COVID-19 has quickly become an economic crisis. Many economists agree that we are headed into a recession if we haven’t gotten there already. America has weathered economic downturns in the past, and they are relatively common, with eleven taking place between 1945 and 2009. Despite the fear they induce, they are considered a “normal” exercise in the expansion and contraction of economic cycles.
However, unlike any other downturn, this one is unique in that it is a result of a virus and the rapid speed at which it has gripped the country. For the sake of public health, businesses large and small have been shuttered for the unforeseeable future. Human suffering from illness and death as a result of the coronavirus has been exacerbated by the staggering number of jobs lost and loss of income.
The abrupt shutdown of economic activity induced by the coronavirus was underscored by 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits, representing 16.2% of the labor force since mid-March. The financial implications are apparent, but the long term effects on our physical and mental health remain to be seen. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is warning that the economic fallout could have “persistent negative effects.” It says, hundreds of thousands of people could develop chronic and mental health problems as a result of financial concerns.
Addressing Coronavirus Financial Concerns
Navigating your finances is difficult in the best of times. With May 1st fast approaching, monthly bills will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. For people who are no longer earning a regular paycheck and are facing financial hardship, fear of losing a home or calls from creditors can cause a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety.
Because of the unique nature of the current recession, forced by government-imposed shutdowns, more assistive programs have been put in place to help support those in need:
If you have lost your job or your hours have been reduced through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Despite the high number of claims, you are encouraged to apply. If you have never filed for unemployment, there is no longer a physical office you must go to. Registering online is your best bet. If you reside in Massachusetts, go to this website.
Disability Insurance (DI):
If you are unable to go to work because you were exposed to COVID-19, you can file a Disability Claim (DI). Disability Claims are a short term benefit for people who have a full or partial loss of wages due to non-work related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Applications and terms of eligibility (certified by a medical professional) can be found here.
Paid Family Leave (PFL):
If you are unable to go to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member from COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a PFL claim. To do so, go to this site.
Federal Unemployment Assistance:
Due to the loss of insurance formerly provided by an employer, individual states have been permitted to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19.
For unemployment insurance information go here.
To ease the burden for renters, many housing providers across the country are offering flexibility in a variety of forms, including rent deferment, payment plans, and more. Contact your landlord to discuss options if you are facing financial hardship due to the virus. Many states have imposed moratoriums suspending evictions and foreclosures until the end of April, and the CARES act puts a 120-day eviction moratorium in place nationally for residents in properties that are part of a government program or that have a federally backed mortgage loan.
The US Treasury Department has pushed back tax filing and tax payment deadlines to July 15th.
Bank and Credit Card Relief:
Financial hardship programs have been adopted by several institutions like American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citibank, Discover, and more, providing relief to customers. This form of assistance could potentially be in the form of waived fees, deferred or lower payments, lowered interest rates, increased credit lines, and deferred loan payments. If you need assistance, call a trained customer service representative to discuss possible assistance opportunities.
Federal student loans can be deferred for 60 days with no penalty. The forbearance period began March 13th and will last at least 60 days, according to the Department of Education. Borrowers wishing to take advantage of the deferral should contact their loan servicer.
Balancing Mental, Physical and Financial Health
Worries and anxiety can be overwhelming as we try to adjust to this new normal of living during a pandemic. Staying informed through reliable sources, utilizing community and federal assistance, and healthy stay-at-home tips below are the best ways to ride out this storm.
Be mindful of your health and mental wellness:
- Get enough sleep. Try to maintain a regular schedule, even if working at home is new.
- Participate in regular physical activity. While gyms are closed, a walk in the park or neighborhood at the appropriate distance does a body good.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation as they can trigger anxiety and interrupt sleep.
- Do something for someone else. Having a purpose like helping a neighbor in need will support mental health.
- Set priorities. Set realistic daily goals and give yourself credit when you have achieved them. Recognize that some days will be better than others.
Americans and the economy are financially vulnerable due to coronavirus. At this point, there is significant uncertainty regarding how prolonged and how severe this economic downturn will be.
The economic impact of the coronavirus is affecting us all, and financial wellness is essential. But physical and emotional health should always be a priority.
We have been advised by medical professionals to contact our primary care physician if we are suffering from any of the major systems of the coronavirus. It is equally important to seek the advice of a trained medical professional if you or a loved one is suffering from emotional stress during this challenging time.
Hoping mental health problems such as anxiety and depression will go away on their own could lead to worsening symptoms. To get help, you may want to reach out to a friend, loved one, or clergy member in your faith community. Your primary health care provider should be able to refer you to a mental health professional as well. There are also organizations such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for help and guidance.
Stay safe, Stay healthy, and remember you are not alone in this challenging time!