VAWA for Rural Development tenants

The United States Department of Agriculture has issued guidance regarding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  This guidance applies to Section 515 Rural Rental Housing, Section 514/516 Farm Labor Housing, Section 538 Guaranteed Rural Rental Housing, and Section 533 Housing Preservation Grant programs.

VAWA protects domestic violence victims from being denied admission to, denied assistance under, termination from participation, or eviction from covered housing programs if the applicant or tenant otherwise qualifies for admission, assistance, participation, or occupancy.

Criminal activity directly related to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking cannot be cause for termination of assistance, tenancy or occupancy rights of the victim.

Borrowers should allow extended absences per current policy including for the benefit of domestic violence survivors.

Borrowers must respond and consider allowing tenants to transfer another Rural Development unit if they reasonably believe they are facing an actual and imminent threat of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Rural Development will issue a letter stating the tenant may get priority placement in an available Rural Development unit.  Requests to transfer to an external unit when a Rural Development unit is not available must also be urgently handled.

Borrowers must distribute the HUD-5380 Notice of Occupancy Rights, and HUD-5382 Certification of Domestic Violence form to all applicants and tenants when an individual is denied residency, when assigned a unit, and with any notice of eviction or termination of assistance.

Borrowers should prioritize victims’ requests and process emergency transfers and lease bifurcations as quickly as possible.  This includes accepting verbal statements, or accepting self-certification of the domestic violence incidents.  Evictions, lease bifurcations, and terminations of assistance against victims because of an actual and imminent threat should only be used when there is no other action to reduce the threat.  When processing bifurcation, Borrowers should consider allowing more time to demonstrate eligibility for other programs.

Borrowers should consider adopting a preference for admission and make every effort to accept admission applications from victims at any time, even when the waiting list is closed.

Technology should be used to allow survivors to safely testify at hearings when their housing subsidy is at issue.  (United States Department of Agriculture Unnumbered Letter, November 23, 2020.)

COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program in the Continued Assistance Act makes available $25 billion to assistant households that are unable to pay rent and utilities because of COVID-19.  Payments will be made directly to states, U.S. Territories, local governments with more than 200,000 residents, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and Indian Tribes.  Not less than 90 percent of awarded funds must be used for direct financial assistance.  The remaining funds are available for housing stability services.

An eligible household is a renter household in which at lease one or more individuals 1) qualify for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship because or COVID-19, 2) demonstrates a risk of homelessness or housing instability, or 3) has a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median.

Eligible households that include an individual who has been unemployed for 90 days, and households with income at or below 50 percent of the area median are to be prioritized.

Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional 3 months if the grantee determines the extra months are needed to ensure housing stability and grantee funds are available.

Payment of existing housing-related arrears that could result in eviction of an eligible household is prioritized.  Assistance must be provided to reduce an eligible household’s rental arrears before the household may receive assistance for future rent payments.  Once a household’s rental arrears are reduced, future assistance can be provided for only three months at a time.  Households can reapply for additional assistance at the end of the three-month period if needed and the overall time limit for assistance is not exceeded.

An application for rental assistance can be submitted to the grantee by either an eligible household or be a landlord on behalf of the household.  Funds will be paid directly to the landlords and utility service providers.  If a landlord does not want to participate, funds may be paid directly to the eligible household.  (Emergency Rental Assistance Program, United States Department of the Treasury.)

COVID-19 CalFresh emergency allotment for January 2021

California has been approved to issue an emergency allotment of CalFresh for January, 2021.  The emergency allotment will be issued on February 7, 2021 to raise each household’s monthly CalFresh allotment to the maximum allowable for the household size.  Per guidance from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), households already receiving the maximum allotment are not eligible to receive an emergency allotment.  However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act increases CalFresh allotments by 15% for the period January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021.  Information about this increase will be issued in a future letter.

Moving forward, emergency allotments may be approved by FNS on a month-to-month basis until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the public health emergency. (ACWDL, January 4, 2021.)

COVID-19 Continued Assistance Act Unemployment Insurance Provisions

The United States Department of Labor has issued instructions regarding the Unemployment Insurance provisions of the Continued Assistance Act 2021.  Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which provides benefits to independent contractors and self-employed persons who are unable to work because of COVID-19, is extended to the weeks of unemployment ending on or before March 14, 2021.  Individuals receiving PUA as of the end of the program who have not yet exhausted their PUA may continue to collect PUA for any week they have entitlement until the week of April 5, 2021.  The maximum number of weeks of PUA is increased from 39 weeks to 50 weeks.  The number of weeks available continues to be reduced by any weeks of unemployment insurance or extended benefits received.

States have been given the authority to waive PUA and LWA overpayments when the individual is not at fault and repayment would be contrary to equity and good conscience.

An individual must have exhausted all entitlement to unemployment insurance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and extended benefits before filing for PUA.  However, the Continued Assistance Act provides a hold harmless provision for an individual who previously exhausted PUA but became eligible for additional amounts of PEUC beginning on or after December 27, 2020.  States may continue paying PUA to an individual currently receiving PUA who is newly eligible to receive PEUC because of the additional weeks of PEUC.  States have four weeks to implement the additional amounts of PEUC and move an individual from PUA to PEUC.

Individuals filing for PUA must have their claim backdated to the first week during the Pandemic Assistance Period that the individual was unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of COVID-19.

Any individual who receives PUA after December 27, 2020 must provide documentation substantiating employment or self-employment, or the planned beginning of employment or self-employment.  For persons applying on or after January 31, 2021 are required to provide documentation within 21 days of applying or the date the individual is directed to submit the documentation by the State Agency, whichever is later.  Individuals applying before January 31, 2021 and receiving a payment after December 27, 2020 are required to provide documentation within 90 days of applying or the date the individual is directed to submit the documentation by the State Agency, whichever is later.

States must have a system of identity verification for PUA.

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation is reauthorized for $300 per week in supplemental benefits for weeks of unemployment beginning after December 26, 2020 and ending on or before March 14, 2021.

States have the option to establish a Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation.  If enacted, this program provides an additional $100 additional payment per week for persons who received at least $5,000 in self-employment income in the most recent taxable year, who are receiving another unemployment insurance benefit except for PUC, and who submit documentation of their self-employment income. PEUC is extended to weeks of unemployment ending on or before March 14, 2021. Individuals receiving PEUC as of the end of the program who have not yet exhausted their PEUC may continue to collect PEUC for any week they have entitlement until the week of April 5, 2021.  The maximum amount of PEUC is increased from 13 times the individual’s average earnings to 24 times the individual’s average earnings.

States can allow continued PEUC when an individual qualifies for regular unemployment insurance and regular unemployment insurance is at least $25 less than PEUC.  If an individual previously exhausted PEUC and began receiving extended benefits, they must exhaust extended benefits before being eligible for PEUC.  If permitted by state law, if the state remains in an extended benefit period when an individual exhausts PEUC, the individual may still be eligible for extended benefits.

States must have a method to address when an individual refuses to return to work or accept an offer of suitable work without good cause.  States must provide a reporting method for employers to notify the state agency when an individual refuses an offer of employment.  States must notify claimants who refuse to work or to accept an offer of suitable work without good cause including instructions for contesting a denial based on a report of refusal to accept suitable work and exceptions to the rule.  A state may exercise temporary emergency flexibility in its application of good cause.  (UIPL 9-21, December 30, 2020.)

COVID-19 child care family fees for 2020-21

The California Department of Education (CDE) has issued information regarding child care family fees for fiscal year 2020-21.  All family fees were waived for July and August, 2020.  Families should have received should have received a refund or credit for future services.  Families disenrolled by the contractor or who chose to disenroll because of family fees for July and August 2020 can be reinstated if funding and space are available without the need for additional eligibility documentation.  These families would receive priority and should be enrolled before any families from the agency’s eligibility list.  If the contractor does not available space, the contractor may attempt to transfer enrollment to another contractor who has availability and, if not possible, refer the family to the local Resource and Referral program.

Family fees are waived for September, 2020 to June, 2021 for families where all children in the family enrolled in subsidized early learning center services remain at home for that month either because of closure of the facility when all currently enrolled children are not able to receive in-person services because of a public health order, or for families sheltering-in-place because of COVID-19.  Families whose children receive in-person services will continue to pay the family fee.

Families may at any time request a reassessment of family fees based on income or other changes.  This information can be used to reduce family fees but cannot be used to make any other changes unless requested by the family.  Family fees will not be adjusted for absences when the family is certified for full-time care, and intended, at the time of paying the fee, to use in-person services, but does not attend for all of their certified hours in a given month.

When a direct services provider must close unexpectedly, including because of a positive COVID-19 test, or are required to limit in person services in response to a local or public health order, the family should receive a refund or credit for their family fee.  If some in person services are provided, the part-time fees would still apply.

For families that have a delinquent family fee plan, contractors should have placed the plan on hold for the months of July and August 2020.  Families should not have been terminated for outstanding fees owed for those months or while repayment plans were on hold.  Families disenrolled by the contractor because of delinquent family fees during a period in which family fees are waived can be reinstated.  If funding and space are available without the need for additional eligibility documentation. If the contractor does not available space, the contractor may attempt to transfer enrollment to another contractor who has availability and, if not possible, refer the family to the local Resource and Referral program.

Delinquent family fee plans resumed in September, 2020 only for families attending in-person care.  Families sheltering-in-place or receiving distance learning services because of COVID-19 must pay outstanding fees or resume payment plans when the family returns to in person care.  (MB 20-19a, December 9, 2020.)

COVID-19 not counting new stimulus payments as income for benefits programs

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has issued guidance regarding treatment of the new individual stimulus payments as income for various benefits programs.

The payments authorized by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 are individual tax rebates.  They are excluded from income in the month received for CalWORKs, CalFresh, Refugee Cash Assistance, and the Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program.  The individual stimulus payments count as a resource after 12 months if they have not been spent.  (ACWDL, December 31, 2020.)