Last week Independence Care System (ICS) hosted New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) for a workshop offering guidance, tools and resources to help people with disabilities address financial concerns and hardships during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 20 people attended the online workshop, “Financial Guidance: Coping Through COVID-19,” presented by NYLAG’s Financial Counseling Division. The workshop focused on how to create and maintain a budget, prioritize bills, handle rent and utility payments, manage debts, and get Social Security services and resources. NYLAG also discussed how to avoid becoming victim to predatory scams, which have mushroomed during the pandemic.

Managing finances during the coronavirus pandemic

NYLAG Financial Counselor Alma Rojas spoke about managing personal finances and emphasized the importance of people with disabilities knowing their income, assets, debts and goals, remembering important dates for financial obligations and ensuring that household and financial documents are organized and secured. Creating and adjusting a budget, and identifying basic, quality of life and discretionary expenses, is crucial, she said.

Ms. Rojas also spoke about prioritizing bills and debt, touching on everything from rent and utilities, to credit card payments, and government debt such as child support, student loans and tax debt.

Rent payments are still due, despite New York City’s temporary suspension of evictions. Unpaid rent could accrue with fees, and Ms. Rojas encouraged participants to speak with their landlords or to see whether they qualify for Rent Freeze Programs. ICS Health Home members can also get help gaining access to these programs from their ICS care navigators. Though utility payments are also due, shut-offs have been indefinitely suspended. If payments cannot be made, Ms. Rojas encouraged people to contact their utility companies and explain their situations, and to consider applying for financial assistance from the New York City Human Resources Administration. This is also a process that ICS Health Home members can get help with from their care navigator.

To address consumer debt, Ms. Rojas recommended contacting credit card companies to move due dates for bills or to inquire about hardship programs. She reminded people that public benefits, Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Worker’s Compensation are exempt from debt collection under federal and state law. Complaints regarding this can be filed with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

“We are hearing that creditors are being more aggressive, calling at odd hours or pressuring people to use their stimulus payments to pay off collection debt,” she said. “You have rights.”

Social Security changes during coronavirus pandemic

Ms. Rojas discussed how the Social Security Administration has suspended medical continuing disability reviews, organization or individual representative payee accountings and, where possible, the processing and collection of overpayments. Online services, including filing for retirement, Social Security disability insurance and Medicare benefits, have not changed. Resources can be found on the administration website.

Coronavirus stimulus checks

Ms. Rojas also discussed the CARES Act, the $2 trillion aid package passed by Congress and signed into law to provide financial aid to families, businesses and states affected by the coronavirus. People who filed taxes in 2018 and 2019 will receive non-taxable, one-time payments of up to $1,200 per non-dependent adult, and $500 per dependent child under 17. Additionally, people who did not file tax returns but who receive disability payments, including SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSD) benefits, will receive payments. Stimulus payments will either be directly deposited into bank accounts or sent via check.

People who are not eligible for stimulus payments include people who were or who can be claimed as a dependent on someone’s tax return, including college students and some seniors and people with disabilities.

People who receive SSDI, social security retirement or other benefits with a dependent child under 17 who have not filed 2018 or 2019 taxes, and who also missed the deadline to do so for the $500 dependent stimulus payments, must wait until they file 2020 incomes taxes in 2021 to claim payment for dependents.

Exercising caution over scamming

Ms. Rojas encouraged people to be aware of predators conducting scams. This includes anyone requesting Medicaid or Medicare numbers, calls from people claiming to be utility workers or customer service representatives, people claiming to be raising money for charities, and  price gouging – anyone charging an excessive price for something.

Assisting members with financial questions

Following the presentation, the online workshop featured a question and answer session, where participants were able to ask for guidance on financial matters.

ICS member Esteban Santos, who is employed and receives Social Security benefits, said he is required to report his income, but has been unable to get in touch with his local Social Security office.

“Call the local Social Security office or mail a letter to the office saying you’re reporting wages,” Ms. Rojas said. “Take screenshots and record the times you made calls. That will be your proof.”

Many participants, including ICS member Kelly Irish, asked for a time range for when to expect stimulus payments.

“Some have already received benefit payments,” said Ms. Rojas. “If you don’t receive it by June, you should contact NYLAG.”

Ms. Rojas reminded participants that despite the uncertainty and financial concern that the coronavirus pandemic has caused, NYLAG staff are available to assist people with disabilities with their financial situations.

“Reach out to our great support network,” she said. “You can always schedule an appointment with a financial counselor.”

To view NYLAG’s entire presentation, learn more about financial resources, or find out how to contact NYLAG for assistance, click here.