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Shelves around the country have been picked bare as people stock up on essentials.

COVID-19 is expected to ravage the global economy. Governments and businesses are bracing for negative effects that will shower down through the U.S. economy to the household level, causing financial struggles for millions of people.

To help residents in the Northern Neck prepare and plan better, here are updates and changes that may have a significant impact locally:

Unemployment benefits

Claims for unemployment are already surging and Governor Ralph Northam has ordered measures making it easier to get and keep benefits. These include waiving the one week waiting period and expanding eligibility to include workers with a job where operations have slowed or stopped due to the coronavirus. Individuals without paid sick leave who are ordered to self-quarantine or who must stay home to care for a sick family member may also qualify.

The Governor has also reduced the restrictions on those receiving unemployment benefits by directing the Virginia Employment Commission to give affected workers special consideration on deadlines, mandatory re-employment appointments, and work search requirements.

Medical costs

Virginia has taken steps to improve access to healthcare for Medicaid and low-income households while also lowering the costs by eliminating all co-payments for services covered by Medicaid and FAMIS.

Child care

To alleviate some of the financial burden associated with child care, the Department of Social Services has modified Virginia’s Child Care Subsidy program, allowing school age children who currently receive part-day care to receive full-day care. 

Eligibility will also be automatically extended by two months for those families that would have been required to undergo an eligibility review in the near future.

Utilities & Fuel

The Governor ordered utilities, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies, to stop disconnecting service for 60 days in an effort to provide immediate relief to customers and businesses.

Dominion is taking the directive a step further by inviting residential customers whose service has already been disconnected to call the company and work out an arrangement to have their service reconnected.

Northern Neck Electric Cooperative is going beyond the requirement by suspending penalty fees.

AmeriGas isn’t sure how it’s going to handle the situation yet. 

“Currently, we do not know and have not worked out the specifics of all of the changes we may implement to support our customers during this pandemic. We will, however, work with our customers regarding their specific needs. We offer various payment programs available on a case by case basis. Customers should call their local district for additional details on their specific account,” said Justine Staub, director of workforce development.

Local governments

In Richmond County, the Treasurer’s Office will not start any new collections actions. And, “as far as collection actions that are already in place and the accrual of additional interest on delinquent taxes, [the county] will work with the taxpayers during these unprecedented circumstances.”

Richmond County’s Building and Zoning Office “will continue to work with anyone that has recently received a permit of any kind, for refunds should the project not yet be started, or for extensions in time limits on inspections based off of the current conditions.” 

In Lancaster, delinquent notices for the 2019 taxes were already in the works and scheduled to be mailed as of last Thursday. Interest will continue to accrue and the delinquent account fee will apply 30 days from that day, said treasurer Bonnie Dickson.

Quinn Robertson, town manager of Colonial Beach, said he “directed the finance office that any payments becoming delinquent starting on or after March 15, 2020 be given delinquent charge reprieve. Charges acquired before that date will be subject to normal delinquent payment charges but will not incur additional delinquent charges until Town Hall reopens.”

Verizon

Verizon is waiving activation and upgrade fees on all purchases, axing late fees for individuals and small businesses, and the company “will not terminate service for anyone negatively impacted by this pandemic,” said Kim Ancin, director of corporate communications.

Through the end of April, wireless post-paid consumers, small and medium businesses, and landline home phone customers can take advantage of free international calling to nearly all countries “identified by the Center for Disease Control as level 3 impacted by the coronavirus.” The exceptions are Iran, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia, which are subject to 300 minutes of free calls per month. Verizon is also providing prepaid wireless customers 300 free minutes to call level 3 countries.

Housing and loans

On March 17, Virginia suspended all non-essential court proceedings, including evictions, for three weeks. The following day, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development paused new and existing foreclosure action for 60 days and put a halt on evictions from FHA-insured single-family properties during that time. 

Additionally, banks serving the Northern Neck are encouraging their customers to reach out if they’re facing financial struggles.

Chesapeake Bank plans to launch a payment relief program this week to get ahead of the issue. And going forward, if there are coronavirus-related overdrafts, delinquencies for loans, or financial issues of that nature, the bank plans to “partner” with its customers to work through them, said Paula Milsted, director of marketing, SVP.

Chesapeake will also offer a new small business loan to help small businesses weather the storm, and customers won’t be hindered by stricter lending standards. The bank has used the same criteria through the great recession and that’s not going to change, she said.  

“From a community bank standpoint, we always have the best interest of our customers in mind... We’re always going to be on the side of our customers… With this pandemic, we’re going to step up our efforts even more,” Milstead added.

Taxes

For those facing individual or corporate income tax bills, the Virginia Department of Taxation has pushed back the due date June 1, 2020, although the filing deadlines remain the same. 

State sales tax payments were due March 20. Businesses impacted by the coronavirus can also request to defer that payment for 30 days. If granted, businesses will be able to file no later than April 20, 2020 with a waiver of any penalties.

The federal government is giving individuals and businesses three additional months to file and pay without interest or penalties. The deadline moved from April 15 to July 15.

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