flexibility to allow veterans who need their prosthetics created or adjusted to do so in their local community.  Call your local VA provider (401.273.7100) or message them on My HealtheVet and ask about this option.

I receive pension and health care benefits from VA.  Will the emergency income from the CARES Act (click here for more information) count towards my income for determining my eligibility for pension, health care, and other needs-based benefits?

No.  The 2020 Recovery Rebate payment cannot be counted as income when determining a veteran’s eligibility for any VA needs-based benefits. 

I have a VA-backed mortgage.  Am I protected against foreclosure during the COVID-19 emergency declaration?

Yes, federally backed mortgages, including those guaranteed or insured by the VA are protected from foreclosure until May 17, 2020.  Additionally, those struggling to pay bills are eligible for up to 12 months of forbearance on their mortgage payments, which you can request through your mortgage servicer. 

My school is converting to online education because of COVID-19. Will I still receive my housing allowance?

Yes, the VA will continue to make housing allowance payments to students using VA education benefits at the on campus rate if the school converted to online education due to COVID-19.

 

Aid is available for students impacted by COVID-19.

What relief is available to students affected by COVID-19?

Students will be eligible for emergency financial aid grants from their institutions to meet unexpected and urgent needs related to the coronavirus, such as expenses related to food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and childcare.  Students who are currently participating in the Federal Work Study program can continue to receive work-study payments from their institution if they are unable to work due to workplace closures.

What if I had to drop out of school due to COVID-19?

Relief also exists for students who must drop out of school due to COVID-19.  Students will have the portion of their student loan taken out for the semester (or equivalent) canceled.  Further, students who received a Pell Grant or subsidized student loan will not have those types of financial aid counted toward their lifetime limits.

What relief is provided to federal student loan borrowers?

Borrowers do not need to make payments on student loans held by the federal government (Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) held by the U.S. Department of Education) through September 30, 2020.  No interest will accrue on such loans for the same period of time.  Borrowers may continue to make payments during this time to pay down principal. 

If my wages have been garnished to pay my student loans, will they continue to be?

During this period, borrowers will not be subject to involuntary collections (garnishment of wages, tax refunds, and Social Security benefits) and will not have any negative credit reporting for late payments during this period.

What if I want to continue to pay down my loans during this period of time?

Borrowers may continue to make payments during this time to pay down principal.  Student borrowers will continue to receive credit toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Income-Driven Repayment forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation even though they will not be making payments.  

When will payments resume for federal student loan borrowers?

Starting in August, student loan borrowers will receive notices to help inform them that their regular loan payments and interest accrual will resume after September 30, 2020.  These notices will help protect borrowers by providing them with a transition period to stay on track as regular loan payments resume and to offer them the option to enroll in other relief options such as income-driven repayment, which can lower a borrower’s monthly payment.

Does the six-month suspension of payments and waiver of interest and involuntary collections provisions apply to all types of student loans?

No.  The suspension only applies to all Direct Loans and FFEL loans held by the Department Education.  Approximately 37 million borrowers (or 87 percent of federal student loan borrowers in repayment) will receive relief under this plan.  For more information about the type of loan you may have, you can login to your account here or you can contact your loan servicer. 

I’m currently enrolled in a foreign institution abroad. Is there help for me?

Yes.  Congress has allowed the U.S. Secretary of Education to permit a foreign institution to offer any part of its program through distance education if there is a public health emergency or other disaster or emergency declared by the government authorities in the country where the college is located.  These distance education programs may be offered for the length of the emergency or disaster and the following payment period, to ensure students can maintain their student loans and finish out their coursework before returning to in-person instruction.

I’m currently enrolled in a foreign institution abroad and due to personal circumstances would like to take part of my coursework at another foreign college or a college in the U.S. Can I do so and maintain my student loans?

As long as there is still a public health emergency or other major disaster or emergency related to the coronavirus declared by U.S. government officials, you may take part of your coursework at a U.S. institution if your current school enters into an agreement with the U.S. institution that you wish to attend.  This allows you to maintain your primary enrollment in your degree program with your original foreign institution, but gives you flexibility to take some coursework back in the U.S. if you need to come home.  However, the CARES Act only allows this flexibility with U.S. institutions of higher education, and not other foreign institutions.

Programs to help homeowners and renters avoid foreclosure or eviction, and provide mortgage payment relief are now available.

Is there any relief for upcoming mortgage payments?

Any homeowner with an FHA, VA, USDA, 184/184A mortgage, or a mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, is eligible for up to 12 months’ forbearance on their mortgage payments, which they can request through their mortgage servicer.  At the end of the forbearance, borrowers can work within each agency’s existing programs to help them get back on track with payments.  For information about your mortgage you should contact your mortgage servicer.  You can learn more about mortgage relief options under the CARES Act and how to look up your mortgage servicer online here.

Will homeowners be foreclosed on if they can’t make their loan payments?

The bill includes a 60-day foreclosure moratorium starting on March 18, 2020, for all federally-backed mortgage loans.  Borrowers with FHA, VA, USDA, or 184/184A loans, or loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will not see foreclosure actions and cannot be removed from their homes due to foreclosure during that time.  For information about your mortgage you should contact your mortgage servicer.  You can look up your mortgage servicer online by following the link in the previous question.

Will multifamily property owners be foreclosed on if they can’t make loan payments?

Congress has provided owners of multifamily properties with federally backed loans that are having a financial hardship up to 90 days of forbearance on their loan payments.  Property owners will have to request the forbearance and document their hardship in order to qualify; they would make the requests every 30 days.  During a forbearance period, the property owner may not evict or initiate the eviction of a tenant for nonpayment of rent and may not charge the tenant any fees or penalties for nonpayment of rent.  This protection applies to loans issued or backed by federal agencies (including FHA and USDA) or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

Is there any relief for upcoming rent payments?

Property owners with a federally backed mortgage loan or receiving federal subsidies cannot charge tenants fees for nonpayment of rent until July 24, 2020 or issue a notice to evict tenants until August 23.  After this period, tenants will be responsible for making payments and getting back on track, so renters should continue to make payments if they’re financially able to do so.  If you are having trouble paying your rental payments, you should contact your landlord about your financial hardships.   

I’ve lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis.  Can I lower my rent?

Renters who receive housing subsidies such as public housing or Section 8 and who have had their incomes fall should recertify their incomes with their public housing agency or property owner because it may lower the rent they owe.