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Get the latest news about the novel coronavirus from Iowa Public Radio and NPR News.

What To Know If You've Lost Your Job Because Of COVID-19

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Madeleine King
/
IPR File
Last last week many grocery stores, including Hy-Vee, began hiring temporary employees.

Thousands of Iowans are finding themselves out of work as the state works to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iowa. Here's what we know about what utilities and the state are doing to limit the impact on families. 

I've been laid off from work, how do I file for unemployment? What do I do if I'm out of work because of COVID-19?

The governor provided guidance on Wednesday, March 18 and assistance for workers and employers who are affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Iowa has incredible employers accommodating the needs of Iowans during the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds in a press release. “The state of Iowa is doing everything we can to ease the process and shorten the time it will take for Iowans to receive unemployment benefits. All of our state agencies continue to work as one team to lessen the impact COVID-19 will have on our economy and our people.”   

 

  • If you are laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or due to illness related to COVID-19, you can receive unemployment benefits, provided you meet all other eligibility requirements.  Those requirements essentially include working for wages from an employer who claims you as an employee in six of the last eighteen months and have earned at least $2,500 in the same time period. More specific explanation of benefit eligibility can be found here. 
  • Claimants can expect to receive payment within 7-10 days after the date the claim is filed.
  • Claims that are filed and identified as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19 will not be charged to employers. Fact-finding interviews for these claims will be waived and not be held, although employers will be notified of claims received. 
  • Iowa Workforce Development will process unemployment insurance payments to ensure payment will continue to be paid in a timely manner.

 

I own my small business and had to close. What is the state doing to help?

Iowa officials announced Monday, March 23 that the state is launching a short-term relief program for small businesses disrupted by measures taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Businesses with two to 25 employees prior to March 17 can apply for grants between $5,000 and $25,000. These businesses can also be eligible for a deferral of sales and use or withholding taxes.

Those with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible to delay their unemployment tax payments.

“This is a stopgap to basically keep doors open,” said Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debbie Durham. “Because the first thing we’re dealing with is keeping as many people as employed as possible. Second is liquidity. And so this is a stopgap, very short period of time until the resources from the federal government begin to flow.”

Read more via IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric. 

What do I do if I can't pay my electricity bill?

The Iowa Utilities Board has issued an emergency order directing all electric and natural gas utilities in the state to cease disconnection of residential service due to nonpayment.

The emergency order comes in response to a statewide disaster proclamation issued by the governor on March 9 as a part of the state’s response to the coronavirus.

 

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is designed to help low-income families meet the partial cost of home heating through a one-time payment made directly to the utility or heating fuel vendor. 

 

MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy have also announced they will suspend disconnections and late fees for Iowans struggling to pay their bills because of COVID-19.

 

If you’re a MidAmerican customer experiencing hardship, call 888-427-5632. If you’re an Alliant Energy customer who is unable to pay a bill, call 800-255-4268.

 

I'm worried I'm not going to be able to pay my internet bill this month. What do I do if I can't pay my bill?

With adults working from home and some students expected to continue their classwork online, demand for internet access has shifted from workplaces to residential ones. The Federal Communications Commission created a Keep Americans Connected pledge and many Midwest internet service providers have signed on.

The pledge means companies agree they will waive late fees and will NOT cancel residential or small business subscriptions due to unpaid bills. Also, they will open their wi-fi hotspots to anyone who needs to use them. 

 

More than 200 companies large and small have taken the pledge, including some of the biggest regional and national providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Google Fiber, Mediacom and CenturyLink.

 

Many smaller providers have also committed, including Clear Lake Telephone Company and Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company in Iowa and Great Plains Communications in Nebraska.

Call your internet service provider and make them aware of your situation. 

 

Has Iowa extended the tax filing deadline?

Yes.

The Iowa Department of Revenue has extended the filing and payment deadlines for several state tax types, including income tax.

 

“The changes, prompted by COVID19, are designed to provide flexibility to hard-working Iowans whose lives have been disrupted. The changes are a result of an order signed earlier today by Director of Revenue Kraig Paulsen,” the state department of revenue wrote in a press release Thurs., March 19.

 

For those who are filing returns now, they are currently being processed in about 30 days. 

 

Who is providing free lunches for kids?

Iowa schools that are closing for at least the next four weeks because of the COVID-19 outbreak are going to be able to serve free meals to children

The state got a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver so schools can serve meals like they do in summer.

“This means schools will be able to activate their summer meal programs and provide meals in non-group settings through such means as drive-through pickup or grab and go,” Iowa Department of Education spokeswoman Staci Hupp said.

Check with your school district or local food pantry to see what your options are. There are also many restaurants that are offering free lunches for school-aged children. We recommend reaching out to your network on social media. 

What if my power goes out?

That’s a great question. It is spring in Iowa. If your power goes out, call your energy company. At this time, the spread of coronavirus is not affecting essential infrastructure like water or power.

“What’s most important throughout this global crisis is that MidAmerican Energy will continue to keep the lights on and natural gas flowing to our customers,” Adam Wright, MidAmerican Energy president and CEO, wrote in a press release. 

 

MidAmerican and Alliant gas delivery and electric delivery crews have announced they will continue to respond to all emergency calls, outages, and reports of gas leaks, downed power lines and broken poles. 

If my rent is overdue, can I be evicted?

Most likely not. 

On Friday, March 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she is suspending most evictions, penalties and interest related to property tax collection until April 17. Read more about her emergency declaration here. 

Advocates are warning that tenants should still pay their rent, or work out an agreement with their landlord. While renters cannot get evicted for not paying rent during Iowa’s state of emergency, they still have an obligation to pay, eventually. That’s according to Iowa Legal Aid Litigation Director Alex Kornya.

 

“Landlords cannot terminate someone’s lease if they don’t pay rent. Now this doesn’t mean that rent does not continue to accrue during this time. It just means that a landlord can’t terminate their lease during this time,” Kornya says.

A federal moratorium on certain evictions extends until July, for people in qualifying housing programs and those living in properties with federally-backed mortgages. More information is available on the Iowa Legal Aid website.

Iowans paying off a mortgage will also get a break from foreclosures under the state order. Some federal agencies have also implemented a foreclosure moratorium for certain federally-connected mortgages through May 18th. As with evictions, homeowners are still obligated to make mortgage payments, but won’t be foreclosed upon while the proclamation is in place.