Coronavirus brings moratoriums on evictions, utility and water shutoffs, bank fees, and data caps

By Kristin Toussaint

With major cities in states of emergency and thousands of Americans working from home during the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. economy is taking a hit. Small businesses are struggling, those in the service industry are losing potential income as people practice social distancing, and some workers are just forced to go without a paycheck, whether because they can’t work remotely and have to take sick leave or because their employers are losing money themselves and have had to halt or scale back their business.

In these times, everyone needs support. How will Americans pay their rent while quarantined, if most live paycheck to paycheck? What if small business owners can’t pay their bills on time, because of the sudden drop in shoppers? Though we’re not (yet?) at the point where the government will give a lump sum of cash to every citizen, individual municipalities and corporations across the country are offering some relief measures. Here are a few examples of how governments and businesses are easing the economic burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

Moratoriums on evictions: San Jose was among the first cities to work on a plan to temporarily ban evictions resulting from the spread of COVID-19, and others are considering the same, including San Francisco and Philadelphia. Police officers in Miami, Florida, announced that they will not assist with eviction proceedings during the local state of emergency. New York City initially offered a one-week pause; state officials then suspended all evictions statewide until further notice.

Data caps waived: AT&T suspended broadband data caps and overage fees for home internet customers, and the FCC has since pledged to reign in potential abuses from internet service providers in general. For the next 60 days, starting March 13, the FCC has asked these companies not to terminate service for residential and small business customers and waive late fees incurred due to the economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic, and to open Wi-Fi hotspots to “any American who needs them.”

Suspensions of phone and cable shutoffs: Also covered under the FCC directive, called the Keep America Connected Plan, phone and cable companies have suspended shutoffs to ensure customers have connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. Companies that have made the pledge include Verizon, Comcast, Century Link, Charter (which operates Spectrum), Altice (branded as Optimum), Cable One (branded as Sparklight), T-Mobile, Cincinnati Bell, and more.

Suspensions of utility shutoffs: The municipalities of Detroit, Phoenix, Salinas, St. Louis, New Orleans, and more have suspended water shutoffs as they try to slow the spread of COVID-19. Utility company PG&E, which provides gas and electricity across Northern California, announced it would not shut off services because of nonpayment due to the coronavirus. Statewide, New Jersey will keep the power on for all customers, and citywide, Seattle won’t shut off water or electricity for any residents.

Co-pays waived for coronavirus-related testing: The White House announced that major health insurers have agreed to waive co-pays for COVID-19 testing (but not treatment, if you need it). Before that announcement, individual states had issued their own orders to health insurers, including New York, Washington, and California.

Bank fees and penalties waived: Beginning March 9 and for “an initial 30 days” Citibank said it would waive monthly service fees and penalties for early CD withdrawal for regular and small business customers. Other banks have said they’ll work with customers who need financial assistance on an individual basis.

Free internet for students, low-income families: As schools close across the country, Charter Communications announced that it will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who don’t already have a Spectrum subscription. Comcast also announced that low-income families who live in a Comcast service area can get 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally $9.95 a month.

Police halt some arrests: Police in places from San Francisco to Racine County, Wisconsin are halting arrests for minor, non-violent felonies, an important step to reduce the thread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons.

Federal student loan interest waived until further notice.

Supervision to children of health care workers, first responders, and transit workers in New York City.


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