Making sense of pandemic-related aid and assistance

Consumer Action teamed up with the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) at Maryland’s Prince George's Community College to discuss federal stimulus packages and pandemic-related consumer protections.
Published: Tuesday, May 04, 2021

In March, Consumer Action teamed up with the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) at Maryland’s Prince George's Community College to discuss federal stimulus packages and pandemic-related consumer protections. The FEC hosts weekly webinars to enhance financial knowledge among students and community members. It also offers financial and small business coaching, information on best practices in financial and business operations, and free tax preparation.

Attendees from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia heard Consumer Action’s director of strategic partnerships, Audrey Perrott, give an overview of the trillions of dollars in aid available through the complex and massive Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act (signed into law a few days after Perrott’s presentation), and explain the other key housing protections available for renters and homeowners. All three stimulus packages have provided a huge amount of aid and relief to individuals, families and small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Click here to learn more about the financial and other aid that may be available to you (or your clients).

Perrott reviewed the amounts available to households under the legislation—including the economic stimulus payments and child tax credit, unemployment compensation extensions, student financial aid, and even internet credits for low-income families.

She went on to highlight critical information about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) national eviction moratorium, which was, fortunately, extended through June 2021 shortly after Perrott’s presentation. Perrott also shared information on state-specific moratoriums, including Maryland’s protections for tenants who could show, through documentation or other evidence, that they had suffered a substantial loss of income related to COVID. Perrott shared the important fact that even those tenants living in states where eviction moratoriums have ended may have more options than they realize. For instance, in Virginia, tenants can still opt to pay rent in full, enter a repayment arrangement of up to six months, or obtain rent relief.

Perrott then shared information about protections specific to homeowners. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are allowing up to one year of forbearance, particularly for those with federally backed mortgages. (A forbearance allows a homeowner to take a break from making payments.) Homeowners with mortgages issued by private corporations (i.e., banks) may also be eligible for forbearance. Both populations must know to ask their lender for it! Perrott emphasized that homeowners looking for advice should get it from a HUD-approved housing counseling agency—the only way to ensure it’s trustworthy and free!

She stressed that, if they have the ability to pay, consumers should pay their mortgage; homeowners who opt for forbearance will eventually have to do one of the following to catch up on their payments: make a lump sum payment, add extra funds to their regular monthly payments until the amount due is repaid, add additional payments to the end of the loan, or modify the loan altogether. She further noted that it is important to get the terms of any loan modification plan, including interest rates, in writing. She also provided information about government-sponsored enterprise forbearance programs (i.e., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.)

For more information on the pandemic-related housing crisis, including the link to a recent Consumer Action webinar on the subject and a wealth of resources to prevent state and federal evictions, click here. Finally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers an informative guide, “Help for homeowners and renters during the coronavirus national emergency.”

“As always, it has been a pleasure to collaborate with Prince George's Community College’s Financial Empowerment Center,” Perrott said. “The FEC is a long-term Consumer Action partner, and its staff are not only committed to educating consumers, but also to providing stakeholders with sound financial coaching, powerful tools for success, and a plethora of resources to set consumers on a path to financial health.”




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