It's April now and bills are due. However, the good news is that help is available.
Now is the time to reach out to the federal, state and local resources that are being provided to Oklahomans during the coronavirus pandemic.
2 Works for You has put together a survival guide to help you handle these big issues.
IRS LAUNCH WEB TOOL FOR ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENTS
Individuals looking for a stimulus check from the federal government now will have access to a new online tool, thanks to the IRS. Officials with the IRS announced that they have launched a news web tool that allows people who did not file 2018 or 2019 taxes using direct deposit to receive their payments. Click here to access the new web tool.
Q: If two people share custody of a child or children, and they trade each year on who claims the child or children, and both parents received the $500 per child do one or both have to pay back any money.
A: The legal team is working on this... keep checking on the FAQ's for an answer, says an IRS official.
Q: My spouse died, but I got a check for $2,400 - do I have to pay back their half?
A: The legal team is working on this... keep checking on the FAQ's for an answer, says an IRS official.
Q: My check went to an account that isn't mine - why? And how do I get the money back?
A: Go to IRS.GOV to the stimulus check section to report it. The check will go to the last known direct deposit the IRS has on file for the filer's name. You can update your account information with the IRS and report that your check went to an account you no longer have. An IRS official says the legal team is still working on what to do if the check went to what had been a joint account for a couple that is splitting/divorcing etc.
Q: I don't want to wait for a paper check
A: Go to IRS.GOV and put in direct deposit information .. it's not to late for that.
Q: I owe taxes for this year, will my stimulus check be diverted to pay those?
Q: I can't get information I need on the IRS website.
A: Check back frequently, at times it has been overwhelmed... and the legal team is updating often, as often as every three hours trying to get up new information as they figure out how to deal with all the dilemmas arising from getting the stimulus money out to folks as quickly as possible
One of the main questions, "Can I be evicted?" The simple answer in Oklahoma is "no."
According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, evictions across the state have mostly been suspended. The only exception is an "emergency eviction." Most county courthouses are not hearing eviction cases, so experts say if you get a notice, wait, and contact your landlord. "I think that at the end of the day, the most important thing is to communicate with your property manager what your situation is. Why you're not going to be able to afford rent, and I know in situations where it involves something surrounding COVID-19, I know property managers that are in our association are committed to working with the residents and keeping them in the home," said Keri Cooper, the executive director of the Tulsa Apartment Association.
If you own your own home, experts recommend writing a letter to your lender explaining the financial hardship you are experiencing because of the pandemic and why you cannot make your payment. In fact, experts recommend contacting everything from your credit card company to your utility companies. "A lot of times you may be able to be offered a short term reduction of your interest rate, maybe an extended payment deadline, maybe waived fees or maybe they will even reduce the amount of that minimum payment that you make if they don’t waive it altogether," said Matt Shulz with Lending Tree. Companies will often times be more understanding if you can at least offer partial payment.
The biggest takeaway is to communicate and make sure to put things into writing. The city of Tulsa is hosting a tenant rights webinar Friday, April 3. Webinar link here
Attorney Mark Zennotti with Welsh and McGough in Tulsa specializes in evictions issues. He told the Problem Solvers it is critical that people contact their landlord to let them know how they are impacted by COVID-19 and how it is affecting their income. He added, if possible, pay at least something even if you can't pay the whole bill or rent.
Electric - Public Service Company of Oklahoma
Public Service Company of Oklahoma says it has temporarily suspended all service disconnections due to non-payment. They are now offering payment plans and payment assistance.
The Public Service Company of Oklahoma says, "We have temporarily suspended all service disconnections for non-payment. We know our customers are concerned about their families, and ensuring they have reliable electric service allows them to focus on staying healthy and well. We urge customers to make every effort to keep their accounts current during the period when disconnections are suspended. If you anticipate problems paying your electric bill, please view payment assistance information or contact us to discuss payment options."
Water - The City of Tulsa
The City of Tulsa issued a water cutoff moratorium on shutting off water for residences with unpaid bills. The city released the following statement on its website:
Mayor Bynum, TMUA (Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority) and the Water & Sewer Dept. are issuing a water cutoff moratorium, which means the City will not perform any new water meter shutoffs. The City is making every effort to make continued water service available to citizens, as well as restore service to those citizens currently without water. To do this, citizens should contact 311 to communicate a request to restore water service or confirm water service is still needed at a location.
To review a list of utility payment options, click here.
Gas - Oklahoma Natural Gas
According to the Oklahoma Natural Gas website, in an coronavirus update on March 17, officials announced, "In order to lessen any financial hardship the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may have on our customers, we are temporarily suspending disconnects due to nonpayment through April 15. We offer a variety of options to make payments or set up alternative payment plans. If you are facing financial difficulties, please contact us to discuss short-term payment extensions and long-term payment assistance. The Share The Warmth program also provides energy assistance to those whose immediate financial resources simply cannot cover their home-heating expenses. Find out more information at OklahomaNaturalGas.com/special-services/share-the-warmth"
According to OklahomaDebtRelief.org, there are a variety of services at the county, state and federal level that can assist those families that are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs are available as aid. The Federal Trade Commission - Consumer Information is mentioned on OklahomaDebtRelief.org as another site that can provide answers to the questions Oklahomans are having during these times.
The Oklahoma Student Loan Authority (OSLA) says that President Trump's CARES Act, that was signed on March 27, 2020, will give "additional flexibilities related to COVID-19."
OSLA says that more information can be found on student loan borrowers relief, including relief for those that have defaulted on their federal student loans on the official Federal Student Aid website from the U.S. Department of Education.
The Oklahoma Bankers Association announced that the Paycheck Protection Program will offer some relief to small businesses in Oklahoma, effective Friday, April 3.
However, financial institutions still need guidance from federal agencies and regulators to move forward with PPP loans, according to Oklahoma bankers.
The Oklahoma Bankers Association recommends the following five things businesses can do right now:
1: Talk to your lender, if you haven’t already.
If you are experiencing or expect to experience cash flow problems, contacting your lender is the critical first step.
2: Plan for the next 3-6 months, if you haven’t already.
Many businesses we’ve heard from have sufficient funds or access to capital for the first 2-3 months. However, we don’t know how long the pandemic will last, so look ahead, both in terms of a potential lengthening of the pandemic and also in how you will handle recovery and re-opening of the business if you are currently closed.
3: Be ready to produce required information quickly to help your lender with your application.
All loan programs still require some information in order for the lender to underwrite the loan, including the ones created through the CARES Act. Be ready to produce required documentation quickly to help your lender with your application.
4: Don’t panic and draw on lines of credit unnecessarily.
There is plenty of liquidity in the system (unlike the financial crisis in 2008) so don’t panic and draw on lines of credit unnecessarily. Just like we are encouraging consumers to keep excess cash in insured financial institutions, keep the lines of credit intact until you absolutely need to access them. There may be costs associated with accessing those funds and if you don’t need to incur the added expense, don’t.
5: Have patience.
The banking industry wants to help you through these unprecedented times, but not all programs are in place yet, and even when they are, technology can cause hiccups or delays (e.g. systems crashing).
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma is waiving some cost for members, such as deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance related to treatment for the coronavirus.
The waiver applies to costs associated with COVID-19 treatment at in-network facilities and treatment for out-of-network emergencies, according to a statement released by Blue Cross and Blue Shield officials.
The new policy covers treatment received between April 1 and May 31.
OKLAHOMA EMPLOYMENT SECURITY COMMISSION
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has been experiencing issues with people filing for unemployment due to a high volume of incoming traffic via phones.
"We have an overloaded phone system that makes it hard for people to get through," said Cyndi Phillips at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission."We are looking into different ways to improve our communication to make it less frustrating on both ends."
Phillips is advising people who are experiencing issues to email their name, social and a good contact number to OESC.Helps@oesc.state.ok.us. However, she warns that inbox is also inundated, but if people contact them with all the information they need at once, then they can then get them where they need to go and someone can get back to them.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE - TOOL TO HELP RURAL COMMUNITIES DURING COVID-19
Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced a tool to aid rural communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say the tool is a "one-stop-shop" of federal programs that can be used by rural communities. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities preparing for and impacted by COVID-19,” Perdue said. “This resource guide will help our rural leaders, whether they are in agriculture, education, health care or any other leadership capacity, understand what federal assistance is available for their communities during this unprecedented time.”
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Labor have put together a list of federal and state resources for those in the labor workforce.
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