Dear ACM members,
The COVID-19 pandemic is real:
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, reported Friday that the number of cases of coronavirus in the state has increased to 432, although it is likely an under-representation of the actual amount of cases in Maine since not all individuals are being tested. 456 cases reported in state, an increase of 80 since Thursday. First cases in Aroostook, Washington counties reported. 113 people have recovered from virus.
The Information is Crucial:
WHAT ARE THE COVID-19 SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms of coronavirus may include fever, cough difficulty breathing and sore throat. Symptoms generally appear in two to 14 days after exposure. Health officials said most patents experience mild symptoms and can recover at home. However, some patients, particularly those with underlying medical conditions, may experience more severe respiratory illness.
Coronavirus appears to spread in similar ways to the flu and the common cold, which includes through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact such as touching and shaking hands and touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Anyone experiencing symptoms is urged to call their health care provider and not just show up in person.
Gov. Janet Mills has issued a stay-at-home order which went into effect at midnight on April 2 and will continue until April 30. Mainers must remain at home unless they need to leave for an essential job or an essential activities such as going to get food, exercise (walking outside), but they are required to maintain as much physical distance between themselves and others as possible. This order is enforceable with a $1000 fine and 6 months of jail time.
Dr. Shah reinforced the importance of social distancing, repeating several times that “Physical distancing is the best vaccine we have right now.” It’s vital to the effort to control the epidemic. While staying home is important, it’s also important to stay connected socially and emotionally with others through telephone or virtual means.
Immigration (USCIS) Response to COVID-19
Field Office Appointments and Rescheduling: As of March 18, USCIS, including the Portland Field Office and the Boston Asylum Office, has suspended routine in-person services through at least May 3 to help slow the spread of COVID-19. USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations. To schedule an emergency appointment, go to: https://www.uscis.gov/contactcenter.
USCIS domestic field offices will send notices with instructions to applicants and petitioners with scheduled interview appointments or naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. They will automatically be rescheduled once normal operations resume.
Application Support Center (ASC) Biometrics Appointments and Rescheduling: As of March 18, USCIS has suspended all biometrics appointments.
When USCIS resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the temporary office closure. If you do not receive a new appointment notice by mail within 90 days, call 800-375-5283.
Asylum Appointments: USCIS asylum offices will send interview cancellation notices and automatically reschedule asylum interviews. When the interview is rescheduled, asylum applicants will receive a new interview notice with the new time, date, and location.
Please contact the asylum offices by email, mail, or phone. Contact information for each asylum office is found using the Asylum Office Locator. If you have an asylum application pending with USCIS, you can check your case status online. You will need the receipt number that they mailed you after you filed your application. Start here: www.uscis.gov/casestatus.
Immigration Court: All non-detained hearings in immigration court scheduled through May 1 have been postponed. If you have a scheduled hearing in immigration court, you will receive a new notice at a future date. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) hotline may not be up to date for your postponed case. EOIR will keep its status updated here. Check www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-operational-status-during-coronavirus-pandemic before your scheduled hearing to be sure non-detained hearings are still postponed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Check-Ins: The South Portland ICE/ERO office is rescheduling in-person check-ins to telephone check-ins unless they deem an in-person check-in to be necessary. They are reaching out to those who have scheduled appointments. If you need to reach their office, call (207)–780–3507.
Requests for Evidence (RFE) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID): For applicants and petitioners who receive an RFE or NOID dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response date set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.
Extensions of Employment Authorization Documents (Work Permit): Applicants who had an appointment scheduled with an ASC after their closure on March 18 or who have filed a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, extension will have their application processed using previously submitted biometrics. This announcement is consistent with existing USCIS authorities regarding the agency’s ability to reuse previously submitted biometrics. This will remain in effect until ASCs resume normal operations.
How to Contact Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) with an Urgent Case: While ILAP’s offices are closed and their staff are working remotely on their existing cases, they are prioritizing intake requests for the following types of urgent cases on a limited basis:
- Youth under 21 who may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
- Survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking
- Individuals who have recently been ordered deported without notice of their hearing
- Asylum seekers with cases in immigration court and need to move their case to Boston Immigration Court
- Asylum seekers with cases in immigration court and have not filed for asylum and it is 90 days or less from the one-year deadline.
- Individuals who don’t have legal status or are at immediate risk of losing legal status.
If you believe your case is in one of these categories, please call 207-780-1593 ext. 0 and leave a voicemail message with your full name, contact information, and a brief description of your legal problem. They will make every effort to return your call within 3 business days. Note that, because ILAP is a small organization, it’s not always able to help everyone requests.
Economic impact payments or Stimulus Check
No action needed by most people at this time: The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced on march 30th that distribution of economic impact payments will begin in the next three weeks and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. However, some seniors and others who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment.
Who is eligible for the economic impact payment? Tax filers with adjusted gross income:
- Adults who earn less than $75,000 per year will get checks for $1,200.
- A married couple that earns less than $150,000 a year will get a check for $2,400.
- The government will send $500 checks to parents for each of their children age 16 or younger. That means a family with two parents and two children could get $3,400.
- Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible.
Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive an economic impact payment. Parents also receive $500 for each qualifying child.
How will the IRS know where to send my payment? The vast majority of people do not need to take any action. The IRS will calculate and automatically send the economic impact payment to those eligible. For people who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will use this information to calculate the payment amount. For those who have not yet filed their return for 2019, the IRS will use information from their 2018 tax filing to calculate the payment. The economic impact payment will be deposited directly into the same banking account reflected on the return filed.
IRS does not have my direct deposit information. What can I do? In the coming weeks, Treasury plans to develop a web-based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online, so that individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.
I am not typically required to file a tax return. Can I still receive my payment?
Yes. People who typically do not file a tax return will need to file a simple tax return to receive an economic impact payment. Low-income taxpayers, senior citizens, Social Security recipients, some veterans and individuals with disabilities who are otherwise not required to file a tax return will not owe tax.
How can I file the tax return needed to receive my economic impact payment? IRS.gov/coronavirus will soon provide information instructing people in these groups on how to file a 2019 tax return with simple, but necessary, information including their filing status, number of dependents and direct deposit bank account information.
I’ve not filed tax return for 2018 or 2019. Can I still receive an economic impact payment?
Yes. IRS urges anyone with a tax filing obligation who has not yet filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 to file as soon as they can to receive an economic impact payment. Taxpayers should include direct deposit banking information on the return.
I need to file a tax return. How long are the economic impact payments available? For those concerned about visiting a tax professional or local community organization in person to get help with a tax return, these payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020.
Where can I get more information? IRS will post all key information on www.IRS.gov/coronavirus as soon as it becomes available. IRS has a reduced staff in many of its offices but remains committed to helping eligible individuals receive their payments expeditiously.
Avoiding covid-19 scams
Beware False Claims: Do not be tempted by claims and advice on social media or websites that a product or treat can cure or prevent COVID–19. Currently, there are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over–the–counter products available to treat or cure COVID–19 – online or in stores. check with your health care provider before buying such products.
Be on The Lookout for Phony CDC emails: Be careful about opening emails claiming to be from the CDC and Prevention or others claiming to have information about COVID–19. Clicking on links or attachments could cause a computer virus to infect your device.
Tips to Keep the Scammers at Bay:
- Hang up on robocalls, don’t press any numbers that might lead to more robocalls.
- Fact–check information before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources.
- Know who you’re buying from, online sellers may claim to have in–demand products like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
- Don’t respond to calls, texts, and emails about checks from the government, details are on IRS.gov/coronavirus. Anyone who says they can get you the money now is a scammer.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations: don’t let anyone rush you to donate.
Can People Be Evicted during the Pandemic?
If you fall behind in paying your rent: Many people have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. They are worried about being evicted – forced to move out of their apartments –because they can’t afford to pay their rent. If tenants fall behind in paying their rent, the landlord can go to court to get an eviction order. Maine’s courts are closed until at least May 1 because of coronavirus. That means none will be evicted during the month of April. But city and state officials are worried that many tenants could be evicted in the following months
Your landlord cannot evict you without a court order. This webpage has more information about your rights as a tenant: https://ptla.org/covid-19-maine-eviction-rental-housing-faq#.
Ensuring Basic Necessities for Maine in the Face of COVID-19
Governor Mills and Maine (DHHS) Commissioner Lambrew announced on April 3rd that the Administration has taken further steps to ensure Maine people have access to basic necessities in response to COVID–19. These steps include issuance of an Executive Order that bolsters the G.A. program and swift action by DHHS to improve flexibility of several programs, which will help families buy nutritious food and cover the costs of essentials such as housing and medications.
Bolstering General Assistance: Under the Governor’s March 31 Executive Order, all applications for General Assistance will be processed as emergency applications for eligibility purposes, and certain other requirements are waived. The order also allows eligible individuals to reapply after 60 days rather than 30 days for ongoing assistance.
For the safety of the public, GA (196 Lancaster street) will be closed to public until further notice. The window under awning to the left of the office entrance is open for clients to drop off documents and staff will continue to assist clients over the phone 207–775–7911 and through mail.
Boosting Food Supplement Benefits (SNAP): DHHS received federal approval to issue emergency benefits for the months of April and May to households that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This means DHHS will issue an additional $11.5 million in SNAP benefits for the month of April, in addition to the typical monthly amount for April of $17.5 million. This change is primarily supported through federal funds. Maine’s current SNAP participants will receive the maximum benefit allowed for their household size, as will new applicants who qualify for food supplement benefits during April and May. Benefits are typically issued between the 10th and 14th of the month.
DHHS also received federal approval to simplify and streamline the application process for SNAP benefits, such as accepting applications by phone without the need for a signature and lifting the requirement for an in-person or telephone interview.
Strengthening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Worker Supplement Benefits, a food benefit funded through TANF, will increase from $50 to $100 per month for March through July 2020, providing additional support to approximately 10,000 Maine households. DHHS has also streamlined the application and recertification process, including conducting interviews by telephone rather than in person and lifting some documentation requirements.
Unemployment claims set a new record in Maine
The Maine Department of Labor (DOL) fielded approximately 23,800 initial unemployment claims last week, setting a new weekly record for the state. DOL also said there were about 8,700 continued claims for the week of March 22 to 28, bringing the total to 45,700. 21,500 initial claims were filed the previous week. Industries such as food service, health care, retail trade, social assistance and manufacturing were the hardest unemployment hit claims due to COVID–19.
There is an unprecedented surge of unemployment applications, staff are working tirelessly to process claims as quickly as possible and last week over six million dollars in benefits were received by laid off Maine workers.
Laid-off workers in Maine face issues trying to file for unemployment: Many people reported having issues accessing the unemployment claim website or getting through on the phone lines, even with DOL staff working through the weekend to process applications and the number of people answering calls tripled. DOL officials urge Mainers to use the website https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ in the evenings, when there is less traffic. You can also get help from your closer Career Center http://www.mainecareercenter.gov/ or Maine Equal Justice https://maineequaljustice.org/.
If for any reason you want help with one or more issues mentioned above, food, shelter, communication or others, send us please a text message (don’t call) at 207–751–5122 with your name, the help (s) you need and your contact information, someone will call you within the next two business days.
Yours in health,
Chair of ACM