Financial Supports for Families and Communities During COVID-19

Updated April 7 with new information about Unemployment Benefits 

The most rapid period of human brain development happens before age eight. What happens to young children during these eight years – the environments they live in, the connections they have with caring adults – matter a lot for their future growth, development, and school and life success. Yet young children’s parents are often the most affected by crises and economic downturns because they are early in their careers. Supporting families’ financial security is a strategy to help protect young children’s physical safety and social-emotional health during a difficult time like the one we are currently living through.

Recognizing these realities of brain science and child development, recent state and federal policy changes will be providing financial assistance to families and communities impacted by COVID-19.

Here’s what you need to know:

Unemployment Benefits

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in record numbers of North Carolinians applying for unemployment benefits as workplaces close to protect public health – 450,000 claims in the three weeks leading up to April 7, which is an average of 21,000 claims per day. NC usually sees about 3,000 claims per week. Unemployment insurance (UI) provides cash benefits to unemployed workers. Each state determines eligibility, minimum and maximum assistance, and duration of benefits.

Along with just five other states (including fellow southeastern states Georgia, Florida and Alabama) NC periodically adjusts the max number of weeks of benefits available based on changes in the state’s unemployment rate. Benefits in NC are currently available for just 12 weeks, tied with Florida for lowest in the nation. North Carolina’s unemployment benefits range from $15-$350 per week and this document shares how NC’s benefits compare nationally.

For more NC-specific information:

Filers will need:

  • Social Security Number
  • Information about most recent employment and pay
  • Work history for the last two years
  • Bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit
  • If you are filing due to COVID-19, select ‘coronavirus’ as your reason for separation. 

Filers can expect to receive their first payment about two weeks after the claim is filed. At a committee hearing the morning of April 7, it was acknowledged that the electronic system has caused some problems — mainly for people who needed to retrieve or reset passwords — and that this is being fixed. 

The recently-passed federal CARES Act provides additional unemployment benefits, including:

  • Higher benefits: The Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program provides a UI benefit increase of $600 a week to those receiving benefits currently, which will increase the max payment in NC from $350 per week to $950 per week. NC has received federal guidance on this program, the electronic system for rolling out these supplemental benefits in NC is being tested April 8, and they should begin rolling out next week. Benefits will be retroactive to March 29th and are payable through July 31st. 
  • Benefits for longer: The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program provides an additional 13 weeks of compensation for unemployed workers who have exhausted their 12 weeks of state-provided benefits. Benefits under this program are available through December 31st, and any weeks paid by July 31st will also include the additional $600/week PUC benefit. Federal guidance on this program is still coming down, and it is unclear when NC will be able to begin paying these additional weeks of benefits.  
  • Benefits for more people: The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program provides benefits to those who are not eligible for existing state programs and are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, such as those who have been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, those with related caregiving responsibilities, and self-employed individuals or independent contractors. The program will pay these workers a base benefit based on earnings and rules from their state as well as the $600 weekly supplement. Benefits under this program are available for up to 39 weeks, through December 31st, and any weeks paid by July 31st will also include the additional $600/week PUC benefit. NC has received federal guidance on this program, but it is more complex to implement than the other programs and may take some time to put in effect. Benefits will be paid retroactively to the week of March 29th. More information here.

Direct Financial Assistance

The CARES Act will also provide households with incomes up to $150,000 and individuals with incomes up to $75,000 with an average of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child aged 16 or younger. Many will be left out of the payments, including 17- and 18-year-olds, college students, and many immigrant families, since for a household to receive a payment, everyone in the family is supposed to have a valid social security number. People with direct deposit information on file with the IRS will get their rebates first, which will likely result in racial and economic disparities in who gets money sooner and who has to wait, since rural residents, people of color, and people living in poverty are more likely to be unbanked than others. About eight percent of NC’s household are “unbanked,” with another 20 percent “underbanked.”[i] One equity fix was put in place yesterday:  Social Security recipients (who don’t usually have to file tax returns because their incomes are so low) will receive the payments automatically, rather than having to file for them, which was the original plan.

Increased Food Assistance

NC DHHS is temporarily increasing benefits for March 2020 and April 2020 to current Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) recipients in North Carolina. All families that receive FNS will receive the maximum amount allowed for March 2020 and April 2020 for their household size. More information here.

Financial Assistance for Child Care for Essential Workers

NC is offering financial assistance for childcare for parents deemed “essential workers.” To be eligible for assistance, parents must:

  • Be defined as an “essential worker,” such as emergency staff, first responders, public safety officers, hospital staff, front-line healthcare providers, nursing and adult group home staff, child care program staff, food services staff, and others deemed essential workers by the Governor’s Executive Order 121.
  • Have household gross income below 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) ($65,160 for a family of three; $78,600 for a family of four)
  • Have no other child care option.

More information here.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Employees who cannot work because of COVID-19 are provided up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave by the federal CARES Act. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees, however, are exempt. Businesses with more than 500 employees are required to provide 12 weeks of paid family medical leave for employees dealing with school closures or lack of child care options.

Small Business Loans

Emergency forgivable loans are being extended by the CARES Act to small businesses and nonprofits, including child care providers, to continue paying workers and make required payments like mortgages, leases and utilities during the COVID-19 crisis. The loan amounts will be forgiven – meaning they will not have to be paid back – as long as:

  • The funds are used to cover payroll costs, and most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs over the 8-week period after the loan is made; and
  • Employee and compensation levels are maintained.

The loan amount will be 2.5 times the average total monthly payroll costs incurred during the year prior to the loan date. Documentation to support average payroll costs from the last year may include:

  • W3 and W2s for 2019
  • Four quarterly IRS Form 941 reports (Mar, Jun, Sep, Dec 2019)
  • Payroll registers for January – March of this year and/or March 2020 Form 941

 Click here for a fact sheet on the program, with more details.