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2020 Coronavirus Outbreak: What you need to know

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
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NOTE: This page will continue to be updated as the coronavirus outbreak continues and Iowa Legal Aid obtains new information. MAKE SURE YOU CHECK BACK OFTEN, AS NEW INFORMATION IS BECOMING AVAILABLE ON A DAILY AND SOMETIMES EVEN HOURLY BASIS. Also, make sure to refresh your browser (push the f5 key!)

As we deal with the fallout from the global coronavirus outbreak, many people will experience legal issues related to not only health care, but a wide variety of other civil legal problems. This page will serve as a resource with issues you should consider and legal information that we hope will be helpful to you.

Evictions (updated 3/30/2020) NEW

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There have been several different policies, laws, and proclamations issued by the Governor of Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court, and even the President and Congress that deal with the rights of tenants in rental housing. These include "eviction moratoriums" - in other words, stopping the eviction process during the current crisis, as well as restrictions on ending leases for nonpayment of rent or other reasons. It is complicated, to say the least, and still changing as we write this. However, here is a list of the most important things to remember. If you need help with these issues, you may qualify for assistance from Iowa Legal Aid (see the end of this article).

If you are trying to understand how all of these policies affect you, this flowchart might come in handy.

  • My landlord already filed an eviction against me, but I haven't had my hearing yet. What happens now?
    • Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation on March 20, 2020, effective immediately, that provides all evictions are postponed during the period that Iowa remains under a state of emergency, except in cases where someone is living somewhere and never had a valid lease, land contract, deed, or any other legal right to live there. This moratorium also prevents a landlord from terminating a lease because of either non-payment of rent or a breach of the lease, even if the landlord sends you a notice to cure / notice to quit. This moratorium is currently scheduled to last until April 16, 2020 at 11:59 PM, but may end sooner or be extended. Keep checking back.

    • new 3/30/2020 On 3/27/2020, Congress passed and the President signed the federal CARES Act. The CARES Act deals with many different things, including evictions. Specifically, the CARES Act provides extra protection for people who live in "covered properties," in addition to the protections provided by the governor's proclamation. A covered property is a property with some connection to the federal government. Some estimates say that approximately 90% of residential property in the U.S. might be covered under this defintion, but this additional protection doesn't apply to everyone. Covered property includes, but is not limited to, the following:

      • Property subject to federal programs encouraging affordable housing [search an address here to see if a property is subject to such a program].

      • Property where the tenant receives rental assistance through a Section 8 or USDA voucher.

      • Property that is financed by a mortgage loan that is guaranteed by the federal government - FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac, or any other program connected to the federal government.

    • new 3/30/2020 The CARES Act provides additional protections to people who are tenants of "covered housing" by doing the following:

      • Prevents new eviction filings for unpaid rent until July 25, 2020. The CARES Act does not affect evictions that were on file before March 27, 2020, and does not affect evictions that are filed for something other than unpaid rent.

      • Prevents charging of late fees or anything like a late fee for unpaid rent.

      • Once the moratorium is over, tenants cannot be for nonpayment of rent until their landlord gives them a 30 day notice - not the usual 3 day notice generally in force in Iowa.

      • NOTE: Like the Governor's moratorium, this does not mean that you don't have to pay rent. Eventually, all of the rent validly owed under the lease will be due. It is very important that you have a plan for what you will do when that happens.

    • Even before the Governor's proclamation and the CARES ACT, the Iowa Supreme Court had issued an order that led most counties to postpone evictions. Most counties postponed all eviction hearings other than clear and present danger hearings to after May 4, 2020. However, some counties only postponed these hearings for a week, or just set them to be heard by phone instead of in-person.

    • The Governor's proclamation changed this. Under the Governor's proclamation, any hearings set before April 17, 2020 should not go forward unless the person never had a valid right to occupy the unit, or are otherwise a true emergency.

    • Under the Iowa Supreme Court's supervisory order, you can ask that any hearings be postponed until no earlier than May 4, 2020.
    • You may need to file a motion with the court in order to make sure your hearing is postponed until at least April 17, 2020, or May 4, 2020 if possible. Iowa Legal Aid will be posting a motion you can file yourself to make this argument soon.
  • My landlord hasn't filed an eviction against me, but she has given me a notice to cure / notice to quit.
    • The Governor's proclamation not only prevents evictions, but also terminations of rental agreements for nonpayment of rent or a breach of lease. This means that you have until at least until the end of the moratorium to pay rent or to fix a breach of lease.
    • As laid out above, if you live in a federally connected "covered property," then you have additional time under the CARES Act - until July 25, 2020 - to pay rent.
    • Iowa landlord-tenant law provides that a lease is terminated only when the landlord gives a tenant a proper notice, and in the proper way. The moratorium on lease terminations means that any notice to cure given during the applicable period - i.e. until July 25 if your home is a "covered property," and until April 17 if not - is not valid, and cannot be the basis of an eviction even after the moratorium ends. Only notices given after the applicable moratorium ends are valid.
    • This does not apply to notices for clear and present danger, or for notices terminating a periodic (e.g. month-to-month) tenancy, but it does apply to a 3 day notice to quit required before certain evictions under Iowa Code chapter 648. The federal moratorium does not apply to cases involving a material breach of lease.
  • My landlord hasn't given me any notices, but I know that I am not going to be able to pay rent this month. As mentioned above, your landlord cannot terminate your lease for nonpayment of rent or a breach of lease during the Governor's state of emergency. However, this does not mean you don't have to pay rent or can breach your lease at will. After the state of emergency or federal morstorium ends, whichever is applicable to you, your landlord can terminate your lease if you are do not pay the rent that has accrued, or if you have breached the lease, by sending you a valid notice to cure telling you how much you owe or what lease provision you violated. The best practice is to make arrangements with your landlord now, and to get it in writing! You should also check the other information in this article about how to get access to benefits and other income.
  • What if I have already been evicted, but the Sheriff has not come to remove me yet? Iowa Legal Aid has successfully argued that the Governor's moratorium also prohibits the sheriff from following through with "writs of removal," which is the document that tells the sheriff to remove people who have been evicted. If you have lost an eviction, but the writ has not yet been executed by the sheriff, you should (1) make sure the sheriff knows about the proclamation [linked here]; (2) file an emergency motion to quash writ of possession with the court, attaching a copy of the proclamation. We have drafted a document you can file on your own if the eviction has already been entered but the sheriff has not yet removed you.
  • Does any of this apply to manufactured housing? Yes and no.
    • If you are renting both the home and land, then you are fully protected under the moratorium. The CARES Act, the governor's proclamation and the Supreme Court order all apply to issues involving lot rent, breach of lease, or other aspects of the lot landlord & tenant relationship.
    • However, if you are buying the home, there is currently nothing to prevent the seller of a manufactured home from filing a case to take back the home itself if you have breached the sales agreement. These cases, called "replevin," can still be filed even during the crisis. However, given the Supreme Court's supervisory order and the general length of time these cases take to resolve, you will likely have some time to respond to the lawsuit and plan.
    • GENERALLY SPEAKING, IT IS ILLEGAL FOR A SELLER TO REMOVE A BUYER FROM A MANUFACTURED HOME WITHOUT A COURT ORDER. This is because it is difficult to remove a resident from their home without "breaching the peace," which is not allowed under the law of repossession.
  • I am being evicted from a house that I am buying on land contract. Do I have any rights under these moratoriums? The Governor's March 20, 2020 proclamation moratorium would stop an eviction for a forfeited land contract, and the March 22, 2020 proclamation would pause the 30 day forfeiture process. However, neither proclamation stops any requirements to make payments under your land contract. You should contact the contract seller to make arrangements, and get it in writing!
  • I am being evicted from my home because of unpaid property taxes. These evictions are stopped under the Governor's March 20, 2020 proclamation and March 22, 2020 proclamation, and cannot restart until at least April 17, 2020.
  • I am being evicted after a foreclosure of the home I lived in. What are my protections? See the section on foreclosure below.
  • Is there any protection from the eviction of my small business? Evictions of businesses may or may not be currently protected by the Governor's proclamation. However, the Iowa Supreme Court's March 17, 2020 supervisory order may mean that any eviction hearings for businesses will be set out to at least May 4, 2020, although the court may also choose to hold them by phone.

SELF-HELP EVICTION IS ILLEGAL

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We are somewhat concerned that some landlords will try to force tenants to leave without a court order, through lock-outs, utilty shut-offs, or even physical force. This is called "self-help eviction," and it is illegal in Iowa. Tenants who are subject to illegal self-help eviction can get an "injunction" from the court, ordering the landlord to stop trying to remove them without a court order. In these cases, a tenant may also be able to obtain money damages, costs, and attorney fees. It is Iowa Legal Aid's opinion that injunctions to prevent lock-outs, utility shut-offs, and other illegal self help measures constitute "emergency proceedings" that should be heard quicky by the courts notwithstanding the reduced services policy currently put in place by the Iowa Judicial Branch.

Nursing Home Evictions (Involuntary discharges)

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People living in certain kinds of care facilities are not subject to the usual laws that regulate evictions. This includes nursing homes, but not assisted living -- assisted living is treated like normal rental housing for the purposes of eviction. Evictions from places like nursing homes are called "involuntary discharges." Instead of a court hearing, involuntary discharges are heard by an administrative law judge at the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. People can be discharged for a number of reasons, such as nonpayment of the portion of the monthly payment they are responsible for, but also when the facility cannot appropriately handle their care or behavior. People cannot be forced to leave without a plan for how they will be safely transferred or discharged. People must also receive proper notice and a hearing before being discharged.

Governor Reynolds halted all cases involving involuntary discharge for nonpayment in a proclamation issued March 26, 2020. This is currently slated to last until April 16, 2020, at 11:59 PM. This means that all pending nonpayment discharge cases should be stopped, and any new nonpayment discharge cases cannot begin until after the state of emergency is lifted.

Unfortunately, nursing homes and other care facilities will sometimes try to avoid the proper discharge process by sending a resident to a hospital and then refusing to let them come back. If this happens, the resident may still be able to appeal the discharge by filing an appeal with Department of Inspections and Appeals, even if they did not initially receive a proper notice.

Foreclosures (Updated 3/31/2020) NEW

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Like for evictions, there are both state and federal protections for people facing foreclosure. There are two main protections for people who own mortgaged properties. The first is the Governor's March 22, 2020 proclamation, which applies broadly to residential, commercial, and agricultural property. The second protection is the federal CARES Act which was signed by the President on March 27, 2020, which covers certain residential single family and multifamily property with connections to the federal government. Here is some information about how those protections may apply.

Is my property covered by the federal CARES Act?

The CARES Act provides additional protections for people with residential property that is financed by a federally connected mortgage loan. This includes both single family and multifamily homes, although the protections are different for each of those types of housing. Here are types of federal connected loans:

  • FHA & VA guaranteed loans. Check your mortgage document. If it is guaranteed by FHA or VA, it will say that in the mortgage document itself.
  • Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac. You can see if your loan is guaranteed by either of these companies by using this online lookup tool.
  • USDA. There are two kinds of USDA loans, direct and guaranteed.
    • Direct USDA loans involve making payments directly to the federal government.
    • It can be a little harder to tell if you have a guaranteed loan. The best way to find out whether your loan is USDA guaranteed is to check the "HUD 1 settlement statement" you should have gotten when the loan closed on your home. If a box labeled FmHA, RHS, or USDA is checked, then you might have a USDA guaranteed loan.

My mortgage lender / servicer already filed for foreclosure against me, and got a judgment. Can I be removed?

If your mortgage is a federally connected residential mortgage (see above), then the CARES Act stops all foreclosures -- no matter where in the process they are -- until May 27, 2020. Otherwise, the Governor’s 3/22 proclamation suspends filing new foreclosures or pursuing currently filed foreclosures, which currently applies to all residential, commercial, and agricultural mortgages, stops all foreclosures – again no matter where in the process they are – until April 16, 2020 at 11:59 PM.

My mortgage lender / servicer already filed for foreclosure against me, but hasn't gotten a judgment yet. What happens now?

See the answer to the previous question. For federally connected residential mortgages, the CARES Act provides that all filed foreclosure cases must stop at whatever stage they are at until May 27, 2019. This includes summary judgment hearings or any other case deadline. The same is true for residential, agricultural, and commercial mortgages that are not federally connected, except that the proclamation only stops the foreclosure process until April 16, 2020 at 11:59 PM.

My lender / servicer has not filed a foreclosure, but I am behind on my payments. I received a notice telling me I had to pay a certain amount of money within 30 or 14 days. How do these new laws affect me?

Lenders / servicers are required to send a notice to borrowers in default that tells them how much they are behind, and then give them 30 days to pay, before they can file for foreclosure. In addition, lenders / servicers also have to send a “14 day notice of acceleration” before they file for foreclosure if they want to be able to collect attorney fees from you. Our interpretation of the law is that any such notices given during the foreclosure moratorium – i.e. until May 27 for federally connected properties and otherwise until April 16 -- are invalid. The lender / servicer will have to start the process again after the end of the moratorium that applies to you.

Isn’t this moratorium just delaying the inevitable if I can’t pay my mortgage? Is there any help I can get to reduce or temporarily stop my payments?

For federally connected mortgages on single family properties, the CARES Act gives borrowers the right to claim up to 180 days of forbearance if they have a hardship related to COVID 19. A “forbearance” means that you don’t have to make your payment during this time. You have to call your servicer to apply for this assistance. Any forbearance period must be used before the end of this year.

Landlords who have a federally connected mortgage on a multifamily property can ask for a 90 day forbearance upon application to their servicer.

Unlike the CARES Act, the state moratorium does not stop the requirement to pay your mortgage or reduce your payments – it only prevents the foreclosure. Many mortgage lenders / servicers might offer their own programs. You should ask them if they can help you. Before signing a modification or forbearance agreement, it can be a good idea to talk to a lawyer first. People who cannot afford an attorney may be eligible for services from Iowa Legal Aid.

I don’t have a mortgage, but I do have a land contract. Do these laws cover forfeiture of land contracts?

Land contracts are not covered by the CARES Act, but they are covered by the Governor’s 3/22 proclamation. Land contract forfeitures may not take place until after the end of the state of emergency, currently April 16 at 11:59 PM. That includes the 30 day notice required to be given to a contract buyer before a contract can be forfeited. Any notices given during this time are not valid, and can’t be used to remove someone later after the end of the state of emergency.

Utilities

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The Iowa Utility Board (IUB) has extended the "winter moratorium," i.e. preventing electric or gas shut-off for certain people, from April 1, 2020 to May 1, 2020. To qualify, you need to apply for Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) with your local Community Action Agency. Click here to find the CAA that covers you.

The Iowa Department of Human Rights has changed elements of the LIHEAP application process to make them easier for people during this crisis.

  • No in-person requirement
  • ID and supporting documentation requirements has been relaxed (but you should do everything you can to provide)
  • Signature requirement has been relaxed

Alliant, MidAmerican, Black Hills, and Century Link have all agreed temporarily not to disconnect customers, and to waive late fees and deposit requirements.

What happens if you have already been disconnected? You have the right to one payment plan based on your ability to pay in order to reconnect, which can spread your debt out over 12 months or longer. If you had a previous payment plan that did not take into account your ability to pay, you may be able to ask for another one. If you had a previous payment plan and made at least two consecutive payments, then defaulted, you have a right to a second payment plan. If you meet these criteria, but the utility still won't reconnect you, you can file a complaint with the Iowa Utility Board.

Domestic, Sexual, and Elder Abuse

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At this time, even though many courthouses have restricted access, the clerks of court are open for business during normal working hours (see this announcement from the Iowa Judicial Branch). Instructions on how to access the clerk for services, including filing for a domestic, sexual, or elder abuse protective order, should be posted on the courthouse door. If you have problems accessing a courthouse during normal business hours, you should report this to the Iowa Judicial Branch at (515) 348-4700. Petitions may also be filed online

Many types of hearings and trials will not take place in the next month or so, but some cases related to emergencies -- including domestic, sexual, and elder abuse protective orders -- will continue to be heard as normal at this time.

Child Custody & Visitation

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My custody order gives me the children for spring break. Since the schools have not physically reopened after Spring break, do I get to keep the children indefinitely? new 3/30/2020

No. The Iowa Supreme Court issued an order on March 28, 2020 that said all custody decrees would be interpreted such that parents should follow them as if school were in fact in session.

My custody order gives me the children for summer break. Since it is not clear whether the schools will physically reopen until next semester, do I get to exercise my summer visitation starting now? new 3/30/2020

No. Many schools may come back into session, albeit conducting classes remotely. In addition, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an order on March 28, 2020 that said all custody decrees would be interpreted such that parents should follow them as if school were in fact in session, which means that you would not be able to exercise summer visitation until you would have under normal circumstances. It is currently unclear what this means if the school years are extended, which

Should I send my children for visitation?  What if the other parent is denying me visitation?  

There is always a risk when failing to follow a court order.  If one party chooses not to allow court ordered visitation, for whatever reason, the party entitled to the visitation can file a contempt action.  If this happens, a hearing will be set and the party denying the visitation will have an opportunity to argue they did not deny visitation, or if they did that they did so for a good reason.  The judge will then determine whether that reason is enough to deny visitation.  If the judge finds that visitation was denied and that denial was not for a legitimate reason, the court can order makeup visitation, jail time, or even a change in custody.

It is also important to remember that the court system may not be equipped to handle these disputes immediately given the limitations on in-person hearings imposed by the courts at this time.

Some factors to consider when deciding if visitation should happen:

  • Is a medical professional suggesting visitation not occur? (this would generally be the child’s primary care physician but could also be an emergency room or acute care doctor)
  • Does the child have any health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus?
  • Are there other members of the child’s primary care household who are at higher risk of complications?  
  • Is the non-custodial parent (and others in their household) following recommended health guidelines such as social distancing and proper hygiene and disinfecting routines in the household where visitation will occur?
  • Is the custodial parent (and others in their household) following these same guidelines?
  • How long will the visitation be denied?
  • What proposals or offers have been made for makeup visitation once visits resume?

Obviously, no two cases are exactly alike. A situation where the non-custodial parent is an emergency room physician at high risk for contracting the virus and the child has a half sibling in the custodial home who is immunocompromised will be viewed much differently then a situation where the non-custodial parent is a teacher currently off work and at home practicing good social distancing and otherwise following CDC recommendation and the custodial parent is still working everyday and having to send the child to daycare. Likewise, a judge will likely find a 14 day pause on visitation after a non-custodial parent returned from a vacation in Italy to be much more reasonable then an indefinite cancellation for a non-custodial parent who is currently off work and having little contact with the outside world except for necessary grocery store trips.  
It is also important the custodial parent assess their own compliance with best practices.  Courts will be reluctant to impose restrictions on a non-custodial parent if the custodial parent is not following current recommendations.

This global pandemic is unprecedented in recent history and so it is difficult to know how judges will respond.  Both parties should use their best judgement to determine the actual risk to the child and their immediate household and balance that against the importance of maintaining a strong bond with non-custodial parent.

In many instances, the best practice is probably to file a written request with the court seeking the temporary change in visitation. This still carries risk, but if you have a good case to make based on the factors listed above, filing a motion to address the issue at least makes it clear that you are doing your best to comply with the order while also balancing any safety concerns for the children.

Access to the Courts / Electronic Filing

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I need to file something with the court. How can I do that?

As mentioned above, Clerks offices are open and people are allowed access. In light of most courthouses being closed, people are generally being asked to call ahead to the clerks office if they need access.

Some people who currently have open cases in the courts may have problems with electronic filing, especially if they generally use the clerk's offices or libraries to access the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). People who can't access EDMS can still request the exemption by filing a written motion at the clerk's office. Access to a smartphone alone does not mean the person has sufficient internet access to be denied an efiling waiver. They may need to make arrangements to physically bring their motion to the clerk's office. Deadlines for responding or statutes of limitation have not been changed. At this time there are no phone waivers or ability to fax instead of physically presenting pleadings for those who are exempt from efiling.

I have a court form that requires a signature, but I don't have access to a scanner or any other way to get a copy of the signed document to my lawyer or the court. Help!  new 3/29/2020

In an order issued on March 28, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court now allows people to sign by typing the characters "/s/" followed by their name. If you do not have a lawyer, you also need to put down your address, telephone number and email address (if they have them). If you have a lawyer, your lawyer can "sign" the document for you as long as you tell them you want to sign the document and you authorize them to do so on your behalf. NOTE: You will be bound by anything your lawyer signs for you in this way, so make sure you understand exactly what is in the document your lawyer is putting together - have them email it to you or at least read it over the phone before you give permission.

I have a court form that requires a notarization, but I don't have access to a notary. new 3/29/2020

In the order referenced above, the Iowa Supreme Court also addressed notarization. The first thing to remember is that many commonly filed court documents that have a space for notarization are not actually required by law to be notarized. For example, protective order petitions and contempt documents, financial affidavits for custody and divorce proceedings, applications to expunge cases, and many others are not required to be notarized by the Iowa Code. This is true even though the forms ask for a notary's signature. The Court is in the process of removing these elements of the forms.

For situations where a notary is required by the Iowa Code, there are new procedures being put in place for remote -- i.e. not in person -- notarization. See this guidance from the Iowa Secretary of State for more information. If you determine you do really need a notary, you should call banks or lawyer's offices to see whether they have the ability to do this remotely. Remote notarization will require access to certain video conferencing software.

Food Assistance (SNAP)

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SNAP/Food Assistance

DHS has asked the federal government to allow it to increase benefits to current and new SNAP recipients. A new federal law will allow DHS to do the following:

  • Increase April and May Food Assistance benefits to the maximum allowable amount per household.
  • If a household is not already receiving the maximum amount for April and May, those additional benefits will be added to their EBT card with their normal monthly benefits. You can view the maximum amounts here.
  • Adjust Food Assistance eligibility requirements and benefits to address the loss of school lunch
    • DHS is working collaboratively with the Department of Education to research opportunities related to increased food insecurity for Iowa families who rely on school lunch programs.

I have a recertification coming up soon. Do I have to submit paperwork for it?

People who are supposed to have their SNAP recertified in March, April, or May will have their cases automatically renewed.  DHS is not sending out notices of decision to households about this.

I am required to work to keep food assistance but I lost my job or my hours were cut. Will I lose my food assistance?

DHS is waiving the requirement to work during this public health emergency.

I have SNAP benefits, but don’t want to go to a crowded grocery store to get food. What can I do?

SNAP recipients can now buy food online at Amazon and Walmart (but SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for service or delivery charges). See more here.

What if I don’t qualify for food assistance?

Iowans who need emergency assistance due to an income change are now eligible for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Iowans who need food should call 2-1-1 or contact their local food bank to find TEFAP providers in their area.

Medicaid

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Do I need to get prior authorization from my MCO to get treatment and preventative services covered under Medicaid?

Iowa DHS currently says that there are no preauthorization requirements for these services.

My Medicaid eligibility is based on my employment under the Medicaid for Employed People with Disabilities (MEPD), but I can't work right now due to COVID 19.

Currently, work requirements are suspended for MEPD.

Will I have immigration problems if I use Medicaid to get help with treatment for or prevention of COVID 19?

USCIS issued a statement clarifying that any treatment or preventive services related to COVID-19 will not negatively affect any individual as part of a future Public Charge analysis, stating that “USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID- 19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination, nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain nonimmigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”

I am in the Dental Wellness Program and cannot pay my premium or fulfill my "healthy behavior" requirements due to COVID 19 closures and other COVID 19 related issues. Will I lose eligibility?

No. Healthy behavior requirements are currently suspended.

Employment issues (updated 3/26/2020)

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Because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), my employer has cut my hours, forced me to take unpaid leave, or ended my employment.  What are my options?

You can file a claim for Unemployment Insurance benefits with Iowa Workforce Development (see below).

I have Coronavirus and cannot currently work because of my illness. What can I do to receive income while I’m not working?

Before April 1: Your employer’s regular paid leave policies apply.  In general, private employers are not required to offer paid sick leave.  

Beginning April 1: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical treatment or if they are quarantined or self-isolating because of a government order or on the advice of a health care provider.  Leave is paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage (up to $511/day). Employees are not required to use existing paid leave before taking emergency paid sick leave.  

I am not able to work right now because I am taking care of a family member that has Coronavirus. What can I do?

Before April 1:  Your employer’s regular paid and unpaid leave policies apply.  Some employers allow an employee to use paid sick leave, if any, to be used to care for a family member.  In addition, some leaves to care for a family member are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which has existed for some time before the coronavirus crisis.

Beginning April 1: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to 80 hour of partially paid emergency paid sick leave for employees to care for an individual who is quarantined or self-isolating because of a government order or on the advice of a health care provider.  Leave is paid at 2/3 of the employee’s regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage (up to $200 day).  Employees may be able to supplement the partially-paid leave with existing paid leave from their employer.  

I am not able to work now or I can’t work my normal hours because my kids are home with me because their school or day care is closed due to COVID-19. What can I do?

Beginning April 1:  the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees with up to 80 hours of partially paid emergency paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work (or telework) because of a need to care for a child (under 18) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. Leave is paid at 2/3 of the employee’s regular rate or the applicable minimum wage (up to $200/day). Employees may be able to supplement this partially-paid leave with existing paid leave from their employer.  Employees who have worked for their employer for 30 days are eligible to extend this leave for an additional 10 weeks. [Small employers may seek exemptions from these provisions. We expect the Department of Labor to issue additional guidance in the coming weeks.

Can my employer send me home if I become sick at work with symptoms relating to Coronavirus?
Yes.  The CDC has recommended that employees who become sick with symptoms of the coronavirus (fever, cough, shortness of breath) be separated from other employees and sent home immediately.

I have a disability.  Is my employer required to provide me with reasonable accommodations related to the Coronavirus?
If you have a disability such as a compromised immune system, your employer may be required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation such as telecommuting.  If you would like more information or help with requesting a reasonable accommodation of your employer for reasons having to do with COVID-19, you can call Iowa Legal Aid for help.

Unemployment Insurance

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How do I apply for unemployment benefits?

You can file a claim for Unemployment Insurance benefits with Iowa Workforce Development.  Iowa unemployment benefits are available to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If an employer must shut down operations and no work is available, its employees would be eligible for unemployment benefits if they meet the criteria.

In addition to people who normally qualify for unemployment, Iowa has started a new program for people who are unemployed due to the COVID 19 virus. This program will have relaxed requirements for eligibility. In addition, given the volume of new applications, it is very likely that employer appeals of unemployment will be delayed for a significant period of time.

In order to comply with current recommended guidelines regarding reducing large gatherings, Iowa Workforce Development strongly encourages claimants to use the online filing system. You can apply for unemployment benefits online here. If you do not have online access, you can call the unemployment insurance customer service line at 1-866-239-0843 and staff can file your claim for you over the phone. 

If I am unable to work due to my employer shutting down due to health concerns related to the COVID-19, do I need to complete work searches if I apply for unemployment?

No. If you file a claim as a result of COVID-19, you will not be required to search for work. If your status changes with your employer and you do not plan on returning to work, please contact Iowa Workforce Development.

What if my employer reduces my hours of work because business has slowed down, would I be eligible for unemployment benefits?
Yes. Iowa allows for partial unemployment benefits. Impacted employees would still need to report the wages earned per week when filing for benefits.

Will I be paid my entire payment?

Unfortunately, at this time, it appears that people who owe prior overpayments of unemployment insurance will have a 50% to 100% reduction in benefits to pay back those overpayments. Additionally, you may have received a letter in fall 2019 that your federal tax refund will be offset to pay an overpayment -- perhaps even a very old overpayment -- that is alleged to be fraud. If this happens, you may have appeal rights with Iowa Workforce Development.

 

Consumer Protection: Scams

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While a crisis brings out the best in most of us, it brings out the worst in a minority of scammers. Be careful during this time of crisis, and watch out for:

  • Fake testing for Coronavirus - tests are hard to come by, so if someone tells you they have some, you should be VERY skeptical!
  • Cures for the coronavirus / COVID 19 - make sure you are only getting medical advice from a licensed and competent medical professional!
  • Price gouging - $15 bottles of alcohol disinfectant that were $2 two weeks ago? That's called price gouging... and it's illegal!
  • Undelivered Shipments. Many online sellers claim to have high-demand goods, such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning products, and medical supplies. Scammers can set up an online shop under almost any name. Search online for the seller's name or company, phone number, and email address to look for reports of  scams and bad reviews. If the sellers seems real, pay with a credit card and keep your receipts.  Also, even if the seller is real, high-demand for home delivery has caused long shipping times, so check the estimated shipping times before you buy.

The Iowa Attorney General has committed to fighting scams and unfair consumer practices related to the coronavirus (read about it here). You can report unfair consumer practices to their office by filing a complaint with their office.

The Federal Trade Commission is also working on these issues, especially in regard to fake 'stimulus checks,' as well as other deceptive practices.

  • Government COVID-19 Relief Checks: If the government does send checks or deposits, it will NEVER ask you to pay fees to receive the money; it will NEVER call you on the phone to ask for your Social Security Number or bank account numbers. More Information from the FTC on fake check scams here, and general information about scams here and here.

Cars: Payments, repossession

Some auto-finance companies have started programs to work with borrowers affected by COVID 19 - a list of at least some of these borrowers appears here.

While there is no shelter-in-place order in Iowa as of this time, if such an order issues in Iowa it is unlikely that repossessions would be considered an 'essential service' that would allow cars to be repossessed while such an order was in place. If a repossession takes place under such an order, it may be an illegal 'breach of the peace.'

Garnishment of wages or bank accounts

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Dealing with a garnishment is difficult even in normal times, but can be particularly difficult in a crisis like the one we face today. If your wages or bank account is hit by a garnishment, you can file a document called a "motion to quash." In this motion, you might be able to show that you have income that is "exempt" - in other words, protected by law. In most situations, the following income is generally exempt:

  • Wages, self employment earnings, retirement account disbursements, and pension distributions, according to the following chart
Amount of weekly earnings (after taxes) Max garnishment
Less than $290 $0 per week
$290 to $366 Wages - $290
Over $366 25% of earnings
  • Federal benefits like social security, SSI and VA pensions. These are automatically protected from garnishment, aslong as you don't transfer them out of the account where they were originally deposited.
  • Federal student loan disbursements
  • Child support and alimony
  • Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit
  • Worker's comp and unemployment
  • $1,000 of any other money

The types of income listed above are not a full list, just the most common types of exempt income. In addition to telling the court in your motion to quash that you have these kinds of income, you can also ask the court under Iowa Code 630.3A to determine whether they should let you keep something not on this exempt income list because of "equitable factors" - for example, you have or an elderly parent children to support, someone in the household has a disability, or under the present circumstances that you need resources to hedge against the medical and economic uncertainties of the present pandemic. Under the present circumstances, in some cases you may be able to ask for a complete stop to a garnishment under this provision.

Student Loans

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Federal

  • In addition to normal deferments and forbearances, the U.S. Department of Education announced a policy on March 20, 2020 allowing for a temporary administrative forbearance for many federal Direct Loans and Perkins loans (to find out what kind of student loans you have, check the National Student Loan Data System). It does not apply to other kinds of loans.
  • An "administrative forbearance" means you do not have to make payments.
  • This forbearance is currently scheduled to last until May 13, 2020.
  • To ask for this forbearance, you should contact your loan servicer (i.e. the company that you make payments to). Also, any Direct or Perkins loans that are more than 31 days past due automatically go into this administrative forbearance.
  • If you are working towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Income Driven Repayment, none of the time you spend in administrative forbearance counts towards your totals.

What if they are threatening to take -- or have already taken -- my federal tax refund, wages, or federal benefits (social security, etc)?

  • On March 25, 2020, the US Department of Education announced that they were stopping all wage garnishment, garnishment of federal benefits, and tax refund offsets. In addition, they will be refunding over 800,000 tax refund offsets. However, if your tax refund was already offset earlier in the season, you will not be able to get your refund back without specifically asking your servicer for a hardship.
  • You can claim a hardship by submitting a request to your loan servicer. Make sure you point out why you need access to your tax refund, and be specific
  • Typical hardships may include
    • Pending eviction or foreclosure (or likely inability to pay built up back rent or house payments after the moratoriums end)
    • Loss of a job, COVID related or otherwise
    • Sickness
    • Cessation or offset of unemployment benefits
  • You can submit the hardship request even after your refund, benefits, or wages have been garnished

State [Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation]

  • Iowa Legal Aid has been informed that collection of Iowa student loans, such as Partnership Loans and Scholar's Advantage Loans, will be collected as normal during this crisis.

Taxes

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  • As of March 20, 2020 - Governor Reynolds has suspended penalties and interest for late payments of property taxes
  • As of March 19, 2020, the Iowa Department of Revenue has indicated that they do not plan to change any collection policies, such as wage levies, refund offsets and other collection activities.
  • The IRS has extended the deadline to file tax returns and to pay 2019 tax payments to July 15, 2020.
  • The State of Iowa has extended the deadline to file returns and pay 2019 state tax payment to July 31, 2020.
  • Taxpayers who expect a refund are urged to file a return now, as refunds are being processed normally.
  • VITA sites are closed or have drastically limited services. Taxpayers can access free tax preparation software at irs.gov/freefile or can contact a private tax preparer (for a cost).
  • IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers are closed to the public. These include offices in Des Moines and Davenport.
  • The Taxpayer Advocate Service has suspended walk in service but is available by calling (515) 564-6888.

Stimulus Payments

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NOTE: The IRS is still working on issuing guidance on the stimulus at the moment, so some of this information may change. There is also a lot of conflicting information out there. We have added here what we feel relatively certain is true here, but there are still some open questions that we don’t know the answers to. Please check back often.

How much will the stimulus payment be?

The stimulus payment will be, at maximum:

  • $1,200 for a person filing by themselves
  • $2,400 for a person filing jointly
  • $500 for each "qualifying child" (see below for the definition of qualifying child)

People who make under $75,000 in gross annual income filing alone (or under $150,000 for joint filers) will receive the maximum amount. Those who receive between $75,000 and $99,000 in gross annual income filing alone ($150,000 to $198,000) will receive an amount less than the maximum, and less depending on how much annual income exceeds $75,000 single / $150,000 joint.

Who is eligible for the stimulus payment? What if I am disabled or retired and haven't have employment income in the past couple of years?
Anyone who is not claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return and has received some income, including employment and other income (e.g. public benefits, retirement income) in the past two years is eligible for the stimulus.

Am I required to be a citizen to claim the stimulus payment?
No, but you do need to be considered a "resident alien" for tax purposes. It can be complicated to determine whether someone is a resident or nonresident alien under tax law. If you filed as a citizen or resident alien for tax year 2019, you should be okay. You must also have a Social Security Number that authorizes you to work in the United States.

How do I claim the stimulus payment? Do I need to do anything?
The stimulus payments will be made based on information you gave the IRS on your 2019 federal tax return. If you did not file a 2019 tax return, then the IRS will use information from your 2018 tax return. If you didn't file in 2018, either, then the current plan is for the IRS to look at filings with the social security administration to determine income. The IRS will pay the stimulus payment by direct deposit either into an account that you put down on your 2019 or 2018 tax return, or into an account into which you currently receive federal payments, like social security benefits. If you received your tax refunds by check, the IRS may send you a paper check.

If you did not file a tax return for 2019 and do not receive the payment in 2019, you may be able to claim the stimulus payment as a refundable credit on your 2020 tax return, which is filed in spring 2021. We will issue further advice about that as more information becomes available.

What is a "qualifying child" for the purposes of the additional $500 payment?
"Qualifying child" has the same meaning as it does for the purposes of Child Tax Credit (CTC). If you claimed a child for CTC in 2019 (or 2018 if you didn't file for tax year 2019), then this child / these children will probably be counted. If you didn't claim a child for CTC purposes for some other reason, a "qualifying child" is someone who is all of the following:

  • under the age of 17; and
  • claimed as a dependent on your return; and
  • is your…
    • son or daughter, including adopted child;
    • foster child who has been formally placed with you by a court or an authorized placement agency;
    • brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, step-brother, step-sister; or
    • A descendant of any of those people (e.g. grandchild, niece, nephew, etc.).
  • has a Social Security Number, and was a U.S. citizen, resident or national; and
  • did not provide more than half their own support in that tax year or file their own joint return; and  
  • lived in the United States for more than half of the year.

Generally, a qualifying child must also live with the person who is claiming them. Sometimes, however, a non-custodial parent of shared children can claim a child as a qualifying dependent under the following circumstances:

  • The parents are divorced, legally separated, or the parents lived apart for at least the last six months of the year;
  • The child lives with one or both parents more than half the year;
  • One or both parents provided more than half of the child’s support that year;
  • The custodial parent has signed form 8332 allowing the noncustodial parent to claim CTC.

If the noncustodial parent received the CTC for a qualifying child or children in 2019 (or 2018 if no 2019 return was filed), then they are probably going to receive the $500 qualifying child stimulus payment.

How do I claim a qualifying child if I did not file taxes in 2019 or 2018?
It is not yet clear how that will happen. We will update this section when more information becomes available.

What if the information on my 2019 / 2018 joint tax return involves information for my spouse, and I don't want my part of the stimulus to go to them?
This can be a big problem for people. We don’t yet know how the IRS will be handling this, and will update this section when more information becomes available.

What if I didn’t put bank account information on my 2018 or 2019 return, and don’t receive federal payment by direct deposits?
We don’t yet know how the IRS will be handling this, and will update this section when more information becomes available.
What if someone claimed me as a dependent, but they shouldn't have?
If someone claimed you as a dependent on their 2019 tax return, but you were not actually their dependent, you may want to file your own correct tax return. The IRS may have to perform an audit to resolve the issue. You may want to talk to a tax professional for more specific advice. Iowa Legal Aid’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic can help eligible individuals with these kinds of tax problems.
If I owe taxes, child support, or other debt owed to the government, won't they just take the payment to pay what I owe?
Often, tax refunds and other payments from federal and state governments can be offset (taken) to pay a debt you owe to or that is collected by the government. The stimulus payment, however, can't be offset to pay for anything except for past due child support.

Small Business

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What financial help is available for small business owners?

The State of Iowa has grants available for small business owners (different programs depending on the size of the business).  We encourage you to apply as soon as possible, as deadlines are coming quickly and there is likely to be a large demand for these grants.  There is also some relief via tax deferments.  You can find more information here:  https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/our-agency-detail-resources/6710

The Federal Government makes loans available for small business owners available through the Small Business Administration.  You can find more information available here:  https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.  If you are interested in one of these loans, apply as soon as possible -- we anticipate a large demand for these loans and there may be a wait to receive them.

This situation is quickly changing, and we encourage you to check back with the Iowa Economic Development Agency often.  You should also be careful to document losses you experience due to Covid-19 and any extra expenses you have had to incur (for example, expenses for employees to work remotely).  These records may be helpful for tax incentives or other financial packages that are made available in the future. 

What should I do if I can’t pay my commercial lease/commercial landlord?

We strongly encourage commercial tenants to try to work out a short rent abatement or forbearance with their landlords.  We have heard of some landlords allowing tenants to tack a month of rent on to the end of the lease term (interest free) or allowing tenants to use a security deposit to cover rent.  These agreements benefit both parties.

It is unclear whether commercial tenants fall under the protection of Governor Reynolds’ eviction moratorium.  Moreover, many commercial leases have contractual “liens” that purport to give landlords the ability to lock commercial tenants out of the premises, seize the inventory or items inside the premises, and then terminate the lease and sue for the balance owed under the contract.  It is Iowa Legal Aid’s position that all tenants are owed certain due process protections (such as notice and hearing).  Nevertheless, many landlords do not do this and commercial tenants should be aware that this could happen.  Each lease is different and the facts of your case will change the answer.  Contact Iowa Legal Aid if you want help reviewing the terms of your lease.

If I can reach an agreement with my commercial landlord, what terms should be included?

Do commit your agreement to a signed writing including the basic terms agreed on (amount abated, when it’s due). Don’t rely on good faith or memory of parties.  Getting agreements in writing helps make sure that both parties are on the same page and avoids headaches down the road.

Do consider things like due date and ability to prepay before the due date, for example.

Do state that you are not waiving any rights or remedies you would otherwise have under the lease.

Do put in a provision allowing the agreement to be signed in separate parts and electronically. Contact Iowa Legal Aid if you want help drafting a rent abatement or forbearance agreement.

What should I do if I cannot fulfill orders or contracts?

The first step is to review your contract.  Many contracts include terms that excuse a party from performing when there are things that happen outside of that party’s control.  These are sometimes called “act of God” terms.  You will have to look at your contract and see what it says. 

If you don’t have a contract or your contract doesn’t address the situation, you’re not totally out of luck.  Common law does allow a contract to be terminated if the contract will be impossible or impractical to perform.  Depending on the specific facts of your situation, this may apply to you.  You may still have liability, though.  Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help you figure out how to best manage your risk if you cannot fulfill a contract. 

If someone at my business has or is suspected of having Covid-19, must I tell my employees or customers?

This is a very tricky question and the answer will depend on the specific facts of your case.  You should definitely speak with an attorney about this before you do anything.  Various laws protect private health information and prohibit discrimination.  This type of inquiry or dissemination of information is hard to navigate, especially in a small workplace where folks are connected on social media.  You never want someone to feel discriminated against based on how they are spoken about, nor do you want someone to feel like their private health information is not being respected.  The Iowa Department of Public Health may be able to give you some guidance, too.    

We strongly encourage people to make a plan about what you will do if you find yourself in this position.  Ideally, this would be a conversation you have with the affected employee.

Will my business insurance cover my losses due to Covid-19?

It depends.  Insurance policies are contracts and the answer will depend on what the policy says.  We have seen a lot of stories about coverage being denied.  That said, this situation is rapidly changing, each policy is different, and the facts of your case will change the answer.  We encourage everyone to compile their policies and review them carefully.  Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help you review your insurance policy. 

The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and its impact on my business is having a negative impact on my mental health.  Can anyone help me?

This is an overwhelming and uncertain time for most Americans.  There are many folks who want to help small business owners at this time.  Here are some resources you should know about:

  1. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Information and Resources page.  There are links to various resources and helplines for people who find themselves in crisis.  https://www.nami.org/getattachment/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Updates-on-the-Coronavirus/COVID-19-Updated-Guide-1.pdf
  2. The Iowa Small Business Development Center has a resource page here:  http://iowasbdc.org/covid-19/
  3. Greater DSM Partnership put on a webinar called “Top 5 Ways to Survive and Thrive During Economic Uncertainty,” available on their website at https://zoom.us/rec/play/vZUkd-up-z83S4LHtwSDU_N5W9W-ePms1ylK_vBYyhnkAXAHZwWvYLcbYrAphXwxL2H2LkhUeuwtMeec
  4. The Iowa Center for Economic Success is working hard to put out webinars and trainings for small business owners at this time.  They also have a Covid-19 resource page.  http://theiowacenter.org/

 

Iowa Legal Aid Provides Legal Help to Low-Income Iowans

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To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275.

  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or apply online at iowalegalaid.org
  • If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org. A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
  • As of March 18, 2020, our offices are closed for walk-ins until further notice, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.

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