Outreach During a Pandemic

The South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) Orangeburg Office has found an effective and innovative way to continue to conduct outreach throughout most of its service area. Staff are collaborating with an organization called Growing COB (Calhoun, Orangeburg, Bamberg), whose mission is to improve health by ensuring access to sustainable gardens, fresh produce and nutritional and gardening education in the three named counties and surrounding areas. Since December of 2017, Growing COB has provided fresh produce to over 7,300 persons and educated 400 people in nutrition and gardening.

Growing COB and SCLS Orangeburg office combined their efforts and are conducting “curbside produce distribution” and providing legal educational and materials simultaneously. SCLS advocates have the opportunity to talk with those seeking fresh produce about their legal needs. All participants adhere to social distancing, use personal protective equipment and follow sanitary guidelines during the giveaways. Recent curbside distribution events were scheduled at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center for first responders, custodians, nurses and others employed at the hospital, as well as New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bowman. Upcoming events include a curbside produce distribution at the Calhoun County Library, as well as a second event at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center.

Help With Mortgage and Rent Payments

If you are a homeowner who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might be eligible for a forbearance.  A forbearance is a program where the mortgage company delays, or forbears collecting monthly mortgage payments.  Under federal law, if you have an FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage, you are covered.  You can contact your mortgage servicer to request a mortgage payment forbearance. If you do not have one of these mortgages, you can ask your servicer if it has a coronavirus program to help homeowners who cannot pay the mortgage due to the pandemic.

If you are a renter who has lost income directly or indirectly related to the coronavirus pandemic, you might have protections under federal law. If you receive a federal subsidy to help you pay rent, if you live in a tax credit or rural development property, or if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government, you may have protection against being evicted for not paying rent.  However, you should pay rent if you can.  Rent is not being forgiven due to the pandemic. 

If you cannot pay your rent, call your local United Way (call 211) or your local Human Affairs Commission to see if there is housing or utility assistance in your area.  Additionally, here is a list of agencies that may be able to help with your rent payment. Finally, if you are behind on your rent payment, the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program offers emergency rental assistance to South Carolinians facing financial hardships as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Determining whether the property you are renting is covered by federal law may be difficult.  This is especially true for figuring out if your landlord’s mortgage is backed by the federal government.  If you are uncertain, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call   1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Federal Income Taxes, Economic Impact Payments, and Other Tax Related Issues

The deadline to file your 2019 Federal and South Carolina State income tax return is July 15, 2020.   If you have a balance due on your 2019 return, the deadline to pay the balance due without incurring interest and penalties is also July 15, 2020.  If you are unable to pay by this date, you should still file the tax return. The IRS highly recommends e-filing your tax return as it will take a lot less time to process your returns and issue any refunds. 

The IRS has started issuing economic stimulus payments (EIP) in mid-April.   If you receive social security retirement, social security disability, supplemental security income (SSI), or veterans benefits through the Veterans Affairs (VA), the IRS will automatically issue your economic impact payment to the account where you receive your benefits.  The economic impact payment will be sent to you even if you have a federal income tax debt that is not paid off. 

If you did not file a tax return for tax years 2018 or 2019, you will not automatically receive the EIP.  You must apply for it here.  Additionally, if you have qualifying children under 17, you may be eligible to receive an additional $500.00 per dependent qualifying child.  If you did not apply online at the link above by May 5, 2020, you will be able to receive this additional sum by including your qualifying dependent in your 2020 tax return to be filed next year.

If you filed a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return and you provided direct deposit information that is still correct, you do not have to do anything.   If you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and you either did not provide direct deposit information, had a balance due, or your direct deposit information has changed, the IRS will send your payment by U.S. Mail.   You can check the status of your payment here.   If you have moved since you filed your tax return, make sure to submit a change of address form with the U.S. Postal service so that the economic stimulus payment will be mailed to your new address.   You should also change your address with the IRS.  

If you believe that your EIP was in the wrong amount, you will be able to claim the additional amount by filing a 2020 tax return in 2021.   If you are divorced or legally separated or have a support agreement in the family court and believe that the other parent claimed a child or children that they were not supposed to claim on their 2019 tax returns, you may need to speak with your family law attorney.  

Additionally, if the IRS based your EIP on your federal income tax return and a person on the return passed away before you received the EIP, the deceased person’s portion must be returned to the IRS.  For example, if you filed a joint return for tax year 2019 and your spouse died in February 2020, you must return the deceased person’s portion of the EIP.   Instructions on how to send back the payment are on irs.gov.  

Scammers have already been hard at work to try to take stimulus funds that taxpayers have or will receive.   The IRS will never contact you or request personal information such as your Social Security number by e-mail, social media, or telephone.  It will never ask for payments over the phone and will never require you to send a prepaid debit card.  If you have any concern relating to a phone call, e-mail or social media post, you should visit the IRS website at irs.gov.   Do not fall victim to people contacting you and saying that they can help you obtain the economic impact payment or get the payment faster than if you apply on your own!  This is not true!  Be safe and check for any updates relating to Covid-19 directly on irs.gov as the IRS frequently updates these rules and requirements.   

Military Appreciation Month

Since 1999, May has been designated National Military Appreciation Month to encourage us to honor past and present military members and their families. This is the perfect time to highlight specific laws meant to protect servicemembers from legal troubles or disadvantages while they are in military service. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA), and the South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA) are laws specifically intended to protect service members and their families.

Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The SCRA provides benefits and protections to those in “military service” which includes: (1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard); (2) Reservists on federal active duty; and (3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for more than 30 days.

Some of the benefits and protections under the SCRA are included below, each of which has certain conditions which may apply and could limit their application to individual circumstances:

  • Reduced interest rates
  • Postponement of foreclosures
  • Deferred income taxes
  • Eviction prevention
  • Protection against default judgments
  • Postponed civil court matters
  • Termination of residential lease agreements
  • Termination of automobile leases
  • Termination of phone/internet/cable services
  • Prevention of repossession of property
  • Protection against storage liens
  • Protections against adverse actions from creditors or insurers

South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA)

The South Carolina SCRA was designed to expand and supplement the federal SCRA to cover circumstances where the federal SCRA might not apply to SC National Guard service. It expands the definition of “military service” to include full time training, annual training, State Active Duty, and attendance at a service school in addition to military service under the federal SCRA. It also extends protections to dependents of servicemembers and expands some of the contracts that may be terminated when a servicemember receives military orders.

South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA)

The MPEPA provides protections for parents who are in military service, but the definition of military service under the MPEPA is not as broad as the definition under the SCRA and only includes deployments that would not allow a family member to accompany the military parent.

One of the protections provided under the MPEPA is that Courts cannot enter a final order modifying the terms of custody or visitation in an existing order until 90 days after the enlisted parent is released from military service. Also, a military parent’s absence or relocation due to military service cannot be the sole reason for a court to permanently modify an existing custody or visitation order.

If a servicemember is away on “military service”, the Family Court can issue a temporary order making reasonable accommodations for that parent’s absence. The order will terminate when the military parent returns. If there is no existing order, the Court must hold an expedited temporary hearing to establish temporary custody, visitation, and support.

Also, when military parents are called to service, either parent can request that the Family Court issue an order temporarily modifying child support based upon any increase or decrease in pay during the deployment. After the deployment ends, child support automatically reverts to the original amount before deployment.


This is only a broad overview of some of the benefits and protections provided to servicemembers by these laws. The details of each of these laws can be complicated and it is important to get professional advice on how they might apply to individual circumstances. South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call   1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Be Wary of Work-At-Home and Other Business Opportunities

This pitch may sound familiar: Need to make extra money? Find it difficult to pay your bills? Were you laid off or fired? Be your own Boss with (insert supposedly great company here). Message me to achieve financial independence!

It is important to beware of scams in both times of happiness and success as well as in times of sadness and difficulty. Right now scams like this “Be your own boss opportunity” are among the most successful ones for shameless and clever scammers. People who are struggling financially are most susceptible to pitches that have to do with jobs and business opportunities.

Work-at-home opportunities are being promoted by scam artists now more than ever. There are all kinds of home-based businesses, including ones that are set up to fail. The key is that if the job seeker has to pay to get access to the job opportunity, it is likely they will spend more than they can earn.

Those searching for ways to make ends meet should steer clear of any company or person claiming to offer a “guaranteed” job placement or “risk-free” business opportunity. Often the reality of these scams is you end up paying for starter kits or certifications that are useless, find your credit card is charged without your permission, or get caught up in a fake check scam. Many work-at-home offers just don’t deliver on their promises. The ads don’t warn that you may have to work a lot of hours without pay, or don’t disclose all the costs up-front. You might spend money based on promises you’ll quickly earn it back — but you won’t. People tricked by work-at-home ads have lost thousands of dollars, not to mention time and energy.

How to Know If It’s a Scam

The Federal Trade Commission offers this advice:

Promises of a big income working from home, especially when the “opportunity” involves an up-front fee or requires that you give your credit card information, should make you very suspicious. It doesn’t matter if the ad shows up in a trusted newspaper or website, or if the people you talk to on the phone sound legitimate. It still could be a scam.

If you are thinking about following up on a work-at-home offer, do your homework. The FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule has safeguards in place to make sure you have the information you need to tell whether a work-at-home opportunity is a risky business. Under the Rule, sellers have to give you a one-page disclosure document that offers key pieces of information about the opportunity. Use the information in the disclosure document to fact-check what the seller tells you. In addition to reviewing the disclosure document, here are some questions to ask:

  1. What tasks will I have to perform? Are any other steps involved?
  2. Will I be paid a salary, or will I be paid on commission?
  3. What is the basis for your claims about my likely earnings? Do you survey everyone who purchased the program? What documents can you show me to prove your claims are true before I give you any money? Note: If a seller makes a claim about how much money a person can earn, the seller also has to give you an earnings claim statement with more specifics.
  4. Who will pay me?
  5. When will I get my first paycheck?
  6. What is the total cost of this work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment, and membership fees? What will I get for my money?

The answers to these questions may help you determine whether a work-at-home program is legitimate, and if so, whether it’s a good fit for you.

Check them out

It’s a good idea to research other people’s experience. Try entering the company or promoter’s name with the words “complaint,” “reviews,” or “scam” into a search engine. Read what others have to say. After all, it’s your money on the line.  You also might try checking out a company with the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, the S.C. Attorney General, and even the Better Business Bureau. Check not only where the company is located, but also where you live. These organizations can tell you whether there are complaints about a particular work-at-home program. But remember: just because there are no complaints, this does not mean the company is legitimate. Dishonest companies sometimes settle complaints and change their names or move to avoid detection.

Returning to Work After COVID-19

As states are reopening across the country, employees everywhere are concerned about returning to work under questionable safety conditions. Additionally, employees could lose unemployment insurance benefits if they refuse to return to work when their job is reinstated.

What do workers need to know?

Unemployment Benefits

If a worker is receiving unemployment benefits and is offered her job back, but refuses to return to work, will she remain eligible to receive benefits? NO. The Department of Employment and Workforce has issued a statement encouraging employers to report employees who refuse to return to work.

From a legal standpoint, in order to refuse to return to your job, you must have a compelling reason. The Department of Employment and Workforce is required to investigate prior to terminating benefits. The following reasons may provide a compelling argument for the Department:

  1. An employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
  2. An employee is in a high-risk category for complications due to COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
  3. An employee does not have childcare due to COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive.  Unemployment benefit recipients should also be prepared to submit evidence supporting their reason for refusing to return to work such as a doctor’s note, medical diagnosis, or confirmation of a closed childcare facility.

Health and Safety Concerns

Employees should be familiar with local rules and regulations regarding the reopening of non-essential businesses. For example, in South Carolina, there are specific guidelines that restaurants must follow in order to resume dine-in services. Tables must be spaced 6 to 8 feet apart and the restaurant’s capacity must be capped at 50% of the posted occupancy as established by fire marshals. For example, if the establishment can normally hold 100 people, the restaurant can only allow 50 people in the building at a time. Employees should know the safety precautions that businesses should adhere to in their workplace. They should also know to report any health or safety problems that exist in their workplace. Legal protections exist for workers who report reasonable concerns about an unsafe work environment. 

Employees should begin by having a conversation with their supervisor or manager about their issues or concerns if they feel comfortable doing so. South Carolina Legal Services is always available to provide information concerning employee rights and responsibilities. Individuals seeking assistance can apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or complete an application over the phone at 1-888-346-5592.