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As everything around us seems to be changing with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, we know a lot of people’s income has fallen in Birmingham. Unexpected changes like that can leave even the best-prepared among us feeling bewildered, so we’ve put together some resources to help you begin to navigate these strange new waters.
1. Don’t be afraid to reach out for mental health support + practice extreme self-care if your income has fallen
The first thing to tend to is mental health—kind of like how they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane, before helping other passengers.
Times like these can easily send the hardiest of souls into a scary downward spiral or a state of heightened anxiety bordering on panic. Here are just a few of the lifelines you can reach out to:
- The Crisis Center’s crisis line is 205.323-7777.
- If your call is suicide-related and the number is busy, though, call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- The Wise Center is offering low and no-fee counseling for people struggling with their mental health amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Reach out to email@example.com or text 205.605.9523.
- Here are 5 mental health resources in Birmingham.
- Also, this time can make things like addictions, hunger, grief and isolation worse. Many of the resources in this guide will be relevant now more than ever.
This is also a time for all of us to step up time outdoors if we can (the sunshine, fresh air, physical movement and change of scenery are good at helping to calm anxiety and keep depression at bay). Be sure to follow Birmingham’s shelter in place order and enjoy the outdoors safely.
If you want to experience the great outdoors from the comfort of your own home, check out these virtual tours of Alabama State Parks.
It’s also a time to lean on spiritual community (from a safe social distance, of course), if that appeals to you. Whether you’re looking for a meditation group, a minyan, or a Sunday church service, there’s something for everyone with streaming religious services.
We’ve got a host of other self-care resources in this work at home guide we did in mid-March. Also, you can get out and watch the birds—guaranteed to uplift your spirits way more than following 24/7 news coverage.
2. Make sure you + your pets have food
Maybe you’ve been a donor to food drives in the past, and now an unexpected furlough, layoff, or shutdown leaves your own pantry bare. Before everyone gets hangry, reach out to local food banks to see what is available.
- Here’s a list of local food banks.
- Grace Klein Community has food available for drive-through pickup at Liberty Church, 2732 Old Rocky Ridge Road, Birmingham, AL 35216. They hope to open more drive-throughs throughout the city over time. If you are a family with children, request help here. Seniors and those with special needs, request help here.
- Find out how you can get help for your hungry pets here.
- Know how to take care of your pets during this time and they’ll return your love in spades.
3. Next, if your income has fallen, it’s time to deal with the roof over your head + regular expenses
When the money stops—or slows—its inbound flow, it’s important to address the outflows quickly, and for many of us, one of the largest expenses is the place we call home.
- Homeowners, contact your mortgage lender and ask for a delay of payments for up to 12 months. Many lenders are working with homeowners during this time. You will still owe the money later.
- Renters, contact your landlord. If they receive any kind of federal subsidy or if they have a federally-backed mortgage, they can’t evict you or charge you late fees between now and June 27, 2020, according to the City of Birmingham. You’ll still need to pay your rent—this just may buy you some time.
Grace Klein Community shared these two lost-cost internet options that may work if you don’t currently have internet at home or can’t afford your usual service:
- Comcast Internet Essentials – from $9.95 per month w/2 months free.
- Access from AT&T – from $5 per month.
Also, we found a number of home services that have guaranteed they won’t be cutting people off during this time, or are offering discounted services.
Once you’ve taken care of the basics, you may want to comb through your regular budget (or online banking records) and start calling places you normally send money to on the regular: credit card companies, gyms, subscription services, etc. Let them know your situation and they’ll likely work with you.
Also, bartering is one way to get things done (and help others at the same time) when cash is scarce.
4. Take a six-month break from paying student loans from April-September
Forbes wrote about this new option that’s available to anyone carrying student loans here. Here are a few key points, and there’s a lot more in the article:
- Anyone can enjoy a six-month student loan payment holiday between April and September 2020, regardless of current financial hardship.
- These six months will still count toward Public Service Loan forgiveness (if you are working toward that).
- No new interest will accrue during this time, and you will owe the same amount you do currently at the end.
- If you continue to make payments, they’ll go toward your principal.
- If you don’t make payments, it’s a good opportunity to build up an emergency fund (it’s ideal to have 3-6 months worth of living expenses to cover things like the current situation, according to personal finance expert Dave Ramsey) or take care of daily expenses.
- Check your online accounts to make sure that your payments have been stopped, or contact your loan servicer.
5. If you’re a small-business owner, see if you qualify for Payroll Protection Program through the Small Business Administration
We’ll be writing more about this soon, but for the moment, the City of Birmingham has some helpful information. Many more businesses than you would think of are eligible, so be sure to dig into this even if you think your business, nonprofit or religious institution might not qualify.
If you own a small business, join 398 other small businesses in Bham Now’s small business database. We’ll be using this information to create guides to help all of us in The Magic City navigate this time. You can also search our small business database.
6. Ways to get money coming back in the door if your income has fallen in Birmingham
There’s a good amount of relief for both individuals and businesses in the CARES Act that the US Congress passed on March 27, 2020. Morgan Stanley put together a concise summary that you can access here.
The CARES Act provides tax relief as well as grants and loan assistance. It also has healthcare and education provisions. And more. These steps are by no means comprehensive, but they’ll point you in the right direction.
- File an unemployment claim through the state of Alabama. While not everyone will be eligible for this, it’s an important step to take.
- After filing a state unemployment claim, reelancers and gig workers can apply for emergency unemployment under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program as part of the CARES Act. Chris Prichard, a local freelance photographer, landlord and blogger has more details here.
- Wait to file your 2019 taxes. The deadline’s been extended ‘till July 15, so if you owe money, you can hold on to it for a bit longer.
- If you have already filed and your tax refund hasn’t come yet, there’s that to look forward to for some people.
- Link your tax return and social security number to a bank account in order to get your stimulus payments (could be $1200 per adult and $500 per child depending on your adjusted gross income and a number of other criteria) from the US government more quickly than waiting for them to come in the mail. There has been some back-and-forth about who will and won’t be getting stiumulus payments. We’ve been following the Washington Post’s free daily coronavirus updates to keep up.
- Consider borrowing against your IRA. More details from Morgan Stanley here.
- Apply for disaster relief loans, the payroll protection program and/or grants (or have your employer do this). Many businesses, churches and nonprofits are eligible for support. Visit SBA.gov to find out more.
7. Find out who’s hiring
- Every Tuesday Bham Now posts open jobs. On March 31, we also posted tips from local career coach Barbara Mason about rocking virtual interviews.
- Sign up for Bham Now’s free newsletters so you don’t miss any job postings, or hop over here to our jobs board to see what’s available.
8. Finally, consider volunteering to help others during this time in Birmingham
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes, when things seem really hard, reaching out to offer support to someone else can actually lift your spirits. I speak from personal experience here.
- Reach out to the seniors in your world. A FaceTime chat or phone call might be the only social interaction they’re getting all day. Do they need food? Medicine? Check in often and you’ll both feel better.
- If you sew, make facemasks. Not only will you be doing something useful, you’ll become part of one of the most positive groups in Birmingham right now. Donate PPE if you have any.
- There are lots of ways to help local nonprofits.
- Volunteer with Meals on Wheels.
If you work with a nonprofit, help them join 61 other local nonprofits in Bham Now’s nonprofit database. If you want to search our nonprofit database, you can do that, too.