PVLA COVID-19 Topics for Artists, Inventors & Arts Organizations

Introduction

These FAQs are intended to be a reference for individual artists, inventors, arts & cultural organizations and creative small businesses facing the many complex and difficult issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis. This resource is not intended to be a thorough discussion of all potential issues but rather focuses primarily on guidance and information applicable in the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (PVLA) service area (the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area) and certain federal and state legislation and information that is broadly applicable. PVLA will endeavor to update and expand this resource as more information and resources become available. If you need additional information, we encourage you to reach out to us at: [email protected]

If you have additional questions, or would like to request the assistance of a pro bono attorney volunteer, please click on the link above to fill out an online application. Please also see PVLA’s recent post regarding changes to our intake and application processes in response to the impact of COVID-19.

Thank you to Morgan, Lewis & Bockius for assistance in putting together these FAQs. This material is provided for your convenience and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes.

Above all, we hope that you and those closest to you can continue to remain safe and healthy through this time of crisis.

General

 

  1. Where can I find general information about the virus and how I can protect myself and my family?

    Official sources for information include:

    The National Endowment for the Arts and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance have also compiled resources for arts organizations.

    As Pennsylvania moves into the Yellow Phase, information on restrictions and changes can be found on the Governor’s website. A breakdown of New Jersey’s reopening plan can be found here. Guidance for Delaware’s Phase 2 can be found here.

    In New Jersey, effective November 2nd, guidelines for public gathering were revised including, but not limited to: self-service food, indoor malls, athletic events, and private tutoring facilities. More information can be found here.

  2.  Additional Resources

    In Pennsylvania, effective November 4th, the New Remote Notarization Statute was enacted. More information can be found by clicking on the link provided. 

  3. What do we need to know about the Reopening Task Force?

    Return Phases

    Many businesses are opting to return to work in phases. Please review the following information regarding each phase:

    Early Return

    • A limited number of persons
    • Essential employees only
    • Most employees still working remotely

    Partial Return

    • The majority of employees return
    • Staggered schedules
    • Remote work is still optional

    Full Return

    • All employees return unless alternate arrangements are made

    Updates/Review

    • The following should be considered when determining when to implement each stage:
      • Local mandates
      • Number of new COVID-19 cases
      • The rate of decline in new cases
      • COVID-19 testing availability and access
      • Building access and protocols

    Disclosure

     All individuals are required to disclose the following:

    • Exposure to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19
    • Symptoms of COVID-19 including but not limited to:
      • Fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
      • Chills
      • Muscle pain
      • Headache
      • Sore throat
      • New loss of smell and or taste

    Travel

    If quarantine is required based on CDC or local guidelines, those who travel must comply and work remotely from home for 14 days following the date of their return.

    Masks, Social Distancing, Disinfecting, and Hand-Washing

     Masks must be worn at all times and must cover both nose and mouth unless eating, drinking, or working in an isolated space.

    Maintain a minimum of six feet distance from all persons.

    Employees are encouraged to wash hands frequently throughout the day, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as recommended by the CDC.

    Wiping down/disinfecting both common and personal spaces/surfaces is required.

Individuals and Families

 

  1. I’ve been terminated from my job as an employee. How do I get unemployment compensation?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows states to extend benefits to self-employed and gig workers through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), including providing an extra $600 per week and an additional 13 weeks of benefits.

To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you need to file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online. If you worked in a state other than the one where you now live or if you worked in multiple states, the state unemployment insurance agency where you now live can provide information about how to file your claim with other states.

When you file a claim, you will be asked for certain information, such as addresses and dates of your former employment. To make sure your claim is not delayed, be sure to give complete and correct information. It generally takes two to three weeks after you file your claim to receive your first benefit check.

The CareerOneStop includes resources regarding unemployment insurance by state. Additionally, below are a few resources on filing an unemployment claim in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

 

To file an unemployment claim in New Jersey:

To file an unemployment claim in Pennsylvania:

To file an unemployment claim in Delaware:

  1. I’ve been told I’ve been “furloughed” from my job as an employee–what does that mean and what are my rights? Am I eligible for unemployment compensation and how do I get it?

An employee furlough is a mandatory suspension from work without pay, where the employee usually gets to return to their job when the furlough has ended. It can be as brief or as long as the employer wants. Pennsylvania and New Jersey each provide resources for furloughed employees including information on filing an unemployment claim. Please refer to Question #1 above for additional information on filing an unemployment claim.

 

  1. I’ve lost my health care coverage (I got fired; my employer went out of business; I got my coverage through my spouse’s employer and s/he got fired)–how can I get coverage?

Obtaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act:

If you lose your health insurance, a 60-day window opens to get health-insurance coverage immediately under the federal Affordable Care Act. You will likely need to provide documentation proving that you are losing your current health insurance. ACA plans often have high premiums, but many people can qualify for a federal subsidy based on their income that reduces the monthly cost.

About a dozen states have also said that people can sign up for ACA plans right away even if they have not lost other health insurance. Those openings are for a limited time, so you may want to check quickly to determine if you are eligible.

 

Obtaining Coverage Under your Spouse’s or Parents’ Plan:

If you lose your job and your health insurance, you may be eligible to join your spouse’s employer plan. But you must do so within 30 days of losing your own coverage. If you are under 26, you may be added to your parents’ plan. Losing your health insurance starts a special 30-day enrollment window for you to do this. Contact the employer of your spouse’s or parents’ plan to enroll.

 

Obtaining Coverage Under Short-Term Health Insurance Plans:

Many insurers sell short-term health insurance plans, though the length of time and availability varies by state. You should approach these options very cautiously, however, as recent research has found that some agents and salespeople exaggerated the coverage such products would offer for COVID-19 patients.

 

Obtaining Coverage Under COBRA:

“COBRA”, which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows you to keep your employer health-insurance plan for as long as 18 months after you leave your job. You have to sign up within 60 days of losing your job-based coverage.  Small employers may be exempt from COBRA, in which case state “mini-COBRA” may apply.

There are advantages to COBRA, but also one major downside: the cost. COBRA can cost up to 102% of the full premium on your employer plan. Most people don’t know how much that is, because employees generally only pay a fraction of that total each month.

An upside of COBRA is that you can keep your current network of doctors and other healthcare providers. This may be helpful if you are in the middle of treatment for a condition.

Contact your employer to determine your options under COBRA.

 

  1. I am an employee or self-employed but I don’t have any medical coverage, what can I do? Where can I go for the free COVID-19 tests the news keeps talking about?

New legislation requires health insurers and employers to cover lab tests for COVID-19 and visits to health-care providers for screening–without any out-of-pocket charges.

It is important to note that your visit is free only if it results in a coronavirus test. If a doctor does procedures or tests to rule out the new virus and ends up not ordering a lab test for coronavirus, then you might still be on the hook for your copay or deductible. You should always call ahead to determine the potential cost of the visit before going into the office.

 

  1. I run my own business and I am not getting enough revenue to survive–what can I do?

Your business may eligible to access options for relief under federal, state and local programs or your existing business insurance policies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) has been allocated $225 million for COVID-19 relief to small businesses. Funding will be distributed to the Pennsylvania CDFI Network. Please refer to the updated guidelines of this COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance program. Through this program, minority-owned businesses impacted by COVID-19 in Pennsylvania may be eligible for relief through the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program. The first round of applications closed on July 14, 2020; however, a second application round is expected to open in August.

The CARES Act contains provisions regarding business loan programs and lending facilities, business taxes, retirement and employee benefits, banking relief, and small business relief, among other items. Information on the CARES Act is available here. Alternatively, you may also be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (see item # 1 above).  You should review each of these options first in order to determine which one is best for you and your business.

You should also review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. Information regarding business interruption coverage and the COVID-19 pandemic is available here. Information regarding legislative and regulatory impacts on business interruption insurance is available here.

Review the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s guide to resources for small businesses.

 

  1. I can’t pay my mortgage or rent–are there any protections available to me?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order, issued July 9th, protects homeowners and renters from eviction or foreclosure until August 31, if they have not received assistance from a new program administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) or are not already receiving relief through one of several federal foreclosure moratorium programs or judicial orders. The Philadelphia Housing Authority has also suspended evictions until July 29, 2020. On July 2nd, President Judges Fox and Dugan have ordered that all Municipal Court Landlord/Tenant cases scheduled through September 2 are postponed.

On Friday, May 8th, 2020, the City of Philadelphia announced the launch of a Renter’s Assistance Program, which aims to help individuals who have lost income due to COVID-19 pay their rent. Phase 1 of the program is now closed to new applicants (as of Saturday, May 16th); however, additional resources for tenants are available through the Philadelphia Rental Assistance Program’s website and on the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project’s website. Phase 2 of the program is now available, and the deadline has been extended from September 30 to November 4, 2020.

The PA Housing Finance Agency has announced that applications for CARES assistance for renters and homeowners (rent and mortgage relief) will be available starting June 29, with application submissions beginning July 6th. Further information is available here. The CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP) application can be found here. The CARES Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program (PMAP) application can be found here.

Under an executive order issued March 19, 2020, New Jersey has paused evictions and foreclosures for 60 days following the end of the public health emergency.  New Jersey has also announced mortgage payment and other financial relief measures. Residents may also be eligible for up to six months of emergency rental assistance. Pre-applications can be submitted online from July 6 until Friday, July 17 at 5 pm.

Mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will suspend foreclosures and evictions until July 25th for single-family housing mortgages.

In Delaware, effective March 25, Governor John Carney issued a Sixth Modification to his State of Emergency Declaration, placing a moratorium on evictions, late fees and utility shutoffs until the State of Emergency is lifted. On March 26, the Housing Assistance Fund for renters experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 was established; however, the Delaware State Housing Authority has temporarily paused application submissions. Additional information and resources may be found here.

In Pennsylvania, effective September 17, Philadelphia courts extended the Residential Eviction Moratorium until December 31, 2020. Residential tenants seeking to take advantage of the moratorium on evictions should complete a Declaration Form. Instructions on how to complete and submit the form can be found by clicking on the provided link. Please see additional resources below:

In Pennsylvania, the New Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program became effective on September 1. The program matches tenants with housing counselors to help to provide resources and negotiate payment agreements. Landlords should file an application and tenants should call the Philly Tenant Hotline 267-443-2500 for more information. 

In Pennsylvania, effective October 5, the Municipal Court issued an order extending the stay on execution on Alias Writs until November 8, 2020.

 

  1. I can’t make my utility payments— are there any protections available to me?

In the Philadelphia area, utilities have agreed not to pursue shutoffs until May. This applies to the Philadelphia Water Department (extended to July 10th), Philadelphia Gas Works (extended until further notice) and PECO (extended to July 1st). Additionally, the LIHEAP Recovery Crisis Grant Application is available now until August 31st, 2020, for eligible households in jeopardy of losing their heating utility service. Please contact your PA State Senator if you require assistance with the application.

A number of Internet providers have agreed to the FCC pledge to “keep America connected” and not terminate Internet service for nonpayment through at least June 30.

In New Jersey, statewide electric and gas utilities have agreed to suspend shutoffs.

In Delaware, the Governor’s March 24th modification to the State of Emergency Declaration prevents residential utility service companies from terminating service or charging fees for late-payments for services. Delmarva will be suspending service disconnections at least until July 1st, and SUEZ Water has promised to not shut off service for customers for the duration of the crisis.

Check with your utility provider to determine if any relief is available to you.

 

  1. I can’t make my student loan payments— are there any protections available to me?

The CARES Act provides for the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest through September 30, 2020. Several categories of student loans are not covered by the CARES Act, and you will need to continue paying these loans on schedule:

  • Federal Perkins Loans managed by universities.
  • Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) Loans managed by banks and other financial institutions.
  • Private Loans

Note that when this forbearance period ends, you will still have to pay your same student loan balance before payments were suspended. Contact your student loan servicer with any questions or to discuss forbearance options for loans not covered under the CARES Act.

 

  1. I can’t make my credit card payments–are there any protections available to me?

Contact your lenders to discuss whether any forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment are available.

 

  1. I heard that the due date for Federal tax returns have been postponed–what are the new rules?

The 2019 income tax filing and payment deadlines for all taxpayers who file and pay their Federal income taxes on April 15, 2020, are automatically extended until July 15, 2020. This relief applies to all individual returns, trusts, and corporations and is automatic (taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify).

 

  1. I am self-employed and make estimated tax payments–is the 4/15/2020 due date extended?

The extensions described above also includes estimated tax payments for tax year for the first quarter of 2020 that are due on April 15, 2020. This deadline has been automatically extended until July 15, 2020. However, note that the second quarter estimated tax payment is still due on June 15, 2020.

 

  1. Is there something similar for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware taxes?

Yes. In response to the coronavirus, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware are honoring the U.S. federal government extension to July 15, 2020.

 

  1. Or for Philadelphia taxes?

In response to the coronavirus, Philadelphia is honoring the U.S. federal government extensions granted to businesses for filing and payments until July 15, 2020 for the Business Income & Receipts Tax (BIRT) and Net Profits Tax (NPT). This extension policy includes estimated payments and requires no additional action from businesses.

 

  1. I have a job still but am not feeling well and think I should stay home for a bit, but I am afraid I will be fired. What sort of protection do I have, what sort of sick leave is available?

See the Department of Labor’s guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

 

  1. I am currently on Medicaid–how does any of this affect my Medicaid coverage?

While no specific changes have been made to Medicaid coverage, please refer to state resources regarding medical insurance coverage (including Medicaid) of COVID-19 testing and treatment.

Pennsylvania has announced that Medicaid and CHIP Recipients’ COVID-19 testing and treatment are covered and provided a state insurance coverage FAQ relating to COVID-19.

New Jersey has announced a waiver of co-payments relating to COVID-19 testing, visits for testing, and testing-related services.

Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Human Services has prepared a guide on ways it is working to protect and maintain benefits for residents amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

For Delaware, please refer to their Medicaid and COVID-19 information page.

 

  1. I need money badly to live on–can I access my 401(k) account, 403(b) account or IRA? Without a 10% penalty?

You may be permitted to withdraw money from your 401(k) plan. If you are younger than 59½, you are subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on top of the income tax owed on your withdrawal.

The CARES Act waives the 10 percent penalty for IRAs and defined contribution plans for participants experiencing financial hardship.

 

  1. My independent contractor agreement was just terminated–can they do that?

Contact PVLA to request an attorney who can discuss any questions relating to termination of your independent contractor agreement.

 

  1. My gig/exhibit/commission/etc. was just cancelled – can they do that?

This depends on the terms and conditions of your contract, including whether a force majeure clause or a material adverse effect clause may be applicable. Contact PVLA to request an attorney to discuss any questions or options relating to termination of your gig/exhibit/commission/etc.

 

  1. My contract/gig/etc. hasn’t been cancelled, and I’m concerned about my health if I continue to work because my work involves exposure to others – what are my options?

If your engagement is in Pennsylvania, please refer to guidance regarding Pennsylvania’s Stay At Home order.

If your engagement is in New Jersey, please refer to guidance regarding New Jersey’s Stay At Home order.

If your engagement is in Delaware, please refer to guidance regarding Delaware’s Stay At Home order.

 

For Arts Groups

 

  1. Where can we go for information regarding reducing pay, reducing hours, or terminating staff?

Refer to the “Workforce Change in a Time of Pandemic” webinar series. These types of changes should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Contact PVLA to request an attorney to discuss the specific circumstances of your business and any potential options.

 

  1. What if we can’t make our payments to our creditors, mortgage company or landlords?

Contact your lenders to discuss whether any forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment are available.

Review resources regarding performance under a lease or mortgage.

Finally, review Question #6 above regarding current pauses in eviction and foreclosure proceedings.

 

  1. What if we can’t make our unemployment compensation premiums or pay over our payroll tax obligations?

The CARES Act includes a $350 billion loan program for businesses with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietors, independent contractors and anyone otherwise self-employed). Under the bill, loans can be used to meet payroll and cover certain other expenses like utilities or insurance premiums. And, borrowers will be able to apply for loan forgiveness.

 

  1. What sort of help is available for not-for-profit businesses from the federal government and how can I get it?

The Independent Sector’s  Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT) Summary for Nonprofits and Families First Coronavirus Response Act Summary for Nonprofits, and Nonprofit Quarterly’s How Nonprofits Can Utilize the New Federal Laws Dealing with COVID-19 all contain summaries of resources applicable to nonprofit organizations.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is an SBA loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Covid-19 crisis. The Paycheck Protection Program resumed accepting applications July 6; the new deadline to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan is August 8, 2020. You can find more information here and here. On June 5th, President Trump signed into law the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA), which amends and eases rules pertaining to the Paycheck Protection Program loans created by the CARES Act

Additionally, your business may be eligible for disaster loans and other relief programs through the U.S. Small Business Administration. An overview of existing options for COVID-19 relief for small businesses is available here.

You should also review the SBA’s guidance and resources to determine if your business if eligible for disaster loans and other assistance.

  1. What sort of help is available from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or the State of New Jersey and how can I get it?

Pennsylvania

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has announced a number of resources to assist small businesses, which include:

 

New Jersey

The State of New Jersey has also announced a number of resources to assist small businesses, including:

Additionally, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) is launching a Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program on Friday, April 3, 2020. The NJEDA’s additional resources for businesses include:

Private foundation and nonprofit resources available in New Jersey include:

  1. What sort of help is available to businesses from the City of Philadelphia or other localities and how can I get it?

The City of Philadelphia has a list of resources available for businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The William Penn Foundation is also putting together a COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL Fund designed to support small to mid-sized arts organizations, as well as individual artists.

Other funding resources available through public and private entities in Philadelphia include:

In addition, there are numerous grant and funding opportunities available for artists, by medium, by affinity group, and by geography. The New York-based organization Queer|Art has compiled a list of some of these various resources (please note that some of these resources are only available for New York residents). If you need any assistance locating specific resources, please contact PVLA.

  1. Do the various postponements of tax return due dates apply to nonprofit entities?

The 2019 form 990 tax filing deadline for nonprofit entities is automatically extended until July 15, 2020.

 

  1. We can no longer afford to sponsor our health care plan, what do we do? If we do so, do employees who lose coverage have COBRA rights and how does that affect us?

An amendment to the FFCRA provides a credit for covered employer’s cost of providing health care coverage to employees during a leave under the Emergency Paid Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. This applies to the amount the employer paid toward maintaining health plan coverage of an employee on such a paid leave which was excluded from the employee’s gross income for federal income tax purposes.

If an employer chooses to discontinue offering health insurance coverage to its employees, COBRA continuation coverage will not be available. Employees may be eligible for coverage under the options, except the described COBRA coverage, listed in Question #3 above.

 

  1. Does our insurance cover any of the losses we are experiencing?

You should review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. You should also review your insurance coverages to determine if your business is eligible to recover under a business interruption or similar insurance policy. Information regarding business interruption coverage and the COVID-19 pandemic is available here. Information regarding legislative and regulatory impacts on business interruption insurance is available here.

 

  1. Our donors are reneging on their pledges, or we are afraid they might do so – can they do that?

The answer depends on how the pledge has been documented.  Some nonprofits have attempted to use a pledge agreement in which donors make a binding commit to make a contribution, enforceable by the terms of the agreement.  Other versions used by nonprofits are less formal and may express only an intention to make a gift. Consequently, further review of the relevant documents would be necessary to provide guidance.  Because these are very hard times for everyone, working with donors to restructure their commitment if need be may be a more practical approach. Enforcement of even the most binding donor commitment would be challenging at this juncture.

 

  1. Can we terminate agreements with our independent contractors/freelancers, either under the terms of our agreement, or simply because we can’t move forward under the circumstances?

Refer to the “Workforce Change in a Time of Pandemic” webinar series. These types of changes should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Contact an attorney to discuss the specific circumstances of your business and any potential options.