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COVID relief: There’s still some help to be had

When COVID -19 first started making headlines in February 2020, U.S. unemployment was only 3.8%, one of the lowest percentages seen since World War II. By April, it had climbed to 14.4%, and the hardest hit were low-income service workers, people who couldn’t do their jobs on a Zoom call. Expanded and extended unemployment benefits helped such workers survive. So did moratoriums on evictions and increases in aid programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap).

Stimulus checks and an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) with advanced payments also put dollars directly into peoples’ wallets, so much so that the child poverty rate fell from 14.2% in 2018 to 5.6% in 2021. By some measures, 40% of that reduction came from that expanded Child Tax Credit with advanced monthly payments, but both stimulus checks and that form of the CTC ended in 2021.

Does that mean all the COVID-related help is gone? Fortunately, no.

The second half

The advanced child tax credits implemented to provide COVID relief brought more than 36 million families in the U.S. monthly checks of $250 or $300 per child from July 2021 through December 2021. Those monthly checks ended when Congress didn’t pass the Build Back Better act, but the 2021 credit has not yet been fully dispersed, so low-income families can expect to receive the additional half of their money when they file their 2021 taxes. The credits will come in the form of a tax refund.

To claim those additional credits, people must reference a letter they likely received from the Internal Revenue Service in December 2021 or January 2022. Called Letter 6419, this document includes the total amount of advance child tax credit payments families received in 2021 and the number of qualifying children used to calculate the advance payments.

If the CTC applies to your family, you can use Letter 6419 to see how much of the CTC you’ve already received and how much you can claim on your 2021 tax return. For the record, the CTC increased from $2,000 to $3,000 per child per year for kids age six and over, while those under the age of six earned a family a $3,600 credit per year. You can learn more about the credit in this blog.

If you didn’t receive any advanced checks and were entitled to them, you’ll get the full CTC refunded to you after you file your 2021 taxes. And if you don’t have the letter telling you how much you’ve already received, you can find the amount on the IRS CTC Update Portal.

Closer to home

While the COVID moratorium on evictions ended in September 2021, there is still assistance available for those struggling to pay rent due to COVID-19-related issues in some North Carolina counties. Those issues include unemployment because of the pandemic, reduced hours, COVID-related medical expenses and increased childcare expenses. Here is a site about renter assistance in North Carolina with links to other resources.

Thirst Aid

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services expanded its Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) earlier this year. Now, the program is available to all eligible low-income households needing assistance in paying their water bill, regardless of whether the home’s water service has been disconnected. Households that have had their services disconnected or are in jeopardy of having their services disconnected can continue to apply as usual.

LIHWAP was created in December 2021 after the State of North Carolina was awarded more than $38 million in federal funds to establish a new water assistance program for households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides a one-time payment for eligible low-income households directly to the utility company. LIHWAP runs through September 2023 or until the funds run out.

To be eligible for LIHWAP, a household must have at least one U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen and:

  • Have income equal to or less than 150% of the federal poverty level

  • Have household services that are disconnected, in jeopardy of disconnection, or have a current outstanding bill

  • Be responsible for the water bill

EBT online

Yet another source of aid that’s grown because of COVID is the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards online. In May 2020, North Carolina became one of the first states to implement online purchasing for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS). Recently, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced that the FNS program has expanded from seven to 11 retailers.

Now, the stores where you can order online and make eligible purchases with an EBT card are:

  • Aldi

  • Amazon

  • BJ's Wholesale Club

  • Carlie C's

  • Compare Foods Clayton (newly participating)

  • Deep Roots Market (newly participating)

  • Earth Fare (newly participating)

  • Food Lion

  • Piggly Wiggly, Kinston, N.C. (HWY 258 N) (newly participating)

  • Publix

  • Walmart

Along with helping people save time or overcome mobility barriers to food access, the online purchasing options support those who wish to maintain social distancing or are quarantined due to COVID-19.

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