Visit this page for the latest on the coronavirus, including health guidelines and updates on how to access government programs and benefits in response to the outbreak.

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Small businesses

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides 100 percent federally-guaranteed loans for eight weeks of assistance. Certain types of businesses with more than 500 employees can be considered small if they meet the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) industry-specific size standards.

Loans provided by the program can be used to cover payroll, paid sick leave, group health insurance premiums, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest payments. Small businesses that retain full staff and use the loan proceeds on payroll and other eligible expenses can have their loan 100 percent forgiven.

To receive full forgiveness, a borrower must prove that it spent 75 percent or more of the loan on payroll expenses. If a portion is not forgiven, the borrower will be able to pay it back over two years at an interest rate of 1 percent.

You can apply for a loan through your local participating lender. To find an approved lender near you, visit https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection/find/.

Direct payments

Economic upheaval provoked by the pandemic has threatened the financial security of many Americans. The CARES Act responded by providing direct payments for economic relief, but there are stipulations on who can receive them and differences in how they will be paid.

Anyone with a valid Social Security number who is not a dependent of someone else is eligible as long as their income is under a threshold set by the bill. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will use the most recent tax return to determine eligibility. For individuals with no taxable income other than Social Security beneficiaries, the IRS will soon provide information on how to file information that will be used for the payment. Social Security beneficiaries do not need to take any action to get their check.

The full credit amount is $1,200 for individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) at or below $75,000 and $2,400 for couples with AGI at or below $150,000. For each $100 a person or couple makes above those income limits, the amount received is reduced by $5. Individuals with incomes above $99,000 or couples with incomes above $198,000 will not receive a direct payment.

If you have children, you will receive an additional $500. The CARES Act defines a qualifying child as one under the age of 17.

The direct payment is considered a tax refund and so is not taxable.

Beware of scammers attempting to swindle you out of your payment. Common schemes include asking the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment, asking for verification of personal or banking information over the phone, email, text, or social media, and suggesting that the scammer can get the payment faster by working on your behalf.

The websites below offer more information on direct payments, but you can also call 1-800-919-9835. The IRS recently added 3,500 telephone representatives to answer frequently asked questions. According to the IRS, answers for most Economic Impact Payment questions are available on an automated message. Those who need additional assistance at the conclusion of the message will have the option of talking to a telephone representative. 

Unemployment

The CARES Act adds temporary unemployment benefits for those laid off by the coronavirus, including the self-employed and independent contractors.

Unemployment benefits are increased by $600 per week on top of what a state normally provides until July 2020. Additionally, thirteen more weeks of unemployment are provided for those who need it, including those who have exhausted benefits under regular unemployment compensation.

Unemployment insurance is administered by states, so to file for unemployment in Virginia, visit http://www.vec.virginia.gov/node/11699 or call 1-866-832-2363.

Student Loans

The U.S. Department of Education has suspended student loan payments, including the accumulation of interest, and has halted all collection actions and wage garnishments to give borrowers more financial flexibility during this trying time.

Federal Student Aid: Coronavirus and Forbearance Info for Students, Borrowers, and Parents

State Department Information for Constituents Stranded Overseas

The State Department is advising American citizens stranded overseas to take commercial flights home if available unless they would like to stay in a foreign country for an indefinite period. 

The State Department has been encouraging commercial airlines to provide flights to closed countries when possible and has also facilitated charter flights, Department of Defense (DoD) flights, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) flights. 

Any constituent stranded overseas must enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) program at step.state.gov. This program is used to record people’s physical location and contact them as flights become available. If a traveler does not have internet access it is recommended that their family in the U.S. enroll in the program and relay information by phone to the traveler. 

In foreign countries where commercial flights are restricted, the local embassy works with the foreign government to obtain flight clearance for each evacuation. In cases where regular commercial flights or special commercial flights are not granted clearance the State Department will charter a flight or enlist other U.S. agencies to assist.

Food and Drug Administration: Shopping for Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic - Information for Consumers

As grocery shopping remains a necessity during this pandemic, many people have questions about how to shop safely. We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.

Although your grocery store may be temporarily out of certain products, there are no nationwide shortages of food. Food production and manufacturing are spread throughout the United States. During this pandemic, consumers are getting most of their food from grocery stores, and many stores have modified their operating hours to allow for more time to restock shelves and clean. In addition, many stores are providing special hours for seniors or other high-risk individuals to shop and are offering pick-up and delivery services. Check the store’s website or call the store to learn more.

To help protect yourself, grocery store workers, and other shoppers, it is important to keep a few things in mind:
1. Prepare a shopping list in advance. Buy just 1 to 2 weeks-worth of groceries at a time. Buying more than you need can create unnecessary demand and temporary shortages.
2. Wear a face covering or mask while you are in the store. Some stores and localities may require it. Check your state, county or city guidelines for any other requirements.
3. Carry your own wipes, or use one provided by the store to wipe down the handles of the shopping cart or basket. If you use reusable shopping bags, ensure they are cleaned or washed before each use.
4. Practice social distancing while shopping – keeping at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Keep your hands away from your face.
5. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you return home and again after you put away your groceries.
6. Again, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.

As always, it is important to follow these food safety practices to help prevent foodborne illness:
7. Before eating, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush. For canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.
8. When unpacking groceries, refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables—like berries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms—within 2 hours of purchasing.
9. Regularly clean and sanitize kitchen counters using a commercially available disinfectant product or a DIY sanitizing solution with 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water. WARNING: Do not use this solution or other disinfecting products on food.
10. Always keep in mind the basic 4 food safety steps — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Food is a source of comfort, as well as nourishment for you and your family – especially now – and we hope this advice will help you continue to buy groceries with care and confidence.

For more information:
COVID-19 Food Safety FAQs
COVID-19 Daily Roundup

Legislation

CARES Act

Statements and Newsletters

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