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.
On September 4, 2020, the CDC published an emergency order entitled "Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of Covid-19."
On October 3, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court issued guidance outlining the important rights tenants have under the CDC's order. In the guidance the court made clear that:
- Evictions for tenants who are covered by the CDC moratorium are required to be continued until after December 31, 2020.
- If a tenant has already been ordered to be evicted by the court, a covered tenant cannot be removed from their home until after December 31, 2020.
- If a tenant is otherwise qualified for protection under the CDC Order, they only need to be able to show to the court that they gave the declaration to their landlord. The tenant does not need to prove to the court that each aspect of the declaration is true. However, the declaration should only be signed if a tenant qualifies. Tenants who, by signing the declaration, make false or misleading statements or omissions could face civil and criminal penalties including imprisonment.
In addition to this new CDC announcement, there are still other protections in place for tenants facing eviction. Further information is below.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium Order has now been published. This is what we know right now:
What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium Order do?
The CDC order prohibits landlords and property owners (or someone else who could evict a person) from removing or causing to remove a tenant for nonpayment of rent through December 31, 2020. To take advantage of the moratorium a tenant (and every adult on the lease) must provide their landlord or other person who might evict them with a declaration similar to what the CDC has provided in its order. Tenants can also use the declaration created by the Iowa Supreme Court.
If a tenant is otherwise covered by the CDC order and has provided their landlord with a signed declaration, any scheduled eviction hearing must be continued until after December 31, 2020. If an eviction order has already been entered, the tenant cannot be removed until after December 31, 2020. A tenant may provide the declaration to their landlord at any time prior to the sheriff removing them from their home to claim protection under the CDC Order.
The declaration can be found in multiple languages below.
What types of evictions does the order stop?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to tenants who provide their landlord with either the CDC declaration or a declaration similar to the CDC declaration, who are being evicted for nonpayment of rent or holdover.
During the state eviction moratorium earlier this year, Iowa Legal Aid saw a significant minority of landlords who tried to use other kinds of eviction to address nonpayment issues. If that happens to you, you may be able to argue that the true cause of the eviction is nonpayment of rent, no matter how the landlord presents the case. If you are eligible, providing the landlord with the CDC declaration (more details below) and connecting with agencies that provide rent assistance may be helpful to making your case.
What types of housing does the order cover?
The CDC eviction moratorium covers landlord tenant situations, but also probably much more than that. For example, it likely covers people who are buying their home on land contracts, as well as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. It may also cover “replevin” actions for manufactured homes – i.e. where the company that financed the purchase of the home sues to get the home back from you. While the moratorium would not cover foreclosures, it would probably cover evictions of a homeowner after a foreclosure has taken place. It does not cover temporary residence in a hotel, but if you are living in a hotel or a place like that long-term, you may be covered by the moratorium and by landlord-tenant law generally.
How do I take advantage of the moratorium?
The order requires that every adult on the lease signs a declaration under the penalty of perjury and gives it to their landlord, the owner of the property where they live, or any other person who has the right to evict them. Each adult on the rental agreement or housing contract should complete their own declaration and provide it to the landlord. The CDC has provided a sample declaration form, but residents may also use a “similar declaration.” The Iowa Supreme Court has also created a declaration form similar to the CDC declaration that tenants can use. The declaration must include information showing that you meet all five criteria outlined below and must include language that you understand that false or misleading statements or omissions may result in criminal or civil actions including fines, penalties, damages, or imprisonment:
1. You must have used your “best efforts” to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.
2. You must:
• expect to earn no more than $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return); OR –
• not have been required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS; OR –
• have received a 2020 stimulus payment
3. You must be unable to pay the full rent or housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of hours of work, have had a reduction in wages, or have extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (i.e. expenses that are more than 7.5% of your income);
4. You must be using your best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as your individual circumstances may permit, taking into account your other expenses; and
5. An eviction would likely make you homeless— or force you to move into and live in close quarters in a new shared living setting—because you have no other available housing options.
It is important to note, that you can truthfully sign the declaration if you are unable to make any partial payments, if your individual circumstances do not permit you to do so.
The CDC's declaration is available here. Some online tools are now available to help you create a short letter and declaration that can be printed, emailed or texted with an electronic signature from a computer, tablet or smart phone.
You should make sure to get evidence that you sent the declaration, if possible - perhaps by sendintg it attached to an email, or keeping proof of mailing. You should also keep careful track of any partial payments you might make. You should also keep evidence of your attempts to apply for government rental assistance, such as copies of emails and applications. If an eviction has already been filed against you, you should file a copy of the signed declaration in your eviction case.
Once you provide your landlord with this declaration, then any attempt to evict you is a violation of the CDC Order, potentially punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Do I need to continue to pay rent during the moratorium?
Yes. The obligation to pay rent remains, as does the obligation to pay any legitimate late fees that are in the lease and can legally be charged. The order simply removes the power of landlords to evict under some circumstances. You should work with your landlord to make any payments that you can, and keep evidence of the payments you do make. You should also seek rental assistance if you need help paying rent. You can call 211 to learn more about available rental assistance in your area. More information is below.
What Authority does the CDC have to do this?
The U.S. has used what is referred to as “quarantine powers,” to take actions to prevent the spread of disease since at least the 1700s. Congress has granted power to the CDC to prevent the spread of Covid-19 between the states. The CDC’s Eviction Moratorium Order lays out many reasons why the consequences of eviction, which include homelessness, moving in with friends and families, and moving out of state, will increase the spread of Covid-19 between the states and territories.
A judge has already ordered that I be evicted, will this stop the landlord and sheriff from removing me from my home?
Yes. If you provide your landlord with a signed declaration after the court has already entered the eviction, you should file it in your court case. The court should stay (or stop) the eviction until after December 31, 2020. If that happens, it is possible you may still be removed from your home after December 31, 2020. However, if you work out an agreement with your landlord, or your landlord accepts rent from you, you may be able to request that the court dismiss the eviction. You should save proof of any payments you make to your landlord. Any agreements you make with your landlord should be in writing and you should save that writing.
Once an eviction order has been entered, the legal issues can become complicated and you may wish to speak to an attorney. Iowa Legal Aid provides civil legal help to low-income individuals.
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. The issues can be complex and are changing all the time. Keep checking this website for updated information.
If you need help with these issues, you may qualify for assistance from Iowa Legal Aid (see the end of this article). Here is a list of some of the most important things to remember:
I am unable to pay rent…what should I do?
If you are unable to pay your rent, many agencies currently have rental assistance funds available. You can dial 211 to learn about available rent assistance in your area. The Iowa Finance Authority has rent assistance available for tenants who have lost income due to Covid-19. You can learn more about that program here. Houseiowa.org also has a list of many, but not all, available rent assistance programs by county.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium, effective September 4, 2020, may provide protections against being evicted for nonpayment of rent. For more information read about the CDC Eviction Moratorium above.
Often not being able to pay rent means you have another underlying legal issue. For example, you may need help getting another source of income, such as unemployment benefits, social security, or child support, or your rental housing may have repair issues that need to be fixed. A lawyer may be able to help with these issues. Iowa Legal Aid provides legal help to low-income individuals.
I am worried about being evicted… what should I do?
Only a judge can enter an order to evict a tenant. A landlord trying to evict someone outside the court system is engaging in "self help eviction," which is illegal. Before filing an eviction, a landlord must serve a tenant with proper notices, and a tenant must have the opportunity to speak with a judge before an eviction will be ordered. If you receive a notice you may want to speak to an attorney about your rights. People who cannot afford an attorney may be eligible for services from Iowa Legal Aid.
The CARES Act still requires landlords to provide 30-day notices to tenants before ending a lease in federally connected properties.
If an eviction action is already on file, you should have received a notice from the court with information on the day and time for your hearing. You should continue to look for updates from the court. If you do not know when your hearing is, and have not received an order form the court, you can check the online filing system (EDMS) or call your county clerk’s office.
Even if you have a hearing date scheduled, you may still have defenses to eviction. Often if you do not appear at the hearing the judge will enter an eviction against you even if you had a defense.
If you and your landlord came to some kind of alternate arrangement for payment, even if an eviction was already on file, that alternate agreement may constitute a “waiver” of the right to evict you. Make sure you keep as much documentation about any agreements as you can. It is also important to get receipts for any rent or other money you pay to your landlord. If you cannot get a receipt, carbon copies of checks, or pictures of dated money orders may also be helpful.
If the CDC Eviction Moratorium is published as expected on September 4, 2020, you may have protections against being evicted for nonpayment of rent. For more information read about the CDC Eviction Moratorium above.
I am at high risk for developing Covid-19, and I am worried about coming to the courthouse . . . what should I do?
Many county courthouses are hearing eviction cases in-person, while some are hearing eviction cases by phone or by video. If you are concerned about appearing at the courthouse in person for your hearing you can ask the judge to appear by video or phone by filing a motion on EDMS. If you need help signing up for EDMS you can call your county clerk’s office for help.
Appearing by phone or video may also pose many problems. You may not be able to appear by phone or video if you do not have a strong connection to the internet, enough minutes on your cell phone, or good enough cell service. You may also have a disability which prevents you from fully participating in a video or phone hearing. You may ask the judge if you can appear in person, by phone, or video if that would work better for you.
If you have a disability which puts you at higher risk for Covid-19, or a disability that would make appearing in the manner that the court has required difficult or impossible, the court may be required to provide you with a reasonable accommodation to enable you to fully and fairly participate in your hearing. You may wish to speak to an attorney about your rights, and how to request a reasonable accommodation.
What is the CARES Act, and does it apply to me?
On March 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." A covered property is a property with some connection to the federal government.
The CARES Act is different from the CDC Eviction Moratorium, which prohibits most evictions for nonpayment of rent for people who are eligible. For more details read about the CDC Eviction Moratorium above.
What is a “covered property” under the CARES Act
A “covered property” is a property that has a certain kind of federal connection. Landlords are now required to file a form called a “CARES Act Verification” when they file an eviction. This form requires them to swear under penalty of perjury as to certain information courts need to know to figure out whether a property is a “covered property.”
However, even with this verification form requirement, it is still a good idea for a tenant to do their own investigation. Here are some ways to find out if you live in a “covered property:”
Property subject to federal programs encouraging affordable housing.
You can search by city at the National Low Income Housing Coalition website here to see if a property might be subject to such a program. If you use the map, a property subject to such a program should appear as a colored dot on the map on or near where the property is. You can click on the colored dot to check to make sure it is for the correct property, and see a list of programs that may cover that property. If you use the list, you can search by city, and look for your address. NOTE: the NHPD database is not 100% accurate, and sometimes gives a “false negative.” In other words, just because your property is not on the map or list does not mean it is not subject to one of these programs.
Property where the tenant receives rental assistance through a Section 8 or USDA Housing Choice Voucher. A “Housing Choice Voucher” is a kind of rental assistance that can be accepted by almost any private landlord, and involves a three way set of agreements between a landlord, a tenant, and a public housing authority. If you have agreements with both your landlord and a public housing authority in connection with rental assistance, you probably have a Housing Choice 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. Sometimes you can tell the home you live in is covered by a mortgage like this from public record, and sometimes you can’t. Here are some ideas that might help:
For FHA, VA, and some USDA mortgages, you can sometimes tell from the publicly recorded mortgage document because it will mention that government agency. You can check most publicly recorded documents by using Iowa Land Records (a free online service).
For “multifamily” housing (i.e. more than five unit), you can use the Fannie Mae Search Tool and Freddie Mac Search Tool. Be careful, because sometimes the tool is picky about what address you use and how it is spelled. It sometimes helps to try a few different ways. Just because you can’t find your property doesn’t mean it is not covered.
For all single-family (i.e. 1 to 4 unit) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, and some USDA loans, there is no way to currently tell this status based on public record.
What protections does the CARES Act give to people who live in “covered properties?”
The CARES Act requires that landlords of covered properties give their tenant a 30-Day Notice before they can evict.
Though the CARES Act eviction moratorium has ended for most “covered properties,” there is still a moratorium in place for a small group of federally connected properties. Tenants living in “multifamily properties” (i.e. more than five unit) where there is a forbearance on the property’s mortgage payment, cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent or late fess for the duration of the forbearance. The CARES Act eviction moratorium is different from the CDC Eviction Moratorium, which may be published on September 4, 2020, and prohibit most residential evictions for nonpayment of rent.
Tenants living in “single-family” properties (i.e. 1 to 4 unit) which have been acquired by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae through foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure are protected from eviction through December 31, 2020.
NOTE: Even if you are still protected under the few remaining eviction moratoriums, 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. In order to do so, you may want to seek out other information, on this page and elsewhere, such as:
How to qualify for unemployment benefits;
Paid sick leave and expanded FMLA issues;
How to deal with garnishments;
If you need help paying rent you can call 211 and ask about rent assistance available in your area. See more information about rent assistance above.
Does any of this apply to manufactured housing?
If you are renting both the home and land, then you are fully protected under the remaining CARES Act protections. The eviction moratorium under the CARES Act has ended, however tenants in covered properties cannot be evicted without a 30 day notice. See more details above. The CDC Eviction Moratorium, which may go into effect on September 4, 2020, would likely protect tenants in manufactured housing from eviction and replevin. Read more about that moratorium above.
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 moratoriums protecting individuals buying on land contracts have now expired. However, the CDC Eviction Moratorium, which may go into effect on September 4, 2020, would probably protect individuals buying a home on contract.
None of the eviction protections put in place due to COVID-19 stopped any requirements to make payments under your land contract. If you have been unable to pay, or believe you will be unable to pay, you should contact the contract seller to make arrangements, and get it in writing! If you need assistance making payments you can dial 211 to find out if any assistance is available in your area.
If you are being evicted, you may still have defenses. You may wish to speak to an attorney. Iowa Legal Aid provides legal help to low-income Iowans.
I am being evicted from my home because of unpaid property taxes. Do I have any rights under these moratoriums?
To the extent that evictions because of unpaid property taxes were covered under one of the moratorium, that moratorium ahs now ended. If you are being evicted, you may still have defenses. You may with to speak to an attorney. Iowa Legal Aid provides legal help to low-income Iowans.
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?
To the extent that evictions of businesses were covered by the state eviction moratorium, that moratorium has now expired.
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) New 9/4/2020
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 moratorium did not end with the other state eviction moratoria on 5/27/2020, and is has been renewed as recently as August 21. It is currently slated to expire September 20, but it may be extended again. 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.
What are my rights to be protected against housing discrimination?
The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prevents you from being discriminated against in either the renting or sale of housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status. The Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) covers all of those categories, plus sexual orientation, gender identity,
What rights does someone with a disability have under the FHA & ICRA?
This includes a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation for one’s disability. A "reasonable accommodation" is a change in policies from your landlord, mortgage company, contract seller, or other entity connected with your housing that allows you to equal housing opportunity regardless of disability.
In addition, a landlord is prevented under the ICRA and FHA from harassing you because of your disability.
Am I a person with disabilities if I have COVID-19?
Probably under the FHA, and definitely under the ICRA. First, the FHA considers you a person with disabilities if you have “(1) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, (2) a record of having such an impairment, or (3) being regarded as having such impairment.” “Major life activities” include activities “such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeking, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.”
In addition to all of the above, the ICRA has additionally defines disability as to “conditions resulting from other contagious or infectious diseases.” The condition of having COVID-19, an infectious disease, is therefore more clearly included as a disability under the ICRA.
What about people who don't currently have COVID-19, but are considered "high risk" if they do contract it?
In addition to COVID-19 being a disability in and of itself, many people may have conditions that would pre-dispose them to being "high risk" for more serious illness if they were to contract COVID-19. These disabilities, too, may create additional potential for protection under the FHA and ICRA.
Some high risk categories, such as being over 60 years old, are not by themselves protected under either the FHA or ICRA.
What protection do the FHA & ICRA give me?
A housing provider cannot refuse to rent or sell to you because you have COVID-19, or any other disability. It is illegal to discriminate in the terms or conditions of rental or sale on the basis of disability. That means you cannot be charged higher rent, have your maintenance delayed, or required to live in a certain building or on a certain floor because you have COVID-19, have a disability that makes you high-risk, or any other kind of disability. This also applies to family members living with you, or other persons associated with you, such as visitors or caretakers.
In addition, the law allows you to ask for a reasonable accommodation for your disability. That means you can ask for a waiver of rules, policies, practices, or services to give you an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. A housing provider must grant your request when it is necessary to accommodate the disability and it does not create an undue financial and administrative burden for the provider, or fundamentally alters the nature of the housing provider’s services.
Examples of reasonable accommodations for those with COVID-19 or a disability that makes you "high risk" include
- requests for payment plans for rent due to changes in income
- waiver of late charges for delayed payment of rent
- delays in submission of recertification paperwork due to inability to access financial documents
- delays of home inspections
Housing providers have a right to ask for documentation regarding disability, but there should be flexibility considering you may have difficulty getting such documents in this time where medical professionals may not be available. Landlords may need to give you more time to provide the documents, or accept verification from other sources, such as a social worker, a statement of disabilty benefits, or the statement of some other person in a position to know about your disability.
A sample form to request a reasonable accommodation is available through the Iowa Civil Rights Commission website.
Can a new landlord or other housing provider require me to prove that I don't have COVID-19?
It is illegal under both the FHA and ICRA for a housing provider to inquire into someone's actual or perceived disability, which would include a diagnosis of COVID-19.
Can a landlord evict me because I have COVID 19, or because I am high risk?
No. This would be discrimination under the FHA or ICRA, and is illegal. In addition, it is illegal under the Iowa Right to Assistance Act to take any adverse action against a tenant because they accessed emergency services, such as an ambulance, for any reason.
Can a landlord make me move to a different unit, or otherwise treat me differently, if they think I have COVID 19?
In general, this would be a violation of the FHA or ICRA, as it involves discrimination based on an actual or perceived disability. However, this rule does not apply to nursing homes and certain other care facilities, which are governed by different law.
The federal CARES Act 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.
- FHA/HUD Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) reverse mortgages.
- 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 stopped all foreclosures -- no matter where they were in the process. This moratorium on foreclosures, including foreclosure sales and evictions after a sale has been extended to December 31, 2020.
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, that all filed foreclosure cases must stop at whatever stage they are at until December 31, 2020. This includes summary judgment hearings or any other case deadline.
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 December 31, 2020 for FHA/HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or VA mortgages are invalid. The lender / servicer will have to start the process again after the end of the moratorium.
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 and then another 180 days extension if needed. 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 requested by December 31, 2020. You may request that your missed payments during the forbearance period be deferred without interest until your mortgage terms ends, or you sell or transfer your home.
Landlords who have a federally connected mortgage on a multifamily property can ask for a 90 day forbearance upon application to their servicer.
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. Removal from your home after the forfeiture of a land contract may be covered by the CDC moratorium.
I am worried about my gas/ electric / telecom / internet being shut off?
On March 27th, 2020, the Iowa Utilities Board issued an Emergency Order regarding the disconnection of electric, natrual gas, and water utility customers. It is our understanding that until Governor Reynolds issues a written statement declaring that the public health emergency has been lifted, that all electric and natural gas utilities (including municipal, cooperative, and investor-owned) are prohibited from disconnecting any customers due to nonpayment. Similarly, the IUB strongly encouraged and requested that all water utilities (including rural, municipal, and cooperative) refrain from disconnecting any customers until the public health emergency has been lifted by written statement of Governor Reynolds.
Based on the most recent proclamation issued by Governor Reynolds, a state of emergency continues to exist throughout the state. However, it should be noted, that the most recent proclamation also indicated that no further extensions should be expected past May 27th, 2020.
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
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.
What about water shutoffs?
Water utlities are not regulated in the same way as other kinds of utilities for gas, electric, and telecommunications. The Iowa Utility Board (IUB) only has power to stop all shut offs for a single, medium sized utility in Scott and Clinton Counties - Iowa American Water. However, for millions of other Iowans, there is no requirement that any of the other hundreds of water utility companies not shut off customers for nonpayment.
Normally, a city utility, rural water district, or private water utility company can shut off a customer’s water service if the bill is not paid on time. Before water service can be shut off, Iowa law requires almost all water utilities to mail the customer a notice that the bill is past due and will be shut off unless the bill is paid. The written notice provided by the utility must inform the customer of their right to a hearing before the water is shutoff.
These are not normal times. Because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased importance of access to water for handwashing, the Iowa Utilities Board has asked (but not ordered) all water utilities to stop shutting off water service during this emergency, even if the customers don’t pay their water bill on time. Most cities have stopped shutting off water service voluntarily. There may be a few cities, towns or rural water districts that may still threaten to shut off, or actually shut off, water service for nonpayment. If you are facing a threatened water shut off, Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help.
It is important to understand that water bills and other utility bills are not likely to be forgiven, and must be paid or else your water will be shut off eventually. Iowa Legal Aid recommends customers continue paying their water and energy bills to avoid accumulating high debt and facing potential utility service disconnection once the moratorium and COVID-19 ends. Food, medicine, rent and mortgage payments and utilities are the most important expenses that low-income or financially strapped people should prioritize (pay first). If you cannot pay all of your bills, these should be the bills you pay first.
At this time, courthouses are generally conducting business as normal in regard to protective orders. Under certain circumstances, courts may hold hearings remotely. This will depend on the needs of the parties and counsel, and will also vary court to court.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people 65 or older, recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, and those with End-Stage Renal Disease. Types of Medicare coverage are organized into different “parts”:
• Part A is hospital insurance and covers hospital stays, hospice care, and skilled nursing care a person may need to rehabilitate after being hospitalized.
• Part B is medical insurance and covers doctor visits, lab tests, diagnostic screenings, medical equipment, ambulance transportation, and other outpatient services.
• Part C is another name for Medicare Advantage. Part C is managed by private insurance companies and bundles together services covered by Part A and B with extra benefits.
• Part D pays for some prescription drugs and is also managed by private insurance companies.
What if I need skilled nursing care after a hospitalization?
Medicare has suspended the 3 hospital overnights requirement. Beneficiaries who have recently used all their skilled nursing days can also ask for more days without having to start a new benefit period.
What if my durable medical equipment has been lost or damaged?
Durable medical equipment providers have the flexibility to waive replacement requirements. This means the face-to-face requirement, a new doctor’s order, and a new medical necessity documentation is not required.
Medicare denied payment – what can I do?
If you disagree with a coverage or payment decision, you can appeal. Your deadline for filing an appeal depends on which part of Medicare (A, B, C, or D) you are appealing. Currently, appeal deadlines for Medicare Advantage (Part C), fee-for-service (Part C), and Part D have been extended. Medicare will also process appeal requests using the information available even if it does not meet all the requirements.
Be aware of scammers – guard your Medicare card and number just like you would a credit card. Check Medicare claims summary forms for mistakes. Do not give your Medicare number to anyone calling you over the telephone.
What am I responsible for paying during the emergency declaration?
Effective March 13, 2020, DHS waived all co-pays, premiums, and contributions for Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, Medicaid for Employed People with Disabilities (MEPD), Health and Well Kids in Iowa (Hawki), and Dental Wellness Plan (DWP) members. Billing statements from DHS with March, April, May, or June due dates are waived. Members who have already paid their co-pay, premium or contribution for a waived month will receive a credit on their account when billing resumes. There is no cost for COVID 19 testing.
Also, any member who has overdue Hawki premium payments for January and/or February will be required to pay these amounts before receiving services again.
How can I stay healthy and socially distance by staying home?
Medicaid will cover telehealth services. Out-of-network doctors will also be covered when medically necessary. Prior authorization for COVID 19 testing is not required and there are no limits on medically necessary treatment for COVID 19. You may also be able to fill your prescriptions for an extended period of time.
While Governor Reynolds signed a proclamation suspending elective and nonessential medical and dental procedures, doctors and dentists are now allowed to perform certain procedures as long as they have a sufficient supply of protective equipment. You should stay in touch with your medical provider regarding any procedure you are scheduled to have and what alternatives might be available.
Will my Medicaid coverage continue?
DHS has temporarily paused all terminations for medical assistance programs until the emergency declaration is lifted. “Healthy behavior” requirements under the Dental Wellness Program are suspended. Children who age out of Hawki will be automatically enrolled in Iowa Health and Wellness.
How is facility Medicaid coverage effected?
For those who currently receive facility Medicaid, DHS will not disenroll you if you have not spent down your resources to under the $2,000 resource limit. However, any new applicants still have to meet all income and eligibility requirements before they are eligible. Client participation for facility care and PACE is not waived and participants need to continue making those monthly payments.
How are Medicaid waiver services affected?
DHS is allowing a parent, legal guardian, or immediate family member to provide Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for the duration of the COVID 19 emergency. Members should work with their case managers on any changes that need to be made to their service plans. If a “shelter in place” order is issued, HCBS staff are considered essential workers and would be able to continue providing care. DHS will continue to process new HCBS applications, but with some changes. interRAI, the provider who does the in-person evaluations as part of the application process, has issued guidance about performing these assessments through live video stream.
My Medicaid eligibility is based on my employment under the Medicaid Employed People with Disabilities (MEPD), but I cannot work right now due to COVID 19.
Work requirements are currently suspended for MEPD.
How will my immigration status be affected if I use Medicaid to get treatment for COVID 19?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has said that it will not consider “testing, treatment, or preventative (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available)” related to COVID 19) in any Public Charge determinations. This guidance applies to immigrants applying for lawful permanent resident status (green card), extension of stay, or change of immigration status.
Coverage of COVID-19 Testing
- The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act provide for COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing or prior authorization.
- DHS now has an application for free testing: https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/dhs_titan_public/covid/application . For those who qualify, the program will cover the cost of testing only, not treatment.
- No co-pays for Medicaid COVID-19 testing
- No out of pocket costs for Medicare COVID-19 testing https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/coronavirus-test
- Several Iowa health insurance companies have announced that they will waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing
- Medica https://www.medica.com/newsroom/press-releases/2020/03092020-medica-waives-all-cost-sharing-for-covid19-testing
- Aetna https://www.aetna.com/individuals-families/member-rights-resources/need-to-know-coronavirus.html#acc_link_content_section_responsivegrid_copy_responsivegrid_accordion_1336905482_1
- Wellmark https://www.wellmark.com/coronavirus
- UnitedHealthcare https://www.uhc.com/health-and-wellness/health-topics/covid-19
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, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November Food Assistance benefits to the maximum allowable amount per household.
- If a household is not already receiving the maximum amount for April, May, June, July, August, September, October, or November, 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, May, or June 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.
How do I check the amount of benefits on my Food Assistance EBT card?
DHS has information about how to do this on their website: https://dhs.iowa.gov/food-assistance-COVID19
I lost my Food Assistance EBT card, how do I get a new one?
You can call 1-800-359-5802, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get a new card mailed to you.
How do I apply for Food Assistance?
You can apply for Food Assistance or FIP benefits on the DHS website here.
I am supposed to have a review in March, April, May, or June. Do I still have to do the paperwork for that?
DHS has suspended reviews for the months of March, April, May, and June. All March, April, May, and June Food Assistance and FIP cases that were due for renewal were automatically given six more months of eligibility. DHS will send the review forms to you closer to the new renewal date.
- March cases will now have review forms due in September.
- April cases will now have review forms due in October.
- May cases will now have review forms due in November.
- June cases will now have review forms due in December.
How do I report any changes?
Call the DHS Call Center at 1-877-347-5678 to report changes. DHS can then act on the reported changes and update your benefits.
I lost my FIP Mastercard, how do I get a new one?
You can call 1-844-207-3225, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to get a new card mailed to you.
How do I check the amount of benefits on my FIP Mastercard?
DHS has information about how to do this on their website.
How do I apply for FIP benefits?
You can apply for Food Assistance or FIP benefits on the DHS website.
We are currently working on updating this section.
We are currently updating this section.
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.
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.
The Governor's proclamation on April 24, 2020 that halted garnishments of wages and bank accounts expired May 27 2020 at 11:59 PM.
How does garnishment work normally?
Since the garnishment moratorium ended, normal garnishment rules again apply. 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
- $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.
Can creditors garnish my stimulus funds or unemployment?
Unemployment is always protected and is exempt from garnishment. Stimulus funds might be protected as a public assistance benefit.
Student loans are treated differently depending on whether they are "federally connected" or not. Also, some relief under new federal legislation called the CARES Act only applies to one kind of federally connected loan called "Direct Loans," while other relief applies to all federally connected loans. In addition, some loans that are not federally connected may also present options to borrowers. Read on to get more information.
The CARES Act provisions passed in March were originally supposed to expire on September 30, 2020, but have now been extended to December 31, 2020.
What is a federally connected loan?
Federally connected loans include Direct Loans, which are owed directly to the government; Perkins Loans, which are owed to your school; and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), which were made by a private company or state agency but guaranteed by the federal government. Not all student loans are federally connected.
If you want to be able to tell whether your loans are federally connected, you should log in to Studentaid.gov. If you see your loan listed there, it is federally connected. If you don't, then it is not federally connected. The listing should also tell you if your loan is a Direct Loan, a Perkins Loan, or an FFEL.
Do I qualify for an "administrative forbearance?"
According to the federal CARES Act, some federal loan borrowers can take an "administrative forbearance" from making payments on their loans, starting March 31, 2020 through December 31, 2020. This means you don't have to pay your payment. People who have either a Direct Loan -or- a FFEL that is "held by the federal government" can take advantage of this program. It is usually easy to tell if you have a Direct Loan by logging in to Studentaid.gov. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to find out if you have a FFEL owned by the federal government. You might be able to find out by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID, or calling your servicer, but it is not clear whether you can 100% trust the information you get there to be accurate.
How do I get an administrative forbearance if I do qualify?
You can ask your servicer (i.e. the person you pay your bill to) for this forbearance, but it is not necessary to do that - if you do not make your payment, you will automatically be placed into forbearance.
What if they are threatening to take -- or have already taken -- my federal tax refund, wages, or federal benefits (social security, etc)?
Debt collection for all federally connected loans that are in default - Direct, Perkins, or FFEL - has been halted until December 31, 2020. That includes wage garnishments, garnishments of federal benefits, and offsets of tax refunds.
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
- 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 some collection actions for many but not all Iowa student loans owned by ISLLC or "Iowa Student Loan" has been stopped during the pendency of the state of emergency, specifically those cases assigned to private attorneys for collection (Abbott, Osborne & Jacobs; Brick Gentry; etc.). For those cases, no new lawsuits will be filed during the state of emergency.
- At this time, our understanding is that garnishments for lawsuits that have already completed will continue. See our section on garnishment for ideas on how to reduce your garnishment amount.
- At this time, our understanding is that ISL cases collected by the state are continuing as normal.
In the words of the National Consumer Law Center, a national advocacy group for consumers, the federal CARES Act provides "less than minimal protections regarding credit reporting." The only additional protection provided during this time is that, if a creditor works out some kind of arrangement with you related to a debt that is COVID 19 related, they have to continue to report your debt the same way they did before they worked something out with you during the state of emergency. This protection extends from January 31, 2020 until 120 days after the federal state of emergency is ended. Also, this minor protection does apply when an account is listed in a credit report as "charged off." Here are some examples to help illustrate:
- You have a debt that was delinquent as of January 30, 2020, a day before the coverage period. This law does not require the credit reporting agency to do anything different, unless you actually bring your account current.
- You have a debt that becomes delinquent as of January 31, 2020. You are unable to work out alternate arrangements with your creditor - like a forbearance, modification, delay in payment, etc. The law does not require the credit reporting agency to do anything different than they otherwise would, and you will be reported as delinquent.
- You have a debt that was current before January 31, 2020 and becomes delinquent after that time. You work out a modification or temporary delay of payments or some other arrangements with your creditor. Under this new law, your creditor has to report this debt as current, not as modified, in a forbearance, etc.
- IRS services are extremely limited due to social distancing guidelines. Some IRS offices are in the process of reopening or have employees working from home. Some phone service is available but expect long wait times. The IRS is directing people to go to www.irs.gov for information.
- The Taxpayer Advocate Service has suspended walk in service but is available by calling (515) 564-6888.
- The IRS has begun processing mail but is severely behind due to the volume of mail received. If you mailed a tax return or other form, it may be several weeks before the IRS will address your issue.
- The IRS has begun mailing out collection notices to some taxpayers. However, due to their computer system, the date on the letters or the dates for responding may be incorrect. If you receive a letter where your deadline to respond has already passed, you may want to contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service or a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic for assistance. Iowa Legal Aid operates a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
- For more information about IRS operations during the pandemic, you can visit the Taxpayer Advocate Service (https://taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/) or the IRS Coronavirus Tax Relief page (https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus-tax-relief-and-economic-impact-payments)
• Congress has not passed any additional stimulus payment since the CARES Act was passed last spring.
• The original stimulus payment was for $1,200 for individuals for $500 for minor dependents.
• The IRS has a comprehensive information page about these payments
How much is 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.
What if I have not yet received the $1,200 payment?
You can check the status of your payment on the IRS Get My Payment app, found here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment. The app will tell you if the payment has been mailed or is scheduled to be mailed or deposited. You can also call 1-800-919-9835.
The payments may be made by direct deposit, check or prepaid debit card. If the app tells you that the payment was mailed but you never received it, you may need to request a trace payment. Instructions on how to do this are on the IRS FAQ page linked above, or you can contact Iowa Legal Aid’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic for assistance.
If you mailed a tax return in order to claim the stimulus payment, the IRS may still be processing your paper return. The IRS is very behind on processing mail, so you may have to wait until your return is processed before you receive the payment.
What if I received my $1,200 payment with my Social Security benefits, but I did not receive a $500 payment for my dependent?
If you receive Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) or Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits, you did not need to provide any additional information to receive your payment. However, you may not have received the $500 because the IRS did not have information about your dependent. You have until September 30th to enter information about your dependent info into the Non-Filer portal at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here. This is for taxpayers who do not file a tax return. If you filed a tax return, or need to file a tax return for 2018 or 2019, you should not use this portal.
If you do not enter your dependent info into the portal by September 30th, you will have to wait to claim the $500 payment during the 2020 tax season, in spring of 2021.
What if I don’t receive federal benefits or have to file a tax return? How can I claim the payment?
You can claim the $1,200 payment by using the non-filer portal here: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/non-filers-enter-payment-info-here. You have until October 15th to enter your information. If you do not enter this by October 15th, you can still claim the payment by filing a 2020 tax return, in the spring of 2021.
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.
My spouse owes child support from a prior relationship, but I do not. Both of our payments were taken for the child support debt. What can I do?
The IRS is developing a system to return payments to the “injured spouse” in this situation. If you e-filed a Form 8379 with your tax return, the IRS is anticipating that your payment will be returned in early to mid-September. These payments will be mailed as checks.
If you did not file a Form 8379, or you mailed a paper form to the IRS, you do not need to take further action. The IRS does not yet have a timeframe but has stated that it will automatically issue the portion of the stimulus payment that was applied to the other spouse’s debt at a later date.
Will the stimulus payment effect my public benefits or debts?
Because the stimulus payments are structed as tax refunds, they do not count as income for the purposes of Medicaid, Hawk-I, healthcare Marketplace, or other public benefit program. For Medicaid eligibility groups that have asset limits, the stimulus payment is only counted as resource 12 months after you received it.
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.
In addition, for the purposes of SSI, the stimulus payments will not be counted as resources for 12 months after they are received.
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:
- 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
- The Iowa Small Business Development Center has a resource page here: http://iowasbdc.org/covid-19/
- 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
- 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/
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.