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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 New 5/28/2020

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  • The moratorium on evictions that Governor Kim Reynolds put into place to stop evictions because of COVID-19 ended at 11:59 on May 27, 2020. Even though the moratorium is over, tenants may have defenses if their landlord violated the moratorium. The Governor’s moratorium was in place from March 20, 2020 through May 27, 2020.
  • There is still a moratorium on evictions for tenants who live in federally connected properties under the federal CARES Act.
  • Due to orders from the Iowa Supreme Court most eviction hearings will not happen until sometime between mid-June and mid-July at the earliest.

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

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 worried about being evicted… what should I do?

Though Governor Reynolds’ moratorium on evictions has now ended most eviction hearings will not happen until at least June 15, 2020. In many cases, hearings may not be held until mid-July, because some courthouses may not be fully ready to open until then. 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, your eviction may still be prohibited under the CARES Act, and/or you may have other defenses to eviction. Read more on the CARES Act moratorium below.

 

  • On March 20, 2020, Governor Kim Reynolds issued  a proclamation postponing evictions except in cases where someone never had the legal right to live there or where a tenant created a clear and present danger. This moratorium was extended by proclamation on April 27, 2020 until 11:59 PM on May 27, 2020.  
  • The state moratorium expired on May 27, 2020. As of May 28, landlords can again terminate some tenants’ leases and file for evictions, even in the case of nonpayment of rent or breach of lease. However, some lease terminations and evictions are still barred under the federal CARES Act, at least for the next few months.
  • 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. Governor Reynolds’ moratorium against evictions ends after May 27, 2020. However notices which were prohibited during the moratorium are not valid and cannot be used as a basis for an eviction even after the end of the moratorium.
  • Tenants may have defenses if their landlord violated the moratorium by doing something that was prohibited during that time – such as trying to terminate a lease for nonpayment of rent or breach of lease.
  • If you and your landlord came to some kind of alternate arrangement during the moratorium, 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.
  • Evictions are still prohibited in properties that are federally connected under the CARES Act. Read more on the federal CARES Act moratorium below.

 

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," in addition to the protections provided by the governor's proclamations. 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 definition, but this additional protection doesn't apply to everyone.

 

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 an address at either the National Low Income Housing Coalition website here the National Housing Preservation Database to see if a property might be subject to such a program. If the property is subject to such a program, there should be 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. NOTE: the NHPD map is not 100% accurate, and sometimes gives a “false negative.” In other words, just because your property is not on the map 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 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.
  • Prevents charging of late fees or anything like a late fee for unpaid rent.
  • Once the moratorium is over, tenants cannot be evicted until their landlord gives them a 30 day notice.

 

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. 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.

 

What if I have already been evicted, but the Sheriff has not come to remove me yet? 

Given the unprecedented nature of the current crisis, this is a complicated question. Iowa Legal Aid provides legal help to low-income Iowans if you would like to talk to an attorney.

 

Does any of this apply to manufactured housing? 

  • If you are renting both the home and land, then you are fully protected under either the state moratorium or the CARES Act. The CARES Act, the governor's proclamation and the Supreme Court order also all apply to issues involving lot rent, breach of lease, or other aspects of the lot landlord & tenant relationship.
  • The Governor had issued a proclamation on April 24, 2020 that also stops the seller of a mobile from filing a "replevin" action to remove the buyer from the home. That moratorium has now expired, and those actions can again move forward.
  • 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. Both of those moratoria have now expired. Also, neither proclamation stopped 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. Another proclamation issued April 24, 2020 stopped the property tax collection process altogether. Unlike the other moratoria, this one continues to bar the property tax collection process, including loss of a home through the tax sale / deed process, until at least June 25, 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? To the extent that evictions of businesses were covered by the state eviction moratorium, that moratorium has now expired.

 

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) New 5/27/2020

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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 moratorium did not end with the other state eviction moratoria on 5/27/2020, and is currently slated to last until June 25, 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. This moratorium might be extended.

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.

 

COVID 19 and discrimination: Fair Housing Act and Iowa Civil Rights Act

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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.

Foreclosures (Updated 5/18/2020)

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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.
  • 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 in the process they were -- until May 18, 2020. Shortly before the CARES Act moratorium was scheduled to expire, each of the federal agencies administering loans protected by the CARES Act announced that the foreclosure moratorium would be extended to June 30, 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 May 27, 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, that all filed foreclosure cases must stop at whatever stage they are at until June 30, 2020. 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 May 27, 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 (or June 30 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 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 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 October 30, 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 you home.

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 May 27 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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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

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.

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.

 

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?

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?

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.

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! 

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.

 

PUBLIC BENEFITS

Medicare

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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.

Medicaid

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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.

Governor Reynolds signed a proclamation suspending elective and nonessential medical and dental procedures until at least April 16, 2020.  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 effected?

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.

Food Assistance (SNAP)

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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.

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.

FIP

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I am supposed to have a review in March, April, or May. Do I still have to do the paperwork for that?

DHS has suspended reviews for the months of March, April, and May. All March, April, and May 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.

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.

 

Employment issues

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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.  

A recent Department of Labor rule says that documentation of your illness or recommendation of a health care provider can be as simple as providing your employer with the name of the health care provider who has seen you or made such a recommendation. You

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 (FFCRA) 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 FFCRA 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 whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. According to a recent U.S. Department of Labor temporary regulation, this includes an adult son or daughter who is “incapable of self care due to a mental or physical disability.” 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 through “expanded family and medical leave.” This is considered to be a kind of FMLA leave, even though you are entitled to pay, while regular FMLA is unpaid. Since this expanded leave is considered to be a type of FMLA, if you have already used some FMLA in the past year, your ten weeks will be reduced by that amount.

The recently enacted U.S. Department of Labor temporary regulation limits this leave if there is another “suitable person” available to supervise children. The rule does not define what a “suitable person” is.

What employers / workers are not covered by the FFCRA’s emergency sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions?

The following employers / workers are not covered by ANY of the provisions of the FFCRA (i.e. both emergency sick leave and expanded family & medical leave):

  • Companies with over 500 employees
  • Companies that have completely ceased operations
  • Partially or fully furloughed workers
  • Health care workers
  • Emergency responders
  • Key public officials

These workers may qualify for other benefits, like expanded unemployment benefits.

In addition to all of the employers / worker categories listed above, the following employers / workers may also not be covered by the expanded family & medical leave for taking care of children.

  • Companies with under 50 employees. These companies are also effectively not required to provide you with emergency sick leave for lack of child care
  • Some federal employees

What if my employer allows me to perform telework?

If your employer allows you to perform telework, and you are actually able to do it, then you cannot claim leave under the FFCRA. This may require the employer to be flexible as to the hours that the worker might perform telework. If you are only partially able to perform telework, you may be able to claim FFCRA sick leave for the portion of your regular hours that you cannot work.

Can I take FFCRA leave intermittently, or do I need to take it all at once?

If you are claiming leave because you are sick, you should take it all at once. If it is for lack of child care, you can generally take it intermittently.

What about health insurance? Is my employer required to keep my health insurance going?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you are placed on sick leave, as long as you remain emoloyed, HIPAA requires your employer to continue your previous coverage.
  • HIPAA also provides that loss of health coverage may trigger the right to a special enrollment period to be added to your spouse or domestic partner's insurance coverage.
  • The Trump administration has indicated that it will not reopen ACA enrollment due to COVID 19. However, the ACA already provides that loss of coverage or change in income are reasons that someone might be able to go back on the marketplace at any time.
  • Although COBRA is expensive, it is an option for some. You have 60 days to elect coverage, and then 45 days after that to make your payment. See here for more information.
  • If you qualify for Medicare due to age or disability, you can enroll following the end of employment or after losing health coverage.
  • You may also qualify for Medicaid (see below)

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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I can't work because of a reason tied to COVID 19. Do I qualify for unemployment insurance 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?

As of 4/2/2020, Iowa Workforce Development has suspended collection of overpayments under two circumstances. First, they are no longer referring non-fraud overpayments by taking money out of worker's unemployment benefits. Second, they have stopped sending fraud overpayments to the IRS to offset tax refunds. Any tax refunds already offset may not be refunded. Any overpayment alleged to be due to fraud will do two things. First, it will prevent that person from receiving benefits. Those benefits will NOT be offset, but rather not paid at all. You will have to either appeal the determination that the overpayment is due to fraud, or pay the amount they say is due before you can get any benefits.

 

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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The Governor signed a proclamation on April 24, 2020 that halts garnishments of wages and bank accounts. This proclamation does two things. First, it prevents the filing of new garnishments. Second, it stops any ongoing garnishments of wages or bank accounts. This suspension currently only lasts until Thursday, May 27 2020 at 11:59 PM. If your wages or bank account are currently being garnished, you should file a motion with the court as soon as possible to ask for an immediate release of funds and attach a copy of the proclamation. You may also want to provide a copy of the proclamation to your employer if your wages are being garnished.

How does garnishment work normally? NOT APPLICABLE WHILE THE GARNISHMENT MORATORIUM IS IN EFFECT

After the garnishment moratorium ends, normal garnishment rules will 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
  • 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.

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

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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.

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 September 1, 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 September 1, 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
    • 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 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.

Credit Reporting

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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.

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 services are extremely limited due to social distancing guidelines. Most IRS offices are closed and live phone assistance is not available. Automated phone lines remain available. 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.

Stimulus Payments 

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NOTE: The IRS continues to release new information about the stimulus payments and how they are paid. We will update as more information is known. 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.

I saw on the news that I can’t get my stimulus check if I am married to someone who is not a citizen. Is that true?

It’s half-true. The IRS is now saying that they will not be paying any stimulus funds to joint filers if one or both did not have social security numbers. This covers some but not all immigrant spouses, since some immigrants have social security numbers. Active duty military are excepted from this requirement.

 

How do I claim the stimulus payment? Do I need to do anything?

If you receive Social Security benefits and have a dependent child in your household, you may need to register your child’s information in order to claim your full Economic Impact Payment. Social Security and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 will still get their payment, but need to provide additional information for their dependents. You can update your information here. Social Security retirement, SSDI and RRB recipients should update their info by April 22nd, 2020. If you miss this deadline, you will still be able to claim these qualfied child credits on a 2020 tax return.

Most people do not 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 s7ecurity benefits.

If you received your tax refunds by check, or did not provide the IRS with bank account information, you can update your information with the IRS to request the payment via direct deposit. You can enter that information here.

If you receive Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) or Railroad Retirement and Survivor Benefits, you do not need to provide any additional information unless you have a dependent child you want to claim. Your stimulus payment will be made in the same way you receive your benefits.

However, if any of the following things are true for you, you will need to enter your information on the "non-filer portal" at the IRS website here.

  • You did not make enough money to file for taxes in 2018 and 2019;
  • You otherwise were not required to file a 2018 or 2019 tax return for other reasons
  • If you did not file taxes, and you have "qualifying children" (see below), you need to put in qualifying child information to claim the additional $500 payment

The IRS will send people a letter within 15 days of sending their stimulus payment. If you get a letter but don't get a direct deposit or paper check, you should check with the IRS to make sure there is not a problem.

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.

My qualifying child wasn't born until 2020.

If the person’s stimulus payment has not already been paid, or is the process of being paid, they can update the information on the portal at the IRS’ website. If they have already been paid, they can receive the payment when they file their TY 2020 tax return next year.

How do I claim a qualifying child if I did not file taxes in 2019 or 2018?
The non-filer portal allows you to provide information about dependent children. The portal is available on the IRS stimulus payment page.

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. We do not know how this issue will be addressed. We do know that if you do not receive a stimulus payment this year, you can request your payment as part of your 2020 tax return, which is filed in spring 2021.

More information about how the IRS will make payments (including situations where more than one account was used or if your account has been closed) can be found on the Economic Impact Payment Information Center page.

What if I didn’t put bank account information on my 2018 or 2019 return, and don’t receive federal payment by direct deposits?
The IRS has created a portal so you can provide your bank account information. The portal is found on its stimulus payment page.
What if someone claimed me as a dependent, but they shouldn't have?
You will need to file a 2020 tax return and claim the credit then. Your parents would not be penalized if they otherwise had a right to claim the child in 2019.
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. How do I keep the IRS from taking my part of the return?

In general, when only your spouse owes a debt that can be collected by setting off a tax return, like child support, you can file an IRS form 8379 "Injured Spouse" claim to get your part of the refund back.

However, it is not 100% clear how this will be handled at this time. Iowa Legal Aid is researching this and will post information when we can verify it.

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.

Can my stimulus payment be garnished?

See the garnishment section of this page.

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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