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As our nation addresses this global pandemic, I will work hard to make sure you have the latest information about the coronavirus and what Congress is doing to address it. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. COVID-19 was first detected in China and has spread to other countries, including the United States.
Please see my office’s COVID-19 Handbook, which will help you better understand all the financial resources available for our community, such as critical federal funding sources to assist small businesses and local governments. To read the COVID Handbook in Spanish, click here.
Trusted resources on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19):
For the latest updates from the Texas Department of Public Health, click here.
For the latest updates from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), click here.
For the latest updates from the World Health Organization (WHO), click here.
What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals and humans. In rare cases, animal coronaviruses can be transmitted from animals to humans. This novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a newly discovered coronavirus that has not been previously detected in animals or humans. The source of this virus is not yet known.
What are symptoms of COVID-19?
Typically, human coronaviruses cause mild-to-moderate respiratory illness. Symptoms are very similar to the flu, including:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
In some cases, COVID-19 can cause more severe respiratory illness.
What can the public do to limit the spread of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends the following steps to prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Work or engage in schooling from home when possible.
- Practice social distancing.
- Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
- Avoid discretionary travel, such as shopping or social visits.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
What is Congress doing?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which I voted on last week, is a big step toward addressing those concerns. This wide-ranging economic rescue package provides rapid and meaningful assistance for individuals, businesses, and those responding to the pandemic on the ground.
Please read more below about the benefits this legislation provides, including direct monetary payments, protections for renters and homeowners, help for unemployed individuals, freelancers and gig workers, benefits for student loan borrowers, support for small businesses, and funding to fight the pandemic.
Direct Monetary Payments
The government will send direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals, $2,400 for couples, and $500 per child. The checks will be sent out within three weeks for whom the IRS has information. You don't need to sign up or fill out a form to receive a payment if you've been working and paying taxes since 2018.
If you have received a tax refund in the last two years by direct deposit, that is where the money will be sent. If not, the IRS can mail a check to your "last known address," and it has 15 days to notify you of the method and amount of the payment. The IRS will send a phone number and appropriate point of contact so you can tell them if you did not receive it.
- Single taxpayers with an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 will receive $1,200 in direct payments, as will joint filers up to $150,000.
- Benefit decreases until eliminated for those making more than $99,000 filing single or $198,000 for those filing jointly.
- Social Security recipients, those with no taxable income, as well as those whose incomes are derived entirely from non-taxable programs, are still eligible for this relief as long as they have a work-eligible Social Security Number.
- 2019 tax filings will determine the amount of the payments to individuals and families. 2018 returns will be used for residents that did not file in 2019. For people who did not file a return in 2018 or 2019, IRS will use the information they have through the Social Security Administration or Railroad Retirement Board (SSA-1099/RRB-1099).
To see how much you will get in direct monetary payments, check here.
Protections for Renters and Homeowners
- Prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for 120 days provided the landlord’s mortgage is insured, guaranteed, supplemented, protected, or assisted in any way by HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the rural housing voucher program, or the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
- Provides protections for single-family homeowners with federally backed mortgages (purchased by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, insured by HUD, VA, or USDA):
- Financial institutions are PROHIBITED from foreclosing on these properties for 60 days, beginning on March 18, 2020.
- Borrowers experiencing financial hardship related to the COVID-19 emergency may request up to 180 days of forbearance on their federally-backed mortgage.
- Supports multi-family owners of real property designed for five or more families with loans purchased, insured, or assisted by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or HUD by providing up to 90 days of forbearance for those experiencing financial hardship.
- Borrowers receiving forbearance may not evict or charge late fees to tenants for the duration of the forbearance period.
- Find out if you qualify by visiting Fannie Mae: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Help and using Fannie Mae’s Loan Lookup Tool or calling 1-800-2FANNIE (1-800-232-6643); or visiting Freddie Mac: Extending Help to Homeowners Impacted by COVID-19 and using Freddie Mac’s Loan Lookup Tool or calling 1-800-FREDDIE (1-800-373-3343).
Help for Unemployed Individuals, Freelancers, and Gig Workers
This bill provides enhanced unemployment benefits for uninsured individuals and makes unemployment insurance available to non-traditional employees.
- Unemployed Texas residents will receive 4 months of state unemployment insurance and an additional $600 per week.
- Nontraditional employees (gig workers and freelancers) and individuals not able to work because of the coronavirus will be eligible to receive unemployment insurance for up to 39 weeks.
Benefits for Student Loan Borrowers
- Defers payments, principal, and interest for all federally-owned student loans through September 30, 2020.
- Provides $30.75 billion in grants to support local school systems and higher education institutions, including additional grants for students who need additional financial aid and work-study payments for students unable to work due to work-place closure.
- If a student dropped out as a result of COVID-19, it excludes the term from counting toward lifetime subsidized loan eligibility and lifetime Pell Grant eligibility.
- Allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 this year towards an employee’s student loan debts tax-free.
Other Benefits and Protections for Individuals and Families
Credit Report Protection: Your credit report will not be harmed if your borrower agrees to account forbearance and you keep up with the agreed-upon payment plan.
Medicare Prescription Drugs: Medicare Part D plans must provide up to a 90-day supply of a prescription medication for any beneficiary that needs assistance during the COVID-19 emergency period.
Free COVID-19 vaccine guarantee: When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, it will be provided for free to all Americans within 15 days.
Penalty Free Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts: Individuals may withdraw from qualified retirement plans without penalty. These distributions would be taxable over three years and can be re-contributed to the qualified retirement plan within the three year period without respect to normal contribution limits. CARES also waives required minimum distributions for certain defined contribution plans and IRAs.
Small Business Administration
- $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.
- $17 billion for SBA to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans.
- $349 billion for SBA loan guarantees, which businesses can use for payroll support, such as for employee salaries, paid sick or medical leave, insurance premiums, mortgage, rent, and utility payments.
- Notably, the bill allows loan forgiveness equal to the amount spent by the borrower if businesses use them for this purpose.
- Sole-proprietors, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals are also eligible for loans.
- Employers who previously applied for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan are still eligible for 7(a) loans through SBA.
Employee Retention Tax Credit
- Eligible employers can take advantage of a refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis, provided they did not receive SBA payroll support loans.
- The credit is provided for the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits, paid to an eligible employee
- The credit is generally available to employers whose operations were affected by COVID-19 and is based on qualified wages paid to the employee:
- For employers with greater than 100 full-time employees, qualified wages are wages paid to employees when they are not providing services due to the COVID-19-related circumstances described above.
- For eligible employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees, all employee wages qualify for the credit, whether the employer is open for business or subject to a shut-down order.
Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes
- Allows employers to delay paying the employer share of payroll taxes
- Requires that the deferred employment tax be paid over the following two years
Funding to Fight the Pandemic
Provides funding for the prevention of and response to the coronavirus pandemic, including:
- $100 billion for hospitals and providers to purchase testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE), expand and train their working, and build and upgrade facilities.
- $4.3 billion for federal, state and local public health agencies to purchase PPE, increase lab testing, and infection control and mitigation.
- $4 billion for Community Health Centers.
- $1 billion to bolster domestic supply chains to help industry quickly produce PPE, ventilators and other urgently needed medical supplies.
- $200 million for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including $100 million to help nursing homes battling community transmission of the coronavirus.
- $80 million for the Food and Drug Administration to support the development of medical countermeasures, vaccines, advance domestic manufacturing for medical products, and monitor medical product supply chains.
Increased Funding for Key Programs
- $900 million for LIHEAP to help lower-income households heat and cool their homes.
- $450 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to assist food banks across the country.
- $8.8 billion for child nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
- $15.8 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure vulnerable populations can access meals.
- More than $7 billion for affordable housing, $4 billion of which will assist individuals and families who are homeless or receiving homelessness prevention assistance to help combat the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.
- $1.25 billion for Section 8 vouchers to preserve Section 8 voucher rental assistance for seniors, the disabled, and low-income working families, who will experience loss of income from the coronavirus.
- $1 billion for Project-Based Rental Assistance. This involves HUD directly contracting with private landlords to provide affordable homes to low-income tenants at certain properties.
- $50 million for Housing for the Elderly. This funding provides capital advances to private, non-profit sponsors to finance the development of housing for elderly residents.
- $15 million for Housing for People with Disabilities. These funds provide interest-free capital advances and operating subsidies to non-profit developers of affordable housing for persons with disabilities and provide project rental assistance to state housing agencies.
What if my small business has been impacted by COVID-19?
Our small businesses are the backbone to our state and they need our help now more than ever. Congressman Cuellar worked hard with State leaders and the Texas congressional delegation to get the Small Business Administration to approve their request to make Economic Injury Disaster Loans available to qualifying Texas small businesses. To apply for these Disaster Loans, click here.
- SBA can provide up to $2 million loans on terms as long as 30-years
- Currently, rates are 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profits, though my office is strongly advocating the SBA for these to be zero-interest
- Recipients are able to defer first payment for up to one-year
- Approval time average 2-3 weeks, once approved funds can be disbursed within 5 days. As well, we are advocating to accelerating the approval process.
- Applicants must fit SBA’s definition of a small business. This includes most private non-profits, as well as people who are self-employed
- Businesses applying should be expected to provide the SBA Form 5 (loan application form), the most recent year’s tax returns, completed IRS Form 4506-T, a personal financial statement, and a schedule of liability
What if I am senior and I am concerned about my health? Do I still receive my benefits?
Congressman Cuellar is committed to ensuring the most vulnerable Americans, including our seniors, can continue to receive care and their benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare has expanded its telehealth services to benefit patients who cannot travel to their physician’s office. To learn more, click here.
Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. All Social Security field offices are closed, however they will still offer service by phone and online.
If you receive a letter, text, call or email that you believe to be suspicious, about an alleged problem with your Social Security number, account, or payments, hang up or do not respond. We encourage you to report Social Security scams using our dedicated online form, at https://oig.ssa.gov.
I lost my job due to COVID-1. How do I obtain unemployment benefits?
If your employment has been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19), apply for benefits either online at any time using Unemployment Benefits Services or by calling TWC’s Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday.
To get the latest updates on unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission, click here.
I am stranded abroad. What should I do?
The State Department has issued a Level 4 – Do Not Travel advisory. U.S. citizens are to avoid all international travel. U.S. citizens that are stranded abroad need to seek arrangements for their return home immediately. As the situation develops, commercial or evacuation flights could become more limited or unavailable. For the latest updates on travel restrictions, click here.
Congressman Cuellar is actively working on solutions for constituents stranded in different countries around the world. The Coronavirus pandemic brings a number of challenges when dealing with foreign countries, however, Congressman Cuellar is committed to bringing all constituents safely back home. If you or a loved one is stranded abroad, please see the information below:
An individual stranded abroad should email their name, date of birth, passport numbers, location and contact info to the public e-mail address of their closest embassy or consulate. To find the closest embassy or consulate, click here.
Travelers are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at step.state.gov. STEP provides updates from the State Department and helps the nearest embassy or consulate make contact with the traveler.
If you are concerned about a loved one overseas, please call:
- From the U.S. & Canada - 1-888-407-4747
- From Overseas - +1 202-501-4444
If stranded in Guatemala, El Salvador, or Peru, see information below:
- Eastern airlines is planning additional flights, but still working on permissions. Citizens should vigilantly monitor their website.
- There is also the possibility of a United Charter. Interested citizens should e-mail AmCitsGuatemala@stte.gov with the subject line “Charter Flight Registration: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME.” The e-mail should include name, dob, passport number, any critical medical issues, and a way to contact you.
- The USG is pursuing multiple options (commercial, State charter, etc.) and we would advise U.S. citizens to pursues multiple options as well, and take whatever option where a seat on a plane is first secured.
- The US Embassy in Lima has created a website where American citizens in Peru can register directly and apply for upcoming departure flights. To register, click here.
- Several airlines are at different stages of obtaining permissions, which the Office of Congressman Cuellar is assisting with. Some have pre-sign ups, and some will move directly to online sales. When the flights open for sales, seats will likely go rapidly. Congressman Cuellar’s Office would advise citizens to pursue all options until a seat is secured, so check ALL of the sites. With commercial flights, it is possible the company will announce the flights on their websites first, although we will make every effort to keep citizens informed.
- The U.S Embassy in El Salvador is actively working to support U.S citizens who wish to return home. The Embassy asks U.S. Citizens to complete an online form if they want to return home. To fill at the form, click here.