Coronavirus relief programs in Pennsylvania, from mortgage relief to food programs

  • There is support available for those struggling financially in Pennsylvania due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • You might be qualified for food programs, rent relief, or a grant to pay utility bills.
  • You may be eligible for up to 52 weeks of unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania. 
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If you live in Pennsylvania and are looking for financial help during the pandemic, we’ve gathered a list of useful resources for you. By knowing what opportunities are out there, you can take the necessary steps to get mortgage relief, financial counseling, unemployment insurance, and more.

Unemployment insurance

Applying for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania, also known as “unemployment compensation” in the state, is relatively straightforward. There are four program options:

1. State-sponsored benefits

For state-sponsored unemployment compensation, you may receive temporary income support if:

  • You lost your job through no fault of your own
  • Your hours have been cut

After meeting one of those two basic criteria, the state will first determine if you earned enough wages and credit weeks in employment covered by state law. A credit week is defined as any week in which you receive wages of at least $116.  

You can apply for unemployment compensation benefits online, via mail, by telephone at 1-888-313-7284, or via videophone service (intended for those who use American Sign Language) during a set time each week. 

After you file, you’ll get a notice showing whether you are financially eligible. Additionally, you must be able and available to accept work. You can’t refuse offered work without a genuine cause, and you must participate in reemployment services if needed.

To apply for unemployment, you’ll need the following:

  • Social security number
  • Home address and mailing address (if they are different)
  • Phone number
  • Valid email address
  • Former employer’s name, address, and phone number
  • First and last day worked with employer
  • Reason for leaving
  • If applicable, pension or severance package information

You can apply for benefits online, via mail, by telephone at 1-888-313-7284, or via videophone service (intended for those who use American Sign Language) during a set time each week. You can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits. 

You can estimate your benefits by going to this page and then searching for your income on one of these financial charts. 

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2. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

If you’ve run out of benefits, you still have the option to apply for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which the federal government passed as a part of the CARES Act. 

PEUC extends unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks for qualified individuals — though you must wait for your regular benefits to expire before applying for the program. If you’re currently receiving unemployment benefits, the state will automatically enroll you in the program once you run out of regular unemployment compensation.

3. Extended benefits

If you’ve exhausted both your unemployment compensation and your PEUC benefits, you may still be eligible for Pennsylvania’s extended benefits program. An extended benefits period begins following the third week after the unemployment rate hits a level defined by law.

The amount you will be paid is the same as you were paid during your regular unemployment compensation period. The total number of weeks of extended benefits you can get is half of the regular UC you were eligible to receive.

Eligibility requirements for regular unemployment compensation are the same for extended benefits. 

4. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

If you’re not usually eligible for unemployment benefits, you may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits. 

You may consider filing for PUA if you aren’t qualified for regular unemployment compensation because you have lost income due to COVID-19 and:

  • Are self-employed
  • Are seeking part-time work
  • Lack sufficient work history
  • Have exhausted all rights to regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits.

Check out this infographic for information on which groups are ineligible for PUA. 

If your application for unemployment benefits is denied, you can appeal the decision within 15 days of the mailing date of the determination. You can find out more information on the appeals process here. 

You can learn more about unemployment resources on Pennsylvania’s government website here. 

Food programs

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, offers food benefits to low-income households.

You can apply to SNAP online or in-person at your county assistance office. You can download that application in English here or Spanish here and return it to that office. You can find more options for paper applications here. 

Nine Feeding America food banks serve Pennsylvania, and you can search for the closest one to you by entering your zip code into this map tool. 

The maximum benefit amounts depend on the size of your household and your income, and range between $234 to $1,408 per month. Your household needs to meet specific requirements to be eligible for SNAP and get benefits, which the state will define for you during the application process. To read more about your eligibility for SNAP, try this FAQ from the USDA.

If you qualify for SNAP, you’ll get an Electronic Benefits Transfer card to enable you to make food purchases.    

Additional food benefits may soon increase, as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently petitioned the federal government to issue over $1 billion in food stamps money to help families cover the cost of missed school meals. The government would direct this money to over 900,000 students who learned remotely this year and could not access free or reduced meals. 

If you need food more urgently, you can find and connect with your local food bank through Feeding America. Nine Feeding America food banks serve Pennsylvania, and you can search for the closest one to you by entering your zip code into this map tool. 

Mortgage relief

For homeowners with federally-backed mortgages, the CARES Act the government passed at the beginning of the pandemic provides foreclosure protection. If you don’t have a federally-backed mortgage, you can reach out to your loan servicer to ask for forbearance.

Forbearance is when your servicer allows you to pause or reduce your payments for a predetermined period. You and your mortgage servicer will agree on the terms of your forbearance.

Earlier in the pandemic, Governor Wolf set aside $25 million to set up a new program called the CARES Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program, which offered eligible homeowners six months’ worth of mortgage payments. Unfortunately, the application period has since closed, but keep tabs on a possible renewal or similar programs to pass after the latest federal COVID-19 relief bill is enacted.

If you’re struggling to understand your protections, you can find a list of legal aid programs here. 

Rent relief

The state legislature has passed a bill that directs more than $500 million to help renters and utility customers pay their bills. Details are still coming on how to apply, so check back at this link for more information frequently. 

The CDC also declared a moratorium on some evictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This moratorium lasts through March 31, 2021, and applies only to evictions for non-payment of rent. You can find more details on the moratorium and eligibility requirements at this link. 

If you want to find a lower-cost alternative to your current residence, you can use this online affordable housing portal to peruse various options available to you.

You can also find a list of agencies that offer rental assistance to residents, broken down by location. 

In addition to the mortgage assistance program Governor Tom Wolf set up earlier in the pandemic, the state also created a program called the CARES Rent Relief Program, which allocated $150 million for rent relief in Pennsylvania. The program’s application period has expired, but after the latest federal government passes the new COVID-19 relief bill, look out for a possible renewal or similar programs to be put in place. 

If you want to find a lower-cost alternative to your current residence, you can use this online affordable housing portal to peruse various options available to you.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development also has resources for those struggling to pay rent, including subsidized housing, public housing and housing choice vouchers, and links to contact a housing counseling agency. 

Paying utilities

Pennsylvania has a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also referred to as LIHEAP, which gives families cash grants to pay heating or cooling bills. The grant is a one-time payment sent directly to your utility provider, and the value ranges from $200 to $1,000 based on household size, income, and fuel type. 

You can apply for this grant either online or via a paper application in English or Spanish. The application period is currently open and is scheduled to close on April 9, 2021. 

To be eligible for the program: 

  • You need to hit income guidelines (listed below)
  • You don’t have to be behind on payments to qualify
  • You can rent or own your home

Your before-tax annual household income must be below the following requirements to be eligible for benefits: 

Household sizeMaximum pre-tax household income
1$19,140
2$25,860
3$32,580
4$39,300
5$46,020
6$52,740
7$59,460
8$66,180
9$72,900
10$79,620
11+$6,720 per additional person

You can find additional information about LIHEAP here. 

If you’re looking to increase your home’s energy efficiency, the Weatherization Assistance Program will help you reduce energy costs while protecting your health and safety. Low-income individuals (people at or below 200% of the federal poverty level) are eligible for the program, with priority given to higher risk groups. 

Pennsylvania 211 has resources for electric service payments, water service payments, telephone service payments, and internet service payments. 

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Financial counseling

You can find a variety of free online resources that will provide you with financial advice, and we’ve gathered some of the best ones for Pennsylvanians. 

Some of the financial counseling centers scattered throughout the state will offer options to handle bankruptcy preparation, debt reorganization, student loans, and more. Advantage Credit Counseling Service, a non-profit credit counseling agency, is one of those institutions you may want to consider. 

You can get at least a free consultation at most organizations, but check to see what the cost might be after the consultation. 

Some of the financial counseling centers scattered throughout the state will offer options to handle bankruptcy preparation, debt reorganization, student loans, and more.

To steer clear of popular money scams and manage new student loan guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to look to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau for advice. You can also get resources on mortgage and housing assistance and view short videos from experts on your coronavirus-specific options. 

The FDIC has a list of no-cost money curricula for students in Pre-K through 12th grade, which might be helpful whether you’re a young person or a parent. You’ll get real-life examples that can aid you or your child in managing finances after finishing school.

This list should give you a good idea of how to start researching coronavirus aid, but these resources aren’t the only ones that exist.

Ryan Wangman is a reviews fellow at Personal Finance Insider reporting on mortgages, refinancing, bank accounts, and bank reviews. In his past experience writing about personal finance, he has written about credit scores, financial literacy, and homeownership.

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