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.  

On June 15, 2020, in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia,the Supreme Court held that an employer cannot discriminate against or fire an employee for being gay or transgender.   

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.  “Sex” typically refers to the biological designation at birth of being male or female. 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. 

The Supreme Court reasoned that when an employer discriminates against an LGBTQ+ employee the employer is relying on sex when making the determination because the employer is firing an employee for behavior that would have been permitted in someone of another sex.  Therefore, the Supreme Court held that firing an employee for being gay or transgender violates the Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination.  Going forward LGBTQ+ employees should now be able to pursue Title VII discrimination claims on the basis of sex if being discriminated against for their sexual orientation or gender expression.  More information on pursuing a discrimination claim can be found at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website at https://www.eeoc.gov/.  

If you are fired for a reason related to your sexual orientation or gender expression your employer will likely not admit to the Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) that they fired you because of your membership in the LGBTQ+ community.  This discrimination may appear in more subtle forms.  For example, employers may allege that you engaged in misconduct by repeatedly 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 can appeal this decision from the Department of Employment and workforce, but you must do so within ten days of the mailing date of the decision.  Information on Navigating Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19 can be found on the South Carolina Legal Services YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zci_tr9BHQ8

If you were denied unemployment benefits please apply for services as soon as possible. You can apply for services using our telephone intake by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://sclegal.org/ .  

You can find tips for submitting an online application here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpxI3KR43c4.                 

Non-filers now have until Nov. 21 to register for an Economic Impact Payment (Stimulus Payment)

The deadline to register for an Economic Impact Payment using the Non-filers tool is extended to November 21, 2020.

If you don’t typically file a tax return – and haven’t received an Economic Impact Payment – register soon using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool on IRS.gov.

This extension is only for those who haven’t received their Economic Impact Payment and don’t normally file a tax return.

The IRS’s Non-Filers tool is secure. You can use it if you’re married with income below $24,400or single with income below $12,200 and can’t be claimed as a dependent by someone else. This includes couples and individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Social Security Benefits and VA recipients, whose only source of income are social security retirement, social security disability, Supplemental security income or SSI, or if you receive Veterans benefits the IRS will automatically issue your economic impact payment to the account in which 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 began receiving Social Security Income or VA Benefits in 2020 and did not file a tax return for Tax Years 2018 or 2019 you may not automatically receive the economic impact payment. As long as you are not required to file a 2019 Federal Income Tax Return you can apply for the economic impact payment on the IRS website by November 21, 2020 using the Non-Filer Tool. The link to register is called Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info here. The link to the IRS website is on our website and can also be found on IRS.gov. You will be able to provide your bank account information if you would like your economic stimulus payment directly deposited into your bank account. If you have filed a 2018- or 2019-income tax return do not register on the non-filer link.

You can speed the arrival of your payment by choosing to receive it by direct deposit. Otherwise, you’ll receive a check or prepaid debit card.

After two weeks, you can track the status of your payment using the Get My Payment tool.

Deadline for Requesting Mortgage Assistance Extended by HUD

HUD calls this forbearance program the “Forbearance for Borrowers Affected by the COVID-19 National Emergency” or the “COVID-19 Forbearance.” The is a program that allows a borrower to delay making a mortgage payment.  In other words, a borrower will forbear making payments for a number of months.  However, the payments usually come due all at once at the end of the forbearance period. 

HUD extended the deadline for borrowers to request a COVID-19 Forbearance to December 31, 2020.  The initial forbearance period for a COVID-19 Forbearance is six months.  This period can be lengthened, up to another 6 months, or shortened at the borrower’s request.

HUD created a separate program for borrowers with reverse mortgages.  HUD calls reverse mortgages “Home Equity Conversion Mortgages” (“HECM”).  When a 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 six 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 SC Legal Services at 888-346-5592 or to apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Social Security Benefits Update

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. There are tools available to help a person choose the right healthcare and prescription drug plans. The SC State Health Insurance Assistance Program provides free counselors who can help you find plans. It can 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. You should never give your Medicare or Social Security number to a random person who calls you. The government will not call you and ask for either of these numbers. It will not threaten you with jail if you do not provide personal information to the caller. The government will not call you to cancel or verify your Medicare coverage. 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 or 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 should register your phone number(s) with the federal “Do Not Call List” if you are getting a lot of unwanted calls or text messages. You can register your phone numbers on line at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or you can call 888-382-1222.

Representation in Eviction Actions Is Important

Mr. and Mrs. Jones had been behind in their rent for a few months because Mrs. Jones  lost her job due to COVID-19. They secured enough rental assistance to get current on their rent, but the landlord refused to accept it. The couple had heard that the landlord wanted to end the current leases so they could begin charging much higher rent. Our clients thought that was why the landlord decided seemingly out of nowhere to file for an eviction for nonpayment of rent while simultaneously refusing to accept their money.

They contacted SCLS and we tried to mail the landlord the couples’ signed CDC Declaration forms certified. We did not get any confirmation of receipt before the hearing. At the hearing the judge asked if the landlord received the signed CDC Declaration forms. The SCLS attorney told the Court it had been mailed. The attorney had the postage receipt and signed copies of the Declaration. The receipt and Declaration were given to the Judge and the landlord at the hearing. The judge ruled that since the forms had now been signed and the landlord had now received them, he would dismiss the case and allow the landlord to file for an eviction after December 31.

Representation by SCLS is what the tenants needed. The week before the hearing Mr. Jones had obtained a better job out of state so they were planning on giving the landlord their 30-days’ notice the day after the hearing. The dismissal with the SCLS’s attorney involvement gave our clients more time to pack and get their affairs in order.  More importantly to them, the dismissal kept an eviction off their record and allowed them to open the next chapter of their lives without this barrier.

Behaviors of Domestic Violence

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

South Carolina has exceedingly high rates of domestic violence against women. More than 2 in 5 women will experience either physical violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. South Carolina also 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.  

            It is important to remember that if you find yourself in an abusive relationship as the victim, you are not the one to be blamed and you do not need to be ashamed. It is a powerful and strong move to come forth and protect yourself. You deserve to be treated with respect and to live a safe and happy life. It is also important to remember that you are not alone and that there are plenty of people and organizations that are ready and waiting to help.

            Help is just a phone call away. Visit the SCLS Website for a listing of shelters throughout the state that will provide you with a safe space away from your abuser. Our website has a thorough listing of shelters across South Carolina, including phone numbers for you to call. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233. You can also 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/