Learn about available options for aid, including unemployment benefits, health insurance, meal-assistance programs, and more
You are not alone. Unemployment claims in Oregon alone jumped from 800 to 92,000+ after closures from the coronavirus outbreak. This is an incredibly stressful time, and figuring out how to navigate next steps can be overwhelming. If you’re wondering “where do I begin?” please use this page to learn about resources that could be helpful. Another great resource is the SEUI’s resource navigator.
1. Unemployment Benefits. If you’re laid off, even temporarily, the first thing you should do is apply for unemployment benefits. (With long wait times, it’s faster to apply online rather than by phone if possible.) In order to apply, you will need access to your personal financial information such as your social security number, reason for leaving your job, and bank account information. Note that if you lost your job because your employer closed, but they expect to re-open in the future, you do not actively have to look for another job to receive benefits.
The federal CARE Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) increases the amount of money that unemployed Americans can receive, lengthens the amount of time they can receive it, and adds coverage for freelance and “gig” workers. Access both federal (CARE) and state unemployment benefits by applying through the State of Oregon Employment Department.
2. SNAP Food Benefits. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offers food benefits to eligible low-income individuals and families; you may be eligible now if your income recently changed. The benefits are distributed through the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system, which allows people to access their benefits by using an Oregon Trail Card at the grocery store. Since SNAP benefits are a supplement not meant to meet all of the food needs of a household or an individual, you can also tap other resources. A great one is the Oregon Food Bank.
3. WIC Benefits. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides money for supplemental foods for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five. To find out if you are eligible, you can fill out this prescreening tool from the Oregon Health Authority.
4. Health Insurance Coverage. There are a variety of ways that you can continue having access to healthcare after unemployment or reduced hours:
- Oregon Health Plan (OHP). The Oregon Health Plan (OHP) is free health care for people who meet income and other requirements. If your income recently changed, you may be newly eligible. OHP covers physical, dental, and mental health care.
- COBRA. Workers who lose employer based coverage are eligible for COBRA. COBRA is a federal law that requires businesses of 20 or more employees to continue any health benefit coverage for individuals and their families who would otherwise lose their benefits due to termination of employment, reduction in hours, or certain other events. With COBRA, the employee’s family can continue on the same employer-based health insurance for up to 18 months, but the employee must pay the entire cost of the premium. A business must contact the employee with information about COBRA coverage, and then the employee has 60 days to decide on purchasing the COBRA coverage. COBRA is only available if an employer is still offering coverage to its existing employees and would not be available if the employer canceled coverage for all employees entirely.
- Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. The loss of employer-sponsored health coverage (e.g., from a job loss) triggers a special enrollment period that allows someone to get a private health plan and a subsidy through the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace and HealthCare.gov. The person has up to 60 days after the date the coverage is lost to get a health plan at HealthCare.gov. People who sign up prior to losing their employer-based coverage can secure marketplace coverage that begins the next month and avoid a gap in coverage.
- Medicare. Medicare is for people who are 65 and older, have a disability, and meet residency requirements. Workers over 65 who lose coverage can enroll in Medicare right now. There’s no penalty. What you pay depends on your contribution level, the level of coverage selected, and when you enrolled. To learn more and enroll you can visit medicare.gov. For help applying go to Oregon Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance (SHIBA) program, visit Shiba.Oregon.gov or call 1-800-722-413.
- Coverage Through Spouses Employer Based Insurance. People who lose their employer-based coverage may be able to obtain coverage through their spouse’s or domestic partner’s employer-based coverage. Employee paid premiums and other cost-sharing will vary, depending on the rules of the partner’s employer. The worker’s spouse or partner should check with their employer to see if this is an option.
5. Housing/Utilities Assistance. If you are having a hard time paying for rent, there are various options for receiving housing assistance. The Oregon Housing and Community Services webpage offers links and information for a wide-variety of housing needs. Additionally, Governor Kate Brown recently issued Executive Order 20-11, placing a 90-day temporary moratorium on residential evictions for nonpayment in light of the public health emergency caused by the spread of coronavirus in Oregon. Executive Order 20-13 also prohibits landlords from charging fees for nonpayment.
The Consumer Financial Protections Bureau also has information about options if you can’t pay your mortgage.
Most utility (electricity, gas, water, internet) companies in Oregon have also stopped charging late fees or disconnecting service for nonpayment. Find out more here. In addition, if you need help paying your electric bill, the Oregon Energy Fund is offering assistance; apply here.
6. New Job Resources. It’s not an easy time to look for a new job. However, grocery stores, delivery services, government and social services and homeless shelters are hiring to meet their increased demands. It’s a good time to update your LinkedIn profile and become active on the platform, such as reaching out to connections, joining in on discussions, and sharing content. #GetHired, a weekly newsletter on LinkedIn, recently published and article offering advice on how to go about your job search in light of the coronavirus.
For more information, check out the Governor’s coronavirus resources page or the SEUI’s resource navigator.