Coronavirus Bulletin Board: Updates to benefits and services

HOUSING

Philadelphia Housing Authority COVID-19 Briefing
Effective immediately, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has suspended all evictions for thirty (30) days. PHA will be postponing all court appointments where residents have failed to pay rent. Residents are still required to pay rent (announced March 13).

For more, see here

Philadelphia Municipal Court announces a two week moratorium on evictions
The Philadelphia Municipal Court landlord-tenant officer will not perform any evictions for a two-week period beginning on Monday, March 16. A news report with additional details can be found here.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act 
The CARES Act includes an eviction moratorium for non-payment of rent cases for 120 days (March 27-July 25, 2020). The programs covered by the law are all programs that are covered under VAWA 2013’s housing protections: HOPWA, public housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Project-Based, Low Income Housing Tax Credit, Sec. 202 and 236, etc.

During the moratorium, landlords cannot file a case for non-payment of rent only and have to wait until the end of the moratorium to send a 30-day lease termination notice. The law does not affect cases that have already been filed.

For an in-depth summary, visit the National Housing Law Project.

Postponement of Philadelphia Sheriff’s Sale Scheduled On March 18, 24, & 26
In response to COVID-19, Philadelphia courts have now postponed all March sheriff sales; all March Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program conferences; and all March Property Tax Rule Returnable Hearings in Courtroom 676.

Phila. County Sheriff sales scheduled for March 18 are rescheduled for April 15.
Phila. County Sheriff sales scheduled for March 24 are rescheduled for April 21.
Phila. County Sheriff sales scheduled for March 26 are rescheduled for April 23.

COURTS

PA Supreme Court Closes All Courts To The Public For Non-Essential Functions
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ordered that court facilities in all judicial districts in Pennsylvania shall be closed to the public beginning at close of business on March 19, and lasting through at least April 3, 2020. The order of closure also applies to the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, Magisterial District Courts and all minor courts in Philadelphia and Allegheny County. All evictions and foreclosures are stayed until April 3. Emergency Protection from Abuse petitions can still be filed. See the full order here

Emergency Protection from Abuse Orders Available at the Emergency Filing Site
Through April 1st, petitioners can file for emergency Protection From Abuse orders at the Emergency Filing Site in room B-03 of the Stout Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert Street, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During normal business hours the filing site can connect petitioners to Women Against Abuse legal advocates who can provide safety planning and options counseling by phone. Additionally, the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline remains fully operational 24/7.

The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-866-723-3014 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

First Judicial District closes Philadelphia courts until April 3
Due to public health concerns related to COVID-19, and based on recommendations from local and national public health authorities – including the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania (FJD) courts and related offices will be closed through April 3, 2020, or until further order from the court. You can receive the latest updates from the court and review court orders regarding essential court services by visiting here

For information on Pennsylvania county-by-county court operations, click here

UTILITIES

PECO suspends shut-offs, new late payment fees through coronavirus outbreak
Philadelphia electric and natural gas utility PECO is suspending utility shut-offs and waiving new late payment fees through at least May 1.

Customers who are experiencing challenges in paying their bills or have a disconnect notice should contact PECO at 1-800-494-4000. In addition to waiving fees and avoiding service shutoffs, PECO is working to help customers determine if they are eligible for assistance programs. Details from PECO can be found here.

PUC Prohibits Utility Terminations, Consistent with Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) signed an emergency order prohibiting electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunication and steam utility terminations. The moratorium will remain in place as long as the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency is in effect.

Under the order, terminations would be permitted in the event of a safety emergency.
For more, visit the PUC’s website at www.puc.pa.gov

Comcast Announces Comprehensive COVID-Response to Help Keep Americans Connected to the Internet
Comcast will not disconnect a customer’s internet service or assess late fees if you contact them at 1 (800) 934-6489 and let them know that you can’t pay your bills during this period. Learn more from Comcast here. 

SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

Social Security Offices will be closed to the public
All local Social Security offices will be closed to the public for in-person service starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Hearings at the Office of Hearing Operations are also suspended. Secure and convenient online services remain available. Local offices will continue to provide critical services over the phone. Learn more here

Update on Social Security Consultative Exams 
As part of Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf’s orders, The Bureau of Disability Determination’s consultative exam contractor, IMA Group, will remain open and is scheduling exams for disability claimants.  If claimants receive a scheduling call and do not feel comfortable going to an appointment, because of COVID-19, they should be sure to say so to their provider.

PUBLIC BENEFITS

Note: Recipients of public benefits who receive mail about their benefits somewhere other than where they reside (such as PO boxes, a family member’s home) should update their contact information with the agencies so that they do not miss important mail while quarantine is in effect.

Medical Assistance and COVID-19
Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) program will cover COVID-19 testing and related services. COVID-19 testing is free of charge when a doctor determines it is needed. There are no co-payments for COVID-19 related tests.

To apply for Medical Assistance:

  • Visit the Compass website
  • Call BenePhilly at 844-848-4376
  • Contact your local County Assistance Office

If you need MA right away because you think you may have COVID-19, be sure to say so on the application.

Did You Lose A Job or Reduce Your Hours Because of the Coronavirus?
You may be eligible for Food Stamps (SNAP), Medicaid (MA), Cash Assistance (TANF) or Heating Bill Assistance (LIHEAP)

If you need to apply for benefits, please apply online using Compass or call Benephilly: 844-848-4376. The County Assistance Offices are closed to the public, but they’re processing applications.

If you already receive these benefits, but you’ve lost income, you may be eligible for an increase in SNAP or TANF. The County Assistance Offices are closed to the public. Don’t go to the County Assistance Office! You should submit information about a change in income in one of the following ways:

  • Online through Compass (www.compass.state.pa.us)
  • Through the free mobile app MyCompassPA
  • By calling the Customer Service Center at 215-560-7226

If you don’t have paperwork from your job (such as pay stubs or a letter about your hours), you should explain your loss of income in your own words. You can do that in the comments section of Compass

If you have questions about Medical Assistance or other health insurance, call the Pennsylvania Health Access Network hotline: 877-570-3642.

Medical Assistance, SNAP, and TANF
A group sign-on letter coordinated by Community Legal Services was sent to the state Department of Health and Human Services urging action to protect the medical, nutritional, and income support benefits that low-income people depend on, especially critical during this time. The letter can be found here.

County Assistance Offices
All County Assistance Offices (CAOs) statewide are closed to the public beginning Tuesday, March 17. Pennsylvanians are encouraged to use DHS’ online applications and resources to apply for benefits or submit paperwork as necessary.

While the CAOs are closed to the public, eligibility determinations, application processing, and benefit issuance will continue for Pennsylvanians in all counties. Applications for benefits and renewals can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. For Medicaid, contact the Pennsylvania Consumer Service Center at 1-866-550-4355 to apply over the phone. Pennsylvanians can also complete semi-annual renewals and check their benefit status through the myCOMPASS PA mobile app. Those who prefer to submit paper documentation can mail documents to their local CAO. If applicants tell their CAO that they are having a health emergency (including suspected COVID 19) the CAO will prioritize that application and expedite approval.

Beneficiaries in Philadelphia with questions or information to report about their case should call the Philadelphia Customer Service Center at 215-560-7226. Clients in all other counties can call the Statewide Customer Service Center at 1-877-395-8930. Call volumes and wait times are likely to be high.

SNAP and TANF
EBT payments are still scheduled to occur during the CAO closure, and activated EBT cards can still be used as usual at ATMs and in stores at point-of-sale machines. Balance and transaction inquiries, as well as EBT card replacement, can be requested from DHS’s EBT contractor at 888-328-7366.

SNAP certification periods will be extended for at least the next three months. Ongoing SNAP cases will not be terminated during this period, and TANF has suspended sanctions for not meeting work-activity requirements. The Pennsylvania Department of Health Services has submitted a waiver request to the federal Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) for this extension. National updates from the FNS can be found here.

Appeals
All DHS’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals hearings (both phone and in person) that were scheduled to occur between March 17-31 have been cancelled and will be rescheduled.

The Overbrook WIC Office is Temporarily Closed
You can continue to receive WIC benefits at any other WIC office. The two closest WIC offices are:

Woodland WIC Office – 1739 S. 54th Street
South Philadelphia WIC Office – 1165 S. Broad Street

If you have any questions, you can contact our Administrative Office at 215-978-6100 or PhillyWIC@northwic.org. For the most up to date information, please check Philadelphia WIC’s social media, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Temporary Removal of SPBP Early Refill Limits Due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 situation, the Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program (SPBP) early refill limit that requires at least 85% of the previous medication dispensed to be utilized prior to refilling the medication has been temporarily removed to allow clients to receive early refills if needed. This will only be a temporary measure until the SPBP determines at a later date to turn the restriction back on. The pharmacy will still receive a warning message that the refill is early, but the claim will be paid by SPBP. This will help to alleviate any early refill issues and requests during this time.

Currently, the SPBP allows up to 100 day supply for medications prescribed at 1 pill per day, up to 50 day supply for 2 pills per day, and up to a 34 day supply for 3 or more pills per day.

For drug claim issues, pharmacies should contact the SPBP provider line at 800-835-4080.

For all other questions or enrollment issues, contact the SPBP customer service line at 800-922-9384.

IMMIGRATION

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Temporarily Closing Offices To The Public
Effective March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is suspending in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices and Application Support Centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This suspension of services will be effective until at least April 1. In the meantime, USCIS will provide limited emergency services. Please call the Contact Center for assistance with emergency services.

USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with scheduled appointments and naturalization ceremonies impacted by this closure. 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 of the interview. When USCIS again resumes normal operations, USCIS will automatically reschedule ASC appointments due to the office closure. You will receive a new appointment letter in the mail. Individuals who had InfoPass or other appointments must reschedule through the USCIS Contact Center once field offices are open to the public again. Please check to see if your field office has been reopened before reaching out to the USCIS Contact Center.

Education and precautions are the strongest tools against infection. Get the latest facts by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 website. Continue to practice good health habits, refrain from handshakes or hugs as greetings, and wash hands and clean surfaces appropriately.

USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow CDC guidance. Please also visit uscis.gov/coronavirus for updates.

TAX

Relief for Taxpayers Affected by Ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic
On March 18, 2020 pursuant to the Stafford Act, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued guidance allowing all individual tax filers to defer payments due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest. The April 15 filing deadline has been moved to July 15, 2020, as well.