Unemployment Benefits and Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Employees

Were you fired after you began to transition, or your employer found out you identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community? When you applied for unemployment benefits did your employer claim you were fired for cause or for misconduct causing you to be denied unemployment benefits? South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help with your unemployment appeal. 

A recent Supreme Court case held that an employer cannot discriminate against or fire an employee for being gay or transgender. Prior to this Supreme Court decision, LGBTQ+ employees facing discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender expression were not considered protected under this law. 

If you are fired for a reason related to your sexual orientation or gender expression your employer is not going to admit you were fired because you are gay or transgender. The discrimination may appear in more subtle forms.  For example, employers may allege that you engaged in misconduct by violating the dress code or that you engaged in unprofessional conduct or conduct out of line with the values of the employer.  This could result in the DEW making an initial finding that you are disqualified from benefits because your employer terminated you “for cause” or for “misconduct.”  

You must appeal this decision within ten days of the mailing date of the decision. South Carolina Legal Services may be able to represent you. To see if you qualify for legal services, you may apply for representation by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at: https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.  

November 21 – Deadline for Non-Income Tax Filers to Register for Stimulus Payment

The deadline to register for an Economic Impact Payment using the Non-filers tool is extended to November 21, 2020 for those who have not received their Economic Impact Payment and do not normally file a tax return. Register before November 21 using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool on IRS.gov.

The IRS’s Non-Filers tool is secure and can be used if:

  1. You are married with income below $24,400 or single with income below $12,200 and cannot be claimed as a dependent by someone else;
  2. You are a couple or an individual experiencing homelessness;
  3. You are a Social Security and VA recipient whose only source of income is social security retirement, social security disability, Supplemental security income or SSI;

The economic impact payment will be sent to you even if you have a federal income tax debt that is not paid off.

You can speed the arrival of your payment by choosing to receive it by direct deposit. Otherwise, you will receive a check or prepaid debit card. If you are receiving benefits the payment will automatically be paid into the account in which you receive your benefits. After two weeks, you can track the status of your payment using the Get My Payment tool.

December 31, 2020 Deadline for Requesting Mortgage Assistance from HUD

HUD allows borrowers to delay making a mortgage payment under the Forbearance for Borrowers or COVID 19 National Emergency Program. The deadline to request the COVID 19 Forbearance is December 31, 2020. The borrower will not have to make payments for 6 months. However, this period can be lengthened up to another 6 months or shortened at the borrower’s request. The payments usually come due all at once at the end of the forbearance period.  

HUD also has a program called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (“HECM”) for borrowers with a reverse mortgage. When an HECM borrower defaults on the mortgage, such as by not paying taxes or insurance, HUD requires the mortgage company to call the HECM loan due in full and then to file a foreclosure. Due to the pandemic, HUD has said that HECM borrowers who have defaulted on the mortgage can ask their mortgage company for an additional 6 months before the mortgage company calls in the loan.  The key is that borrowers must make this request to the mortgage company by December 31, 2020.

If you are concerned about losing your home to foreclosure, and you need assistance understanding your options, please call South Carolina Legal Services at 888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Social Security Benefits Updates

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that benefits will increase by 1.3% in 2021. The maximum monthly SSI benefit will be $794 for a single person and $1,191 for a married couple. Retirement, survivor and disability benefits will go up about $20 a month for the average beneficiary.

The Open Enrollment period for Medicare remain open until December 7, 2020. Medicare beneficiaries should use this time to review their health and drug plans and make any changes based on their current healthcare needs. The South Carolina State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free counselors who can help you find plans. SHIP be reached at 800-868-9095 and just ask for a SHIP coordinator. It is important to know that you should never pay anyone to help you choose a plan.

Medicare is offering new health plans that will cap your out-of-pocket cost at $35 or less for a month’s supply of insulin. The government will not call you and ask for your Medicare or social security number. It will not threaten you with jail if you do not provide personal information to the caller. Scammers can use your Medicare number to file false claims or obtain treatment under your name or they can try to sell you a bogus insurance policy for genetic or COVID testing. Finally, the government will not show up at your door to sell you a Medicare plan, medical equipment, medication, or supplements. You may register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or 888-382-1222.

Domestic Violence Behaviors

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

More than 2 in 5 women will experience either physical violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. South Carolina ranks in the top 10 worst states for the rate of women murdered by men.

Domestic violence is not just physical violence against a partner. It is also sexual and psychological violence, as well as emotional abuse. It can also look quite different depending on the relationship and depending on the abuser.

Those who use domestic violence to create power and control over their partner can use a variety of tactics. This includes, but is not limited to, using intimidation, emotional abuse, and isolation. The abuser can also minimize, deny, and blame the victim in a way to manipulate and shift responsibility. This abuse can also look like the use of threats, including economic threats, and the use of children.  

If a person is in an abusive relationship as the victim, (s)he is not the one to be blamed and does not need to be ashamed.     Help for the survivor is just a phone call away. Visit www.sclegal.org for a listing of shelters throughout the state that will provide you with a safe space away from your abuser. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 1.866.331.9474.            

South Carolina Legal Services may also offer free legal assistance to domestic violence victims, including obtaining Orders of Protection, divorces, and custody. To apply, you can call 1.888.346.5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Eviction Averted After First Moratorium Ended

Jane, a single mother with several young children, was served with an eviction notice in February. She had lost her job and had applied for but had not received any unemployment benefits and was awaiting her income tax refund.

Later, Jane was able to pay the past due rent. However, she did not answer the eviction action because she assumed that payment of the rent ended the eviction. Jane made several attempts to pay ongoing rent at the management office of her complex, but the office was closed due to the COVID 19 stay at home order.

The landlord did not move forward with the eviction action filed in February because of the Supreme Court’s issued moratorium. However, when that moratorium ended Jane received a certified letter from the landlord on July 31st advising her to move out of the property within 30 days. The eviction action from February had moved forward even though she had paid her back rent. Jane was unaware of this until she was served with a Writ of Ejectment, informing her that she had to be out of her home in three days.  Jane applied for legal services while in the process of packing her personal belongings. Not only would Jane lose her home, but she would also lose her Section 8 voucher if the eviction was ordered.

An SCLS attorney filed a motion to stay the eviction action. With the attorney’s assistance, the eviction case was dismissed by the Judge. Jane and her children were able to stay in their home and keep the Section 8 voucher. She has returned to work and is now able to pay her rent without difficulty.

Facing Eviction?

South Carolina Legal Services can represent you. Call our toll-free number at 888-346-5592 or applying online at https://sclegal.org/

Can’t pay rent?

Click here to see a list of agencies that can help you pay your rent.

Need Help Completing The Declaration To Stop Eviction?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an Order that could stop evictions for those who have unpaid rent.  The Order will last until the end 2020. Tenants must continue to pay rent. The rent is not forgiven. Tenants still may have to pay late fees for not paying your rent on time.  The Order does give relief to tenants who are unable to pay rent due to a financial hardship and who are making efforts to pay what they can.  

Every adult living in the rental unit must sign a Declaration that contains the following information AND give it to the landlord with proof of delivery to the landlord to be protected by the Order:

  1. Have used their best efforts to get all available government rental help;
  2. Have a specific income;
  3. Are unable to pay full rent;
  4. Using their best efforts to make timely payments;
  5. Have no other housing options if evicted;
  6. Understand full rent must be paid and other terms of the lease followed;
  7. Understand can be charged fees, penalties, or interest for not paying rent on time;
  8. Understand that the moratorium will end on December 31, 2020.

The CDC Order provides steep penalties if the landlord violates the Order or if a tenant gives false information.

The Order does NOT stop all evictions.  The following evictions are still allowed:

  1.  Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
  2. Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
  3. Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;
  4. Violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or
  5. Violating any other contractual obligation.

SCLS can help with the following by calling our toll-free number at 888-346-5592 or applying online at https://sclegal.org/

  • Explaining the qualifications;
  • Filling out the Declaration;
  • Locating agencies who may assist with rental payment;
  • Representing if served with an eviction action.

Avoiding COVID-19 Related Foreclosures

Homeowners who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis have been worried about the prospects of foreclosure this year.

Foreclosure Moratoriums

In March, the S.C. Supreme Court and the federal government halted foreclosures for a few months. Since then, the five federal agencies that own or insure most of the mortgage loans in the U.S. have extended foreclosure moratoriums for their mortgages through at least December 31, 2020. The “Big Five” are Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) (through the Rural Development Program), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). There is no foreclosure moratorium for private mortgages that are not owned or insured by one of the Big Five.

Payment Relief

If you have a mortgage backed by one of the Big Five you can obtain a payment forbearance if you cannot make a mortgage payment because you have had a COVID-19 related financial hardship. A forbearance means that you may put off, or “forbear,” making mortgage payments for a set period of time. The payments are not forgiven and will come due at the end of the forbearance period. If you have a COVID-19 related hardship, you can ask your mortgage company for a “CARES Act Forbearance.” If you are eligible, then you should get a CARES Act Forbearance that will last up to 180 days. You should not have to prove you suffered a COVID-19 related financial hardship, and you should not be charged late fees or penalties during the forbearance. You can ask for another 180 days if your circumstances have not improved by the end of the first CARES Act Forbearance. You will still owe the money that would come due during this time. You normally would have to pay it all in a lump sum at the end of a forbearance period. But if your mortgage is backed by one of the Big Five, you have other options.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: If you were current on your payments and can afford to resume payments when it ends, you can get a special COVID-19 Payment Deferral, which moves your missed payments to the end of the loan. If not, you can apply for a loan modification. This would change the terms of the loan to make the payment more affordable.

  1. FHA and HUD: Depending on whether you were current before the forbearance, they may offer a mixture of Partial Claims (placing arrears into a junior lien that is repaid when you refinance or sell the home, or at the end of the loan), loan modifications, or both. They may offer other programs as well.
  2. USDA: If you can resume your payments, you can get a repayment plan or extend the term of the loan by the length of the forbearance. If you cannot resume your payments, you can ask them to review you for their standard loss mitigation options.
  3. VA: You may request a deferral program, repayment plan, or loan modifications depending on your needs. They cannot require you to make a lump sum payment at the end of the forbearance.

These programs are not automatic! You must reach out to your mortgage servicer to ask for this help. If you get a forbearance under the CARES Act, you should reach out again before the forbearance ends to discuss your options about how the missed payments will be repaid. If you do not have a mortgage backed by one of the Big Five, you still should ask your loan servicer what options it has to avoid foreclosure.

Call SCLS at (888) 346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org if you get a foreclosure notice or if you have any questions about foreclosure issues.

Social Security Administration and Its COVID Related Plans

COVID-19 continues to guide the way we interact with government agencies. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offices remain closed to the public.  It is unknown when they will fully reopen. It is important that we remember that SSA’s field and hearing offices have rather small public areas.  These areas are often packed with vulnerable individuals. SSA is trying to develop procedures to protect its staff and the public.

SSA is encouraging the public to set up a personal “my Social Security” account.  This will allow you to check your earnings record, eligibility for benefits, your current benefits and even get a replacement Social Security card. Go to https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to set up an account. You can apply for most benefits online. You can also file an appeal if you are denied benefits. Remember to keep proof of any on-line transaction (even if it is just taking a picture with your smart phone). One of the projects SSA is developing for the field offices is a mobile app. The app will let you check in for an appointment on your smart phone from your car. 

Social Security hearings are still being heard solely by telephone.  But, SSA has plans to go to video hearings using Microsoft Teams. Unrepresented individuals with an email address have started to get their hearing record by secure email rather than on a disc.  It is important to ask for the hearing record if you have a hearing scheduled and cannot get someone to represent you. This allows you to see the evidence SSA is using to deny or cut off your benefits.

SSA and its Inspector General is reminding the public to be on the alert for scams. Be very careful if you get an unwanted call from someone saying they are from the government. Do not give out personal information like your date of birth, social security number, place of birth, or mother’s maiden name. SSA will never call and threaten you with arrest or legal action, tell you that your social security number has been suspended, demand secrecy in handling a Social Security-related problem or ask for payment in exchange for services.

If you have any issues regarding your Social Security Benefits, you may apply for free legal services by calling the SCLS toll free number 888-346-5592 or apply online at https://sclegal.org/

15th Annual Neighbor Day

The 15th Annual Neighbor Day was a success in spite of the restrictions of COVID-19.  Generous donations, established sponsorships, and dedicated employees at the Charleston office of South Carolina Legal Services were determined to make this another successful year.  Due to COVID-19, a more creative and strategic approach was needed for this year’s community outreach project. Parents who previously attended Neighbor Day  were contacted via phone, email and mail.  They were given instructions on how to sign up and later schedule an appointment to pick up the items.  We were able to provide over 160 children including the children housed at the Carolina Youth Development Center with shoes, socks, school supplies, dental hygiene kits, and PPE supplies.  We also made a sizable shoe donation to The Lowcountry Orphan Relief.

COVID-19 didn’t stop our efforts of providing resources and much needed items for the people of our community.  We will continue to be a resource for our community and look forward to a COVID-19 Free Neighbor Day 2021.