Legal Rights and Information Regarding Coronavirus
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has struck a severe blow to public health and the economy in the U.S. In response to this emergency, the federal government passed three massive stimulus packages worth about $5 trillion. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) contain measures designed to help individuals and businesses under financial stress. For example, the federal government will supplement state unemployment benefits and expand eligibility for benefits. It also will provide free COVID-19 testing and substantial funding for the health care sector. Another notable feature of the Acts involves direct cash payments to each taxpayer whose income falls within a certain range.
Additional Protections for Employees
Complementing the CARES Act, another federal law provides financial assistance to employees who need to take time off from work for reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for eligible employees affected by COVID-19, including those caring for affected family members.
Another section of the FFCRA extends benefits provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees of government agencies and private businesses with fewer than 500 employees can receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child whose school or day care is closed during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Additional Protections for Businesses
The Acts offer protection to business owners facing a high risk of closures and layoffs. Businesses may be eligible for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Economic Injury Disaster loans (including emergency $10,000 grants for applicants in low-income communities), Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) grants, and additional tax benefits.
Tenants and homeowners across the country who have lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic can also access certain government protections. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an order on September 1, 2020 that established a nationwide eviction moratorium for eligible renters. Homeowners may also benefit from foreclosure suspensions on homes with federally backed mortgages through June 30, 2021. Protections may be available at the state level as well. People in certain states or localities may be even more strongly protected from evictions and utility shutoffs. Assisting homeowners, some major lenders have agreed to automatic forbearance periods for borrowers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While COVID-19 infection rates are declining in some areas, the spread of the virus remains a critical concern. Many states continue to issue orders regarding social distancing, face masks, and compliance with additional health and safety measures. In the spirit of reopening public spaces, these orders often also impose altered business hours, capacity limits, and industry-specific guidance. Reopening plans and restrictions are regularly updated in each state. Some states also have imposed restrictions on travel in an effort to reduce the exposure of their residents to this highly contagious virus. Finally, courts in many states are operating under restrictions and often attempting to hear as many matters remotely as possible, balancing public health against constitutional rights.
How does the federal stimulus package affect me? You may be eligible for a one-time payment from the government. You also can receive additional unemployment benefits if you lose your job. Business owners may receive loans on favorable terms.
What if I can’t pay my rent? Tenants unable to pay rent due to the COVID-19 outbreak may be protected by federal, state, or local laws suspending evictions, prohibiting late fees, and imposing rent caps due to the pandemic.
Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19 If you lose your job due to the economic downturn, you can get unemployment benefits from your state. These benefits will be supplemented by the federal government.
Working Remotely During COVID-19 Employers should develop a specific policy to help employees transition to remote work. Employees should take certain steps to maximize their productivity when working from home.
Impact of COVID-19 on Criminal Cases Court closures and ensuing delays in processing cases may result in violations of the right to a speedy trial. Meanwhile, overcrowding in jails poses health concerns for defendants.
Divorce, Family Law, and Coronavirus While most family courts are closed, you still can get a divorce during the coronavirus outbreak. Some parents may want to adjust child custody arrangements to protect a child’s health.
Impact of COVID-19 on Personal Injury Cases Accident victims may face more pressure to settle cases. Medical treatment may be delayed, and insurers may defend cases more aggressively, leading to protracted litigation.