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.
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.
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
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.
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:
What tasks will I have to perform? Are any other steps involved?
Will I be paid a salary, or will I be paid on commission?
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.
Who will pay me?
When will I get my first paycheck?
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.
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?
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:
An employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
An employee is in a high-risk category for complications due to COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
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.
April is widely known as Second Chance Month. South Carolina’s expungement system allows for multiple charges to be expunged from a person’s criminal record, depending on the convictions. While the law is standard as to what can be expunged, the application process can differ based on the county where your conviction occurred. Thus, we’ve put together a small checklist of considerations and documents to compile or prepare to obtain during this time that will be useful in any county.
Obtain a copy of your criminal record: You may obtain your SLED report at www.sled.sc.gov. There is a $25 fee for the record.
Review your record for accuracy: Do you need an expungement? Is there an error on your report?
Obtain your Disposition/Sentencing Sheet from the court where your conviction occurred: This document lists pertinent information such as what you were charged with, whether you were convicted, and the date of your arrests. Some counties require a certified copy of your disposition sheet to be attached to the expungement application.
Search for the appropriate expungement application: The majority of applications can be found online, or you may call the Solicitor’s Office in the county where your conviction occurred.
Gather important identification documents that you may need such as your driver’s license and social security card: While this is not a requirement for all counties, for some it is necessary to prove your identity.
What if your charges are not eligible for expungement? You may want to consider seeking a pardon. Below is a list of considerations and documents that you will need to obtain in completing this process.
Obtain a copy of your SLED report.
Obtain the official pardon application from the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. It can be found at www.dppps.sc.gov.
Identify three individuals not related to you by blood or marriage and ask them to provide reference letters for you. Be sure that they are aware of your criminal record.
List all charges that you wish to have pardoned. You may list every item on your criminal record.
Be sure that you’ve completed all probation and parole and paid any restitution, fines or fees.
Be mindful of the $100 fee that must be submitted with the application.
Have the application notarized.
If you are uncertain of your eligibility for an expungement or pardon, or would like to determine which is necessary for your situation, you may contact South Carolina Legal Services at (888) 346-5592. You may also apply online for our services at www.sclegal.org.
April has been designated as the National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States since 1983. However, the Coronavirus has raised new concerns about child abuse. Schools have been closed since mid-March. Many parents have been laid off or are working from home.
Many states, including South Carolina, have reported drastic decreases in child abuse reports since mid-March. This isn’t because child abuse has declined. Teachers, day-care workers, and health care providers are mandatory reporters of abuse. Because schools are closed, teachers and others who normally see and report abuse can no longer do so. Also, many doctors are doing visits through video conferencing, reducing their ability to interact with children and discover abuse or neglect. Clergy are also mandatory reporters and children are not going to church right now.
The lack of reporting is concerning because it is likely that child abuse may have increased during this time. Parents are stressed having to be locked down in a house with their children without a break, and parents are also teaching their kids while facing other stressors like job loss and financial instability. The added stress for parents is more likely to lead to reactions toward children that may be abusive.
During this current crisis, it is now very important to report suspected child abuse or neglect. If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you should contact local law enforcement and request a welfare check on the child. Law enforcement officers are mandated reporters who can investigate your suspicions and contact the S.C. Department of Social Services if warranted. All reports of suspected abuse or neglect must be made in good faith. You may also report anonymously to the S.C. Department of Social Services by visiting https://benefitsportal.dss.sc.gov/#/ran/home. Finally, reports can also be made by calling the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.
Food and Medical Resources for the Most Vulnerable Among Us.
For the first time in over a century, the US is facing a global pandemic on a scale large enough to disrupt normal, daily activities and routines. We have largely been able to go on with business as usual through SARS, MERS, H1N1, and other pandemics that have emerged in the last two decades. Currently, the US and the world is battling the COVID-19 virus. For many of us, this is a stressful time, filled with annoyances. For the most vulnerable among us who live on the brink of food insecurity, this is much more than a mere inconvenience or disruption of daily life.
The School Nutrition Association predicts that 11 million children (1 in 7) across the United States live in households that do not have access to adequate food on a consistent basis. For these children, school meals provide a valuable source of nutrition. As schools across the country close to prevent further spread of COVID:19, the US Department of Agriculture and local districts nationwide are developing ways of getting food to the children most in need. The South Carolina Department of Education oversees the implementation of the School Nutrition programs across the state of South Carolina. Many local districts are implementing a modified version of their seamless summer feeding. The program usually requires that meals be consumed on site; however, the USDA is granting waivers to provide the meals to be picked up or delivered to students in need. These meals are free to all children age 18 and under. You can get more information here about how to access these meals. Local school districts are the also a great source of information.
The US Department of Agriculture has also implemented other emergency measures to ensure that the needs of the food insecure can continue to be met during this public health crisis through its other Food and Nutrition Services: SNAP, WIC, and a wide variety of Food Distribution Programs. Many of the measures can be implemented by states without further USDA approval. The South Carolina Department of Social Services is responsible for implementing SNAP and no additional information is
currently available on their website regarding any changes in procedure for the SNAP program. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control administers the WIC program. There are presently no updates as to changes to the normal operation of this program on the DHEC website. Presently, there are no state office closures across the state. Our Public Benefits Unit will continue to monitor any changes that impact these programs and provide updates as the situation develops.
Medicare provides medical coverage for those most at risk of developing serious complications from COVID:19—the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. Information has been released by the federal government that Medicare will pay for testing for COVID:19 and any resulting hospitalizations or medical treatments. Those with Medicare Advantage Plans have access to the same benefits, and Medicare is allowing these plans to waive cost-sharing for the COVID:19 lab tests.
Medicaid is administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for the benefit of qualifying, low income South Carolinians. There are several waivers available to state agencies who administer Medicaid during this current public health emergency. Individuals who have flulike symptoms should try to use the telemedical resources available for free through MUSC for screening purposes rather than going to local emergency departments unless symptoms are severe. The MUSC Virtual medicine screenings are FREE for all South Carolinians with the code COVID19. The website is: www.muschealth.org/virtual-care. Those with questions about using the service should call 843-261-5940.
March is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. If you are a parent/guardian of a student who might have a learning disability, the Education Unit at SCLS would like you to know the following:
– A child with a “specific learning disability” is entitled to free special education services at their home school district.
– If your child is consistently underperforming on state tests and/or is struggling in basic subjects like math or English Language Arts, they might have a learning disability.
– To be classified as having a “specific learning disability” or “SLD”, you must first request the school district to test or “evaluate” your child
o The request should be done in writing.
o The request should explain why you want the evaluation – namely, that you believe your child has a learning disability and qualifies for an Individualized Education Program or “IEP”
o The request should have the student’s name, date of birth, school, as well as the parent/guardian’s information
o If you would like assistance with drafting this request, apply for our services. If you qualify, WE CAN HELP!
– In most cases, prior to an evaluation, the school district will place your child in a “Response to Intervention” or “RTI” program. In RTI, your child will receive some special instruction to try and get them caught-up and performing at their grade-level.
o If your child responds well and begins to perform at their grade-level, GREAT! It is likely they do not have a learning disability.
o If your child does not respond well, and continues to perform poorly at school and/or on state tests, you should insist on moving forward with the evaluation
– The evaluation is technically called a “psychoeducational evaluation.” It’s performed by a school psychologist at your child’s school over the course of a few days. You will have to sign some paperwork to authorize the test.
o The school district has 60 days to complete this evaluation. There is no exception for holidays or summer break.
– Once the evaluation is complete, the school district will invite you to a meeting to review the results.
o If the school district believes your child has a specific learning disability, the team (which includes you!) will then develop an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to address your child’s needs. Specifically, the team will develop goals for your child and explain the amount of special education time they will need to complete those goals.
o If the school district does not believe your child has a specific learning disability, and therefore does not qualify for an IEP, you have the following options:
§ Insist on further RTI “(Response to Intervention”) services.
§ Request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) of the school, in writing. An IEE is an evaluation done by a qualified professional who is not employed by the school, and who you get to choose. The school district will have to pay for this evaluation.
§ Hire an attorney, including applying for our services. If you qualify, WE CAN HELP!
The Education Unit at SCLS is always here to help qualified parents/guardians with their education-related programs. If you need some basic advice, apply! If you need someone to explain the process, or your options, apply! If you believe you need to file a lawsuit against the school district, apply! You can apply for help by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.
The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5, 1968. This is why April has been designated as the month when we remember the FHA. It is a federal law, intended to limit discriminatory practices in the sale and rental of housing and ensure equal access to homeownership, regardless of class.
The states have adopted similar acts. In 1989, South Carolina adopted the Fair Housing Law (S.C. Code §§ 31-21-10, et. seq), and it largely parrots the language of the FHA.
The FHA covers most housing, however, some groups may be exempt, such as, Single-family homes that are rented or sold without using a broker; Owner-occupied homes with no more than four units; Members-only private clubs or organizations.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), examples of discriminatory practices include: imposing different prices for the sale or rental of a dwelling; delaying or failing to perform maintenance or repairs for certain renters; or limiting privileges, services, or facilities of a dwelling because of certain characteristics a person might have. People who share a characteristic covered by the FHA are members of what are called “protected classes.”
2. Protected classes
The FHA promotes our national policy that discrimination in housing based on certain characteristics is abhorrent to a civilized society. Thus, the Act protects members of seven classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.
In its original form, The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing based only on race, religion, national origin or sex.
In 1988, Congress passed Amendments to the Act which expanded the law to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on family status.
We can get a better understanding of the Act by taking a closer look at how it functions in specific areas. Let’s take a closer look at how the Act protects families and persons with disabilities.
3. Familial status
Unless a building or complex qualifies as housing for older persons, the landlord may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, she may not discriminate against families in which one or more children live with a parent or someone acting as a parent. Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women.
Some examples of protections of this class would include: A person cannot be evicted from housing because they have a child; Families cannot be restricted to one area of a building or complex; and, rules cannot unfairly target children such as, a landlord cannot forbid children from a common area that adults are permitted use. Advertisements cannot state that children are not wanted or that the property is restricted only to adults (unless it’s seniors-only housing).
4. Reasonable accommodations
The FHA is the core law ensuring that disabled individuals have access to housing enabling them to enjoy housing to the same extent as a non-disabled person. The Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed after March 13, 1991, to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.
Some of the accessible features required by the Act include; 1. Accessible building entrance on an accessible route. 2. Accessible and usable public and common use areas. 3. Usable doors. 4. Accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit. 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
in accessible locations. 6. Reinforced walls for grab bars. 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.
If someone has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, the landlord may not refuse to let them make reasonable modifications to the dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense. And the landlord may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary, for the disabled person to use the housing.
Examples: A building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog. An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment so she can have access to her apartment.
5. Federal Enforcement of Fair Housing
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.
If you believe that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the HUD. Fair housing complaints can be filed online, or via email, phone or postal mail. Because there are time limits on when a complaint can be filed with HUD after an alleged violation, it’s important to submit a complaint as soon as possible after the incident. You can find more information about the complaint process here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp