Where to find help if you’ve lost income because of COVID-19 closures

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Mayor LaToya Cantrell announces on Monday (March 16) the closure of bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, gyms, health clubs and other businesses in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Mayor’s Office photo)

With New Orleans a hotspot for the pandemic, officials have put in place a daunting array of restrictions and closures that have disrupted the life — if not the livelihood — of nearly every New Orleanian.

Hundreds of New Orleans workers have been impacted by COVID-19 related closures. If you’ve experienced a loss of income because of the coronavirus pandemic, here are some resources to help you through, including unemployment compensation; relief funds for gig workers, musicians, bartenders and others; help for small businesses; counseling for stress and more.

Gig-worker relief fund

The New Orleans Business Alliance announced on March 17 that it had set up a dedicated relief fund to meet the needs of the gig economy workers, many of who have been adversely affected by the loss of income. This includes ride-share drivers, musicians, arena workers and festival production staff.

As of 2017, gig economy works made up more than 8 percent of the workforce in Orleans Parish. “In New Orleans, many of these workers depend on the cultural calendar for reliable income,” stated the press release.

So far, NOBA has committed $100,000 to initiate the fund, with the goal of increasing it to $500,000. As of now, the awards are $500 to $1,000 per person and meet the approved criteria.

What if a person doesn’t have a computer to file? NOBA representative Victoria Phipps answered in an email to reporter Sue Strachan that there are a few different options:

1. With a smart phone, the applicant can email a member of the of the NOBA team (info@nolaba.org) and they will work with them to get the necessary documents.
2. If applicants only have access to a standard phone, they can call the NOBA office 504-934-4500 and the NOBA team will work to capture as much information as they can by phone, working through solutions to capture document needs.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can to ensure that these critical members of our community are getting the support that they need,” stated Phipps.

The first day the fund was available, March 17, NOBA had received nearly 5,000 visitors to the site in less than 23 hours.

“We’re working through this initial wave of activity and expect to be issuing first payments by Friday of this week,” said Phipps. “Moving forward, we’re hoping to expedite that turn around time significantly. It’s a real time need, with a real time response.”

To apply, go to: nolaba.org/relief-fund.

Unemployment compensation

Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Rapid Response Unit is available for assistance concerning temporary or permanent layoffs due to COVID-19. Workers who are impacted by temporary closures or reduced hours may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits

If your work hours have been reduced, partial benefits could be available to you up to a maximum of $247 a week. You must report any earnings for the week that you work, even if you’ve not yet been paid. Include all income, commissions, tips and gratuities. Report the gross amount before deductions. These earnings would be factored into the amount of unemployment benefits paid to you for that week.
Be sure to answer “yes” to the question, “Are you filing for Unemployment Insurance benefits for reasons related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?” This will help the LWC process your claim.
It normally takes up to 21 days to receive needed documentation from both the claimant and employer and to make a determination of eligibility.
You can file a claim for unemployment through the Louisiana Workforce Commission at www.louisianaworks.net/hire. You can start your claim by clicking the link under “Reemployment Services” at the bottom of the home page or by calling 866.783.5567. The call center is open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; expect long wait times.
If you’re an employer and have temporarily closed or reduced hours of operation due to COVID-19, contact the LWC at EmployerServices@lwc.la.gov with your unemployment insurance questions. Be sure to provide your company’s name, a point of contact, telephone number and email address, as well as specifics on the assistance you are requesting. The Employer Call Center, 225-326-6999, is also available.
Job seekers can find assistance with the local office of the American Job Center, 3400 Tulane Ave., 2nd floor, 504-658-4500 or 504-658-4547. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays.
Bartender relief fund

Bartenders and bar backs can apply to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program run by the U.S. Bartenders Guild foundation. Spouses and children of bartenders can also apply. The link is on the foundation’s website here.

Funds for musicians

Some national funds supply assistance to musicians affected by the pandemic: the Recording Academy’s MusicCares, the Sweet Relief fund for COVID-19 economic loss and the Jazz Foundation’s Musicians Emergency Fund.

The following borrows from a list compiled by Carrie Booher, digital content editor for WWOZ.org (90.7 FM). WWOZ also offers this advice: “Track your losses! While there is still much uncertainty on how artists may recoup money lost from canceled events and tours, artists should be diligent in tracking the impact of COVID-19 on their work and income. Be sure to document records of cancellations, losses from ticket sales and refunds, and any other relevant from COVID-19. Though it is unclear what financial assistance for artists might look like in the future, equipping yourself with this information can help you make a case for yourself should a solution arrive.”

The MusiCares’ Emergency Financial Assistance Program provides critical funds for people in the music industry struggling with financial, medical or personal crises. This program offers financial assistance for medical expenses including doctor, dental and hospital bills, prescriptions, addiction recovery treatment, psychotherapy, treatment for HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other critical illnesses, as well as basic living expenses such as rent and utilities. On March 17, the Recording Academy and MusiCares launched their coronavirus specific relief fund, which can be donated and applied to at this link.

Eligibility consists of documented employment in the music industry for at least five years or credited contribution to six commercially released recordings or videos. Documentation can be provided in a variety of ways, including liner note credits, copies of contracts, check stubs, brochures, flyers and newspaper articles. The MusiCares South Region has a help line: 877-626-2748.

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems.

To provide immediate assistance in light of massive cancellations of live music, Sweet Relief has created a donor-directed fund with a limited amount of money available to be used specifically for musicians and music industry workers affected by the Coronavirus. Funds raised can go toward lodging, clothing, food and other vital living expenses (as well as medical expenses) to those impacted due to loss of work.

A Sweet Relief application can be found here. To learn more about the fund, visit the COVID-19 FUND page. You may also call 888-955-7880 for more information.

The Jazz Foundation has a Musicians’ Emergency Fund. This fund provides housing assistance, pro bono medical care, disaster relief and direct financial support in times of crisis.

The American Federation of Musicians offers assistance for musicians fighting to recover from natural disasters. Its COVID-19 assistance is still evolving. The union’s list of resources can be found here.

Help for small businesses

Small businesses in New Orleans are now eligible for federal disaster-loan assistance through the Small Business Administration. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the availability of these loans Thursday as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

To get started, visit SBA.gov/Disaster. SBA offers a three-step process for disaster loans explained here. The application is available here.

Louisiana Economic Development also is offering COVID-19: Business Resources, an online guide to assistance available for impacted businesses. Look for updates to the guide at OpportunityLouisiana.com.

Counseling

The Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health offers free counseling services via its Keep Calm Through COVID Hotline. The crisis phone line provides trained, compassionate counselors to support Louisianans through this difficult time. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Call the Keep Calm Through COVID hotline at 866-310-7977 at any time. All calls are confidential. This line is for counseling only; for general information, call 211. For COVID-19 information from the Department of Health, click here.

“The threat of COVID-19 and so many changes to our normal routines can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety,” said Karen Stubbs, assistant secretary of the Office of Behavioral Health, said in a press release. “These are normal feelings and it’s important for each individual who is having a hard time with these emotions to reach out for help.”

A national hotline dedicated to crisis counseling can also provide help: 1-800-985-5990. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline operates 24/7, 365-day-a-year to provide crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This qualifies.

Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Housing, utilities, legal assistance and food

This information comes primarily from the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Housing evictions have been suspended until April 24, under an order signed by chief Judge of Civil District Court Christopher J. Bruno. The city has also worked with utilities providers to ensure workers affected by the closures will not lose essential services.

Entergy: Entergy will halt customer disconnections if nonpayment is the result of the coronavirus. Customers can call 800-368-3749 or visit entergy-neworleans.com for more information.

Sewerage & Water Board: The S&WB suspended water service shut-offs on March 12, and will adhere to this policy change for the duration of the mayor’s Declared Emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cox Communications: Cox will not terminate service to residences or small businesses that are unable to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus. For those affected, Cox will waive late fees as well.

Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink, Sprint and T-Mobile: WiFi service providers have publicly committed to the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” to ensure customers aren’t cut off from communications services during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes no shutoffs, no late fees, and making Wi-Fi hotspots available to anyone who needs them.

AT&T is also offering internet access for qualifying limited-income households at $10 a month through its Access from AT&T program. In addition, all AT&T consumer home internet wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet, can use unlimited data. For more information, see here.

Legal assistance: If you need help with a landlord-tenant issue or other legal matter, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services provides free, civil legal aid to low-income people. Go to slls.org or call 504-529-1000 for more information.

Clients and individuals in need of legal assistance or self-help can also reach The Pro Bono Project at 504-581-4043. Email for clients is intake@probono-no.org and for self-represented litigants,  selfhelp@probono-no.org.

Food distribution: NOLA Tree Project will be distributing free hot meals from Second Harvest. The meals are available from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday from the NOLA Tree Project Headquarters, 1509 Filmore Ave.

Citywide child nutrition programming will be available starting March 23, but some charter school leaders have been able to start feeding programs sooner. See here for information.

Residents can also call 211 and ask about emergency food assistance to receive more information, find out where a food pantry may be located in their community and sign up for services.

 

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