​How the New COVID Relief Bill Impacts Disabled Americans

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on January 25, 2021 # Advocacy and Policy

By guest blogger Stephanie Woodward

man in wheelchair in front of lakeLast month Congress finally passed a second COVID relief bill and it was signed by the President in late December. This new bill, which includes more than $900 billion in spending in its 5,500 pages, grants another round of stimulus payment for some, extends unemployment support and the Federal eviction moratorium, and provides additional support for access to food and telehealth. Here’s how each of these factors will impact the Disability Community:

Additional Stimulus Payments

Unlike the $1200 stimulus payment in the CARES Act, the new stimulus payments are only $600 and are available to significantly less people. Individuals making up to $75,000 will receive a $600 payment, and that amount will be reduced by $5 for every $100 a person makes above that income limit. Additionally, households will receive $600 for each dependent who is 16 years or under.

Just like the CARES Act, adult dependents, including millions of people with disabilities, are not eligible for a $600 stimulus payment.

Importantly, both the $1200 CARES Act stimulus payment and the current $600 stimulus payment are tax credits, not income. This means that it does not count as a resource for the purpose of qualifying for federal benefits. This also means that if you are in a nursing facility or other institutional setting, the facility cannot take your stimulus payment. The IRS has published a clear statement: Stimulus payments belong to the individual – not the organizations providing care.

Extended Unemployment

Many people have lost their jobs because of coronavirus and depend on employment in order to survive, including many people with disabilities. The CARES Act created new Pandemic Unemployment Insurance programs that provided an additional $600 per week for individuals who were unemployed, on top of their usual unemployment payment. This funding ended in July and President Trump signed an executive order authorizing an additional $300 per week in unemployment. That funding was set to expire on December 31, 2020. However, the new COVID relief bill extends the $300 per week for an additional 11 weeks, but because President Trump delayed signing the bill by five days, the benefits will really only be available for ten additional weeks.

If you’re a person with a disability who lost your job during the pandemic, please do not hesitate to apply for unemployment. These safety-net programs are here to help you while you seek a new job.

Eviction Moratorium

It is no secret that the pandemic has hurt our economy significantly, and many Americans are struggling to pay the bills. The CARES Act created a nation-wide ban on evictions specifically for tenants who were late on their rent (this did not prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for other reasons). President Trump extended this ban and the new COVID relief bill further extended this ban through January 21, 2021.

In addition to extending the ban on evictions, Congress included $25 billion in rental relief for Americans in the COVID relief bill. This money is allocated to state and local governments to help renters pay rent and utilities. Priority is given to renters whose income does not exceed 50% local area median income, as well as households who are currently unemployed or have been unemployed for 90+ days.

If you are struggling to pay rent, please check with your local government to see if you can access some of this rental relief assistance.

Access to Food

Just as Americans are struggling to pay the bills, we’re struggling to access food. To help Americans address this, the COVID relief bill includes $13 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – previously known as the Food Stamp Program.

People who receive SNAP benefits will receive a 15% increase in benefits until June 30, 2021, and college students are now able to qualify for SNAP. Additionally, unemployment benefits are no longer considered when determining SNAP eligibility.

Notably, for disabled Americans, SNAP benefits can be used for online purchases – which is helpful in general, but especially during a pandemic when many people with disabilities are high risk. Retailers like Aldi are working with Instacart to accept EBT payments, allowing customers to order their groceries online and receive them via delivery or curbside pickup.

Expanding Access to Telehealth

Access to healthcare during a pandemic where social distancing is critical is difficult for everyone, but especially difficult for people with disabilities who are high risk, as well as disabled people who live in rural or frontier areas and those who do not have access to transportation. Telehealth provides more opportunities for people with disabilities to access the healthcare we need without having to go anywhere to receive the services.

However, telehealth does not work unless people have access to the internet. That’s why it’s so important that the new COVID relief bill includes a number of telehealth-related provisions, including $3.2 billion to help low-income families pay their internet bills, $1.3 billion to improve internet infrastructure in rural and tribal areas, and $65 million to determine what parts our nation still need access to broadband.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and co-founder of Disability EmpowHer Network. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.