Family Harvest
Coastside Hope has programs that can help a family in a pinch due to the ongoing health crisis. Photo courtesy Katie Sanborn

These are very uncertain times, and many of us have questions that we have never had to ask before. How do I file for unemployment? What if I need help with food? How can I possibly stay home with my child? We have some answers for you.

What follows are some questions you might have and the answers we have at the moment. Please keep in mind that some of the requirements and programs are changing rapidly. When possible, we've linked to the appropriate agency for more information about your particular needs. We will be adding to this list and changing it as conditions demand. If you have questions related to government or nonprofit help coping with the coronavirus, send them to clay@hmbreview.com

Will I get a stimulus check?

On March 25, the Senate passed a massive stimulus package that includes payments up to $1,200 for adults who earned less than $75,000 on their last tax return. Married couples filing jointly could receive $2,400 if their income was less than $150,000. Parents will receive $500 per child.

The amount of payment goes down by $5 per $100 earned up to $99,000. Taxpayers who earn more than that won't receive a check.

The Washington Post reports that checks are expected to go out on or about April 6, though the newspaper notes it took eight weeks for all the checks to go out the last time Congress authorized such a payout.

How do I file for unemployment?

If you have been laid off or lost working hours as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis you may well qualify for unemployment insurance through the California Employment Development Department. The good news is California has waived the usual one week waiting period. However, the state has been inundated with millions of new claims and admits that there are some catches in the system.

You can file the paperwork online here.

How much can I get in unemployment?

Benefits range from $40 to $450 a week depending on how much you made before losing work. And workers will get an additional $600 a week as a result of congressional action over the pandemic. This time around, the self-employed, gig employees and those with part time jobs are eligible.

What will I need to file?

  • Last employer information, supervisor’s name, address and phone number
  • Last date you worked and why you are out of work now.
  • Gross earnings on the last week you worked. If you have a pay stub you can find it there.
  • Essentially, the same info on every employer in the last 18 months.
  • Citizenship status. If you are not a U.S. citizen you must provide info from your employment authorization document. Undocumented workers may not receive unemployment through the state of California.

What happens then?

Important information will follow in the mail. Read it and respond right away. You may be asked to register for CalJOBS, which is a clearinghouse of jobs that may be available to you. Officials say your first check might not arrive for three weeks.

How can I get help making payroll

The federal stimulus package that is working its way toward signature by the president includes Small Business Administration loans that are “forgivable.” (That means they would convert to grants once the obligations are met.)

As currently written, they would be available to all businesses that are 500 employees or fewer and could be up to two and a half times average monthly payroll. The interest rates are under 2 percent and no payments would be due for six months.

There is fine print. Among the provisions: You would have to use the money for payroll within four months of the declaration of a public health emergency and you would have to retain 90 percent of your workforce (at full pay and benefits) that you had on Feb. 1.

The SBA has a number of other programs for which Coastside businesses might qualify, including an express bridge loan program and help securing government contracts. Learn more here.

And note: The stimulus package hadn't been signed into law at this writing.

What if I can’t work because my child is home from school?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows for 10 paid sick days and up to 12 weeks of leave to help compensate for lost wages during school closures. Additionally, the California Family-School Partnership Act, outlined in Labor Code Section 230.8, allows for employees at workplaces with more than 25 employees to take 40 hours of paid time off to attend to children. The provisions are a bit complicated. You can learn more here.

I’ve come down with symptoms of COVID-19. I can’t work. How can I make ends meet?

You can apply for State Disability Insurance and you can do so online. You’ll need certification from your doctor. You can also get help from SDI if a family member is sick and you have to stay home to care for that person.

What am I required to provide for my employees?

Beginning April 2, you will have to comply with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which mandates private employers with fewer than 500 employees to pay for 10 sick days for workers who are suffering from COVID-19 symptoms or in mandatory isolation.

All employers in the state must provide at least three sick days and those can be used to care for anyone in the family.

How can I access the food I need?

Check in with Coastside Hope. The program out of El Granada operates a regular food pantry and a “brown bag” delivery for seniors. It has modified its office hours in light of the situation and encourages people to call rather than just show up. The number is 726-9071.

If you live south of Half Moon Bay, Puente might be able to help. Among many other things, the social service agency in Pescadero will deliver medicine and groceries to qualifying seniors. Call (650) 879-1691 for details.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has just announced a number of new initiatives to deal with hunger in light of the coronavirus crisis. You can learn more about those initiatives here.

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