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Pandemic Relief Resources You Need to Know About Right Now

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protesting rent during covid
Brandon Bell/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

Pandemic Relief

The coronavirus pandemic has affected Americans in countless ways, including putting millions of people out of work, slashing household incomes amid job loses, and leaving far too many people worried about how they'll pay the bills, put food on the table, and maintain a roof over their heads, particularly with the additional $600 in federal pandemic unemployment compensation ending. There are various relief programs that can help Americans through this crisis, some of which provide financial relief, while others provide food assistance, or even an emotional lifeline. More than a few of these programs were born during the pandemic, while others existed before COVID-19 but have stepped up or redirected their efforts. Here's a closer look at programs that may be able to help ease the stress and burdens of these challenging times.

Related: 21 Financial Lifelines to Help Small Businesses Stay Afloat

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For Retirement Withdrawal Relief: CARES Act

While the $600 in additional federal pandemic unemployment compensation that was part of the CARES Act hasn't been extended, there are other helpful parts of this relief program that remain in effect. One of the most notable portions of the act that's still in place is the ability to withdraw as much as $100,000 from retirement savings accounts without being subjected to the usual 10% early withdrawal penalty. The CARES Act also exempts coronavirus-related distributions from the 20% mandatory tax withholding that normally applies to some retirement plan distributions. It also doubles the ordinary retirement plan loan limits, and you won't have to pay income tax on the money borrowed from a 401(k) if you pay it back within five years.

Related: 21 Ways to Cope With Long-Term Unemployment

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For Student Loan Relief: CARES Act

Another provision of the CARES Act offers relief to those with certain student loans, says consumer bankruptcy attorney Jon Long of Long, Burnett, and Johnson, and applies to most federal student loans. The relief includes automatic suspension of principal and interest payments on federally held student loans through Sept. 30. You do not need to complete any application; loan servicers will automatically suspend payment requirements. In addition, during this time, the interest rate on such loans will be set to 0%. "Also, for these loans, collection efforts that may include income tax refund interception and wage garnishments are likewise suspended," Long says.

Related: 10 Things You Need to Know About Student Loans Right Now

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For Business Loans: Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration's Economic Injury Disaster Loans program provides economic relief to small businesses and also nonprofit organizations that are suffering from a loss of revenue. The money can be used to cover both capital and normal operating expenses including rent, utilities, fixed debt payments, and more. You can apply here.

Related: Americans' Top 10 Biggest Fears About the Coronavirus Pandemic

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For More Small Business Loans: SBA

Another relief option from the Small Business Administration is the Express Bridge Loan, says Grey Idol, co-founder of Payroll Funding, a business that helps companies manage their cash flow. The program allows small businesses that have an established relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access as much as $25,000 fairly quickly. "The Express Bridge Loan is meant to help a business stay afloat before they can get money coming in from somewhere else, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, for example," Idol says. "It's called a bridge loan because it's bridging the gap between income sources."

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For Debt Relief: SBA

As part of its efforts specific to coronavirus challenges, the SBA is offering a debt-relief program for small businesses that will pay six months of principal, interest, and any associated fees that borrowers owe for a variety of loans including 7(a), 504, and SBA Microloans. Borrowers do not need to apply for the program. The assistance will be automatically provided by the SBA, with the agency making payments on the loans at the next payment due date and continuing for six monthly payments. You can learn more here.

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For Food Assistance: Feeding Children Everywhere

During these uncertain times, Full Cart, a virtual food bank program by the nonprofit Feeding Children Everywhere, is working to feed families across the country. The organization ships meals directly to the homes of families in need. "This virtual food bank is the safest way to get food to people practicing social distancing during the pandemic, and to families who do not live near grocery stores," says Full Cart spokeswoman Sarah Davila. "We're working with our partners to sponsor the cost of food and shipping, so families get groceries at no cost to them." Full Cart has partnered with FedEx to ship grocery boxes to all 50 states, Davila says. There are no financial requirements to qualify for the assistance. Anyone in need can apply here.

Related: 24 Important Things to Know When Applying for Food Assistance Programs

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For Arts Grants: Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation

For those who work in movie studios, movie theaters, or other specific positions in the entertainment industry, the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation is providing emergency grants. The money is available to individuals who have been furloughed, are on reduced pay (50% or more), or have been laid off due to COVID-19. Qualifying individuals can complete an online application here and must be able to confirm financial need.

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For Mental Health Support: Parents Anonymous

The pressure on parents amid the pandemic has been tremendous. Juggling working from home, or the stress of losing a job, while also caring for and homeschooling children can be overwhelming. Parents Anonymous says it can help parents navigate such challenges.

A free resource for parents and youth who are experiencing stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parents Anonymous describes itself as a "family strengthening organization." It offers online weekly support and a national parent helpline. "Unprecedented pressures from trying to balance family life and work with no safe outlets for your kids is trying, disheartening, and scary," says Lisa Pion-Berlin, president and CEO at Parents Anonymous. "This pandemic is like nothing we've experienced in our lifetime, and we need to take care of ourselves first before we can nurture and support children of all ages."

Related: Considering Online Therapy to Cope With the Pandemic? What You Need to Know

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For Foreclosure Prevention Counseling: Consolidated Credit

Consolidated Credit is offering foreclosure prevention counseling via a new free COVID-19 mortgage hotline staffed by certified housing counselors. The agency, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will help homeowners explore options to avoid foreclosure and save their homes. "Callers get free financial COVID-19 counseling, help with credit and debt management, and housing counseling," says April Lewis-Parks, director of education for Consolidated Credit. "They also get pointed to local COVID-19 resources like mortgage deferrals and bank fee waivers." There are various paths available to help homeowners avoid foreclosure including repayment plans, forbearance, mortgage modification, and more, Lewis-Parks says.

Related: Bankruptcy: When Is It an Option?

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For Food Assistance: OpenMeal

Launched in March, OpenMeal was created to provide food assistance to people impacted by the pandemic. At the same time, OpenMeal aims to bring business back to restaurants that are also suddenly struggling. The company, founded by a group of young San Francisco engineers, provides weekly credits to those who sign up for assistance. The credits can be used on the website to order restaurant meals. The site currently operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City and is in the midst of expanding to Chicago. "With record unemployment numbers and mandatory closures of restaurants, we've personally witnessed how this pandemic has had a devastating impact on both individuals and restaurants," says co-founder Jeson Lee. "The restaurants and diners that are part of the OpenMeal community tell us the funding and meals are making a difference in helping to ease the burdens of decreased revenue and income."

Related: Where to Apply for Food Assistance in Every State

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For Rent Relief: National Low Income Housing Coalition

The need for emergency rental assistance in the United States amid the COVID-19 crisis totals as much $100 billion, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. To help with that crisis, the organization has created a state-by-state directory of emergency rental assistance programs. It has also compiled an even more in-depth, city-level database. Cities and states across the country have established rental assistance programs. Many have application deadlines, though, so the sooner you apply, the better.

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