If you have lost your job during the COVID-19 Pandemic, own a small business that has been forced to close or are having a hard time making your mortgage or credit card payments, there is help available.

However, identifying what programs you qualify for and how to access them can be difficult. Here are some suggestions offered by New Jersey experts. No matter what kind of relief you are seeking, pack plenty of patience. The infrastructure to deliver benefits has been stretched thin.


You, Your Money, Your Job: Thursday, April 9 at 7 p.m., New Jersey 101.5 is hosting a live discussion on surviving the coronavirus economy, and getting the help you need. Tune in to New Jersey 101.5 FM, listen on the New Jersey 101.5 app, or watch and participate on Facebook Live at Facebook.com/NJ1015.


Unemployment:

All in-person unemployment offices have been closed in New Jersey until further notice. The only way to apply for benefits is to call or go on-line. Neither option would be considered “speedy.” Because of the record volume of applications, New Jersey is also restriction applications to certain days based on your Social Security number.  To find out when you call call or apply on-line, click here.

New Jersey is bringing on more staff from other departments and training them to handle claims, but expect long hold times if you are calling. If you are filing on-line, the computer infrastructure is decades old, and prone to glitches and crashes due to the large volume of claims. The state recently put out a call for computer programmers who know COBOL to help keep this aged infrastructure operational.

Those who qualify for New Jersey unemployment benefits may also be eligible for an additional $600 per week benefit under legislation signed by President Donald Trump.

To file for unemployment benefits by phone, see this guide.

To file online, click here.

Whether on-line or by phone, you will be asked a series of questions. The most important are:

• Were you able and available to work?
• Were you actively seeking work?

Answer “YES” to both. Many filers have been answering “NO” due to the stay-at-home order in New Jersey and that has delayed claims processing.

From the NJ Department of Labor website:

Question 1 - Were you able and available for work? 

The answer to this question should be YES if:

1. You were physically able to do your work before you lost your job (and you lost your job/hours due to your own coronavirus illness, your need to care for a family/household member with coronavirus, or your employment situation changed because of coronavirus public health emergency); OR

2. You are out of work temporarily due to an employer-closure related to the coronavirus and expect to return to your job; OR

3. You are able and available for work.

Question 2 - Were you actively seeking work?

If you are waiting to be recalled to your present job, or delaying your job search until this natural emergency ends or subsides, you should answer YES.

Small business relief:

Through recently enacted legislation on both the state and federal level, there are a variety of direct relief and loan relief programs aimed at offering help to small businesses.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is coordinating many of these programs, including low-cost loans to cover operating expenses and (in some cases) payroll.

Applications can be accessed through the NJEDA's site, but processing of the applications will not begin until Monday, April 13, 2020.

According to the NJEDA website: "The Small Business Emergency Assistance Loan program is designed to provide a direct loan of up to $100,000 to NJ-based small businesses and non-profits organizations."

There are other forms of relief being offered, including:

• The Paycheck Protection Program – designed to encourage local businesses to keep employees on the payroll

• Economic Injury Disaster Loans – similar to loans offered after Superstorm Sandy to cover catastrophic losses

The NJEDA is offering more details and assistance filing applications here:

Mortgage and credit card relief:

Gov. Phil Murphy announced a deal with several leading national lenders and state-chartered banks to grant New Jersey residents a 90-day reprieve from their mortgage payments.

It is important to note this is not loan forgiveness. In most cases, the payments will be added on to the end of the term. You will not, however, have to pay additional interest or penalties if you qualify.

This relief is also not automatic. You will need to call your lender, and in most cases, fill out an application. You will need to provide documentation of economic hardship, and lenders can reject your application.

New Jersey did not reach a similar broad agreement with banks on credit card relief, but the New Jersey Bankers Association says many credit card companies are offering some type of relief. If you are having a hard time making a payment, they suggest calling the credit card company directly and pleading your case.

The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance is offering the following advice on its website:

How do I get mortgage relief and/or forbearance?

You should contact and work directly with your mortgage servicer to learn about and apply for available relief. Please note that financial institutions and their servicers are experiencing high volumes of inquiries.

How long will the forbearance last?

The terms of a forbearance will be agreed to between you and your mortgage service. Financial institutions will confirm approval of and terms of the forbearance program.

What effect will this have on my credit report?

Financial institutions will not report derogatory information (e.g., late payments) to credit reporting agencies but may report a forbearance, which typically does not alone negatively affect a credit score.

How long will these programs last?

It is still unclear how severe or how long the COVID-19 impacts will be. Financial institutions have committed to necessary relief and will be assessing the ongoing conditions and necessity of continuing relief.

What if my financial institution isn’t offering this relief?

At this time, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, in addition to over 40 other federal and state-chartered banks, credit unions, and servicers are supporting these commitments. The state will welcome any other institution that would like to meet the moment and provide much-needed financial relief to New Jerseyans.

What if I already made a payment or was hit with a fee because of COVID-19?

These measures go into effect as of March 28, 2020.

Is the mortgage relief available to businesses?

The relief is currently only available for residential mortgages.

What if my mortgage servicer is not communicative or cooperative?

You can file a complaint with the Department of Banking and Insurance through the complaint form or by contacting the department at (609) 292-7272 or 1-800-446-7467 (9:00 am to 5:00 pm EST Monday through Friday).