The situation regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing rapidly. Learn how COVID-19 is affecting legal and government organizations and the new benefits and protections available.
This page was last updated at 3:40 p.m. on 5.21.20.
On March 9, 2020, Governor DeWine declared a state of emergency in Ohio. The state of emergency allows state agencies and departments to coordinate a response to protect Ohioans. This has led to some service changes and opportunities for relief that you should be aware of. As the situation is changing rapidly, it is generally good to call ahead before arriving to any in-person appointments, hearings or services.
Ohio's COVID-19 Response
The COVID-19 situation and response is changing every day. To be sure that you're getting the most accurate and up-to-date information on safety measures in Ohio, visit coronavirus.ohio.gov. You can find information on Responsible RestartOhio and the state's Stay Safe Ohio Order and how you can help through Together Ohio. For up-to-date medical information, visit the CDC's website.
Right now, Ohio’s response rate of 52.2% is higher than the national average and higher than all neighboring states, except Michigan which has a response rate of 55%. Governor DeWine challenged Ohioans to complete the census and help Ohio surpass the response rate of the state up north.
Why is the census so important? The results are used to determine how much funding local communities receive for key public services and how many seats each state gets in Congress. State and local officials also use census counts to draw boundaries for congressional, state legislative, and school districts.
For more information, visit 2020Census.gov or call 844-330-2020.
Ohio's Mental Health CareLine
The pandemic has caused many of us to feel great stress, whether due to financial, health or social concerns. To help address this crisis, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (MHAS) announced the launch of a new mental health COVID CareLine for Ohioans.
Trained staff will be available to provide emotional assistance to anyone struggling with mental health concerns due to the ongoing stress of the pandemic.
To reach the CareLine, call 1-800-720-9616. All calls will be confidential.
Ohio's legal system
Ohio's legal aids are continuing to provide services to help low-income individuals with their legal needs. However, to reduce spread of COVID-19, all of Ohio's legal aids are suspending or discouraging in-person intake at this time. If you need legal aid services, please apply online or over the phone. If you have a pre-existing appointment with a legal aid office, call that office to find out next steps.
On March 27, 2020, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued an order that "tolls" the time requirements for filings and other court deadlines. As the Court explains in its FAQ, "tolling serves to effectively freeze time from...March 9, 2020 until the expiration of the order. " For example, if you had a filing deadline on March 19th (10 days after March 9th), your new deadline is now 10 days after the Court's order expires. The order will expire either on 1) the date the Governor lifts the state of emergency; or 2) July 30, 2020, whichever comes first.
However, a local court can still require you to file within the original deadlines. That means that you need to check the court docket for your case to see if the court has placed an order on your case requiring filing within the initial deadline. To find the online docket for your case go to the court or clerk's website.
Currently, there is not a single policy for court operations in Ohio. A number of courts are delaying hearings, except for certain matters, like protection orders. If you have a hearing scheduled or have other business with a court, check their website or call to see if their hours or schedules have changed. You can find contact and website information for your local courts on this page, under "Local Government and Community Resources."
Your job and money
To help families impacted by COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) provides direct cash payments to Ohioans. The amount of the payment depends on your income and will be distributed based on the information from your 2018 or 2019 taxes. Most people don't have to do anything to get their payment, but there are some exceptions. Read more to learn if you need to take action to get your full stimulus check.
Most individuals and families should receive a stimulus payment, even if you owe back taxes or other debts to the government. However, your stimulus payment can be offset or reduced if you owe back child support. Stimulus checks are also protected under Ohio law from being garnished. Learn more about how to fight bank garnishment or attachment.
The CARES Act also expanded unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. Major changes include:
- Through July 31, 2020, everyone who receives unemployment benefits will receive an additional $600 per week.
- Expanded eligibility for self-employed workers, freelancers, and workers without enough work history to qualify for normal state unemployment benefits. This expansion is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA. ODJFS has launched the PUA application system, and you can apply online.
- 13 weeks of additional benefits for people who qualify for the state's regular, non-emergency unemployment program.
If you quit your job or refuse to return to work because you feel unsafe, you may lose your unemployment benefits.
Federal and state income tax
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the State of Ohio have extended the tax filing and payment deadlines from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. The extension is available and automatic to all tax filers. However, if you are due a refund, for instance if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, you are encouraged to file as soon as you can. The IRS is still issuing refunds within about 21 days.
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT)
About 850,000 Ohio children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school will soon receive money to buy food through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. The P-EBT benefits may be added to the Ohio Direction cards of families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Families that do not receive SNAP benefits will be sent P-EBT cards with the one-time benefit added. No application is needed.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires most employers with fewer than 500 employees to give paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to employees impacted by COVID-19. The paid leave under the FFCRA will become available on April 1, 2020.
The CARES Act provides the following automatic relief for student loan borrowers with certain Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL):
- Suspends loan payments from March 13, 2020 through September 30, 2020;
- Stops interest from accruing through March 13, 2020 through September 30, 2020;
- Counts the months in suspension toward loan forgiveness. For example, for borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) will treat each month as if you had made the payment;
- Stops all involuntary collection of defaulted loans, including wage garnishment; and,
- Counts the months in suspension as on-time payments for credit reporting.
This relief only applies to Direct Loans and FFEL loans currently held by the Department of Education. The relief does not apply to commercially-held FFEL loans, Perkins loans, and private student loans.
The relief is automatic so you do not need to apply for the relief. In addition, the relief from payment and interest is retroactive to March 13, 2020. If you made a loan payment after March 13, 2020 and would like it refunded, you should contact your loan servicer. To learn more about COVID-19 relief, see the National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Project and StudentAid.gov.
If you have a loan that is not covered by the CARES Act, like a private student loan and can't make your payment, you should contact your student loan servicer to see what options may be available to you. Many servicers are working with borrowers during the COVID-19 emergency.
Other public benefits
Find information here on additional food and cash benefits that are available in Ohio. Resources include SNAP, food banks and other food programs, Ohio Works First and WIC.
Small business help
On April 7, 2020, the State of Ohio announced the creation of the Office of Small Business Relief to provide support to Ohio's small business community during COVID-19. You can find resources for your small business at businesshelp.ohio.gov.
The CARES Act provides for a 120-day eviction moratorium for tenants living in most types of federally assisted rental housing and for tenants living in rental housing with a federally backed mortgage loan. The moratorium applies to tenants living in housing that: 1) participates in a housing program under the Violence Against Women Act, including Section 8, Public Housing and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program; 2) participates in the rural housing voucher program; 3) has a federally backed mortgage loan; or 4) has a federally backed multifamily mortgage loan. The moratorium applies to new eviction actions after March 27, 2020 for non-payment of rent.
Currently, Ohio does not have a statewide moratorium for evictions. If you are facing eviction, legal aid may be able to help you. To apply for legal aid, please apply online or over the phone.
A landlord is not allowed to change your locks or shut off your utilities to force you out. It doesn’t matter how far behind you are in your rent. It doesn't matter what kind of fight you’re having with your landlord. In Ohio, it is illegal for a landlord to change your locks or shut off your utilities as a way of forcing you to leave. It’s against the law for them to even threaten to do these things. Instead, if your landlord wants you out, they must follow the eviction timeline and process of the court.
To help homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes, the CARES Act provides for two helpful protections:
- A foreclosure moratorium through at least June 30, 2020. The CARES Act provided for an initial moratorium through May 17, 2020, which was extended on May 14, 2020. A moratorium stops or suspends the foreclosure; and,
- A right to up to a 12-month forbearance for homeowners impacted by COVID-19.
The foreclosure moratorium and right to forbearance applies to homeowners with a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Almost half of the mortgages in the U.S. are backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, so many homeowners will qualify for the additional protections. You can see if your mortgage is backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae by going to their websites.
Forbearance is a temporary halt or suspension of payments, but it is not forgiveness. You will still owe the payments at some point. Please note that while the payments will become due after the forbearance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has made clear that a lump sum payment at the end of the forbearance is not required for homeowners with mortgages backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.
If you can't pay your mortgage, you should contact your loan servicer immediately to request help. Be prepared to wait on the line for assistance as a lot of homeowners are seeking help right now.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has requested that all utility companies in Ohio suspend disconnections during the state of emergency. In response, Ohio utilities have agreed to temporarily suspend disconnections. However, you may still get a disconnect notice during the suspension. If you have questions, you should contact your utility company. You can also contact the PUCO Consumer Call Center.
In addition, the State of Ohio has prohibited public water disconnections during the state of emergency.
Your consumer rights
Scammers take advantage of emergencies to prey on people's fears. With COVID-19, scammers will try to take advantage of people to trick them out of money and personal information. Stay vigilant and report any suspected scams to the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission. COVID-19 scams include:
- "Miracle cures." There are no vaccines, cures or treatments for COVID-19 at this time. If you see an advertisement or offer for products claiming to cure COVID-19 it is a scam.
- Links from sources you don't know. Scammers will use links in emails about COVID-19 to "phish" for information or download viruses onto your computer.
- Fake charities. If you receive donation or crowdfunding requests, do your research. Check with the Attorney General's Office to see if organizations are real charities. If someone wants donations in cash, gift cards or by wiring money, don't do it.
- Fake stimulus checks. Scammers are using calls, texts and social media asking for personal and/or banking information to receive or speed up the stimulus payment, don't fall for it.
- Check with the FTC for updates on scams related to COVID-19.
April 22, 2020 Proclamation
On April 22, 2020, the federal government issued a proclamation suspending the entry of certain immigrants into the United States for 60 days. The suspension applies to individuals who, as of April 23, 2020, are outside of the United States, do not have an immigrant visa and do not have official travel documents other than visas. Importantly, the proclamation does not apply to current lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders or applicants or individuals who are in the process of applying for permanent residency from within the United States.
Thank you to all the health care professionals, first responders, farmers, farm workers, mail carriers, grocery store employees, pharmacists, factory workers, delivery drivers, transit workers and civil service employees who are working to keep us safe, healthy and informed during COVID-19.