The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economics Security Act signed into law in late March will provide some financial relief for many Americans, including those with student loans and those collecting unemployment benefits.
The economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on family budgets, said Cindy Clampet, Oklahoma State University Extension assistant family resource management specialist.
“The act has provisions intended to help students who have federal student loans, as well as to give extra help to individuals who are no longer able to work, to businesses forced to close temporarily and those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic,” Clampet said.
Federal student loan borrowers are now being placed in administrative forbearance, which allows them to temporarily stop making monthly loan payments. During that time, Clampet said no interest will be charged and there will not be a balloon payment due at the end of the forbearance. Suspension of payments will last until Sept. 30 this year.
“Keep in mind you can still make your payments if you choose to do so,” she said. “For families in which the main breadwinners are now furloughed or have lost jobs, the need for student financial aid may have increased. Those families are encouraged to contact the college’s student aid office to see what additional help they can get to be able to stay in school.”
Students also should follow their school’s instructions and continue to participate in coursework to remain eligible for financial aid, Clampet said. Some scholarships may have additional provisions that must be met, such as hours earned, grade point average and reporting to the scholarship donor each semester or school year.
The CARES Act also affects those who qualify for unemployment. The law contains provisions to give extra help for individuals who are no longer able to work and to businesses that have been forced to close due to the pandemic, she said.
“There are two main categories of unemployment benefits for the individual. The first is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” Clampet said. “This will give benefits to people who are independent contractors, gig workers, sick people and those caring for a loved one during the outbreak and not able to work. Those folks might not normally qualify for state unemployment benefits.”
She said the second benefit is an extra $600 per week over the next four months for those who are out of work and collecting state unemployment benefits. That money will be in addition to what an individual may be collecting from their state unemployment benefits.
The first step for workers to collect benefits is to apply for unemployment in their state of residence. Clampet said states have different qualifying conditions.
Oklahoma, for example, has three qualifying conditions:
- The individual lost their job through no fault of their own, which includes domestic violence.
- The individual must be able and available to work and is looking for work.
- The individual has earned enough wages to qualify for benefits.
“The Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission asks that those seeking benefits apply
on-line at www.ok.gov/oesc. On this site there is a link to an advisor who can answer any questions you might
have about collecting your benefits,” Clampet said. “You may have to report your employment
status weekly to continue your benefits.”
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