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Coronavirus in St. Louis: Answering Your Questions About Relief Money And Work

St. Louis Public Radio is answering your questions about how COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, affects you financially.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio is answering your questions about how COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, affects you financially.

Updated April 22

We’re answering your questions about the coronavirus in the St. Louis region. This Q&A addresses unemployment, government financial assistance and other financial issues critical for workers and employers. 

Check out other coronavirus guides:

We will update this Q&A as things change. Check our live blog and Twitter account for the latest updates. 

Is the government going to send me a check?

Most people will receive a check from the federal coronavirus legislation in the coming weeks. But it’s possible people may not receive the money right away depending on how they filed their taxes.

Any individual who makes up to $75,000 will get a $1,200 payment from the federal government. Married couples who make up to $150,000 will get $2,400. If you claim a child as a dependent and you are within the income threshold, you will get an additional $500 per child. So, for instance: A married couple, with two children, who make $100,000 will get $3,400 from the coronavirus bill.

Read more in the full story: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus Stimulus Checks

Where can I find more information about stimulus payments from the federal government?

The IRS has created a frequently asked questions page that should give you a clear picture of whether you are eligible for stimulus checks.

The IRS has also created a landing page to enter your tax information if you didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019. This page will also be the place to go if you have filed taxes in the last two years but want to include your direct deposit information. That particular service is expected to be operational in the middle of the month.

I own a business in St. Louis County and have employees that are at high risk for the COVID-19 virus. If I voluntarily shut business down, would my employees be able to be compensated with unemployment benefits?

Potentially. Assuming you’ve been filing required unemployment insurance contributions, your employees could be eligible for unemployment benefits. In Missouri, your employees’ past earnings must meet a few financial criteria. In Illinois, the requirements are similar

Depending on the business and the circumstances, either the employer or the employees might have to file the paperwork. 

Can I get fired if I stay home from work?

It depends. Both Missouri and Illinois are “employment-at-will” states, which means that employees can be fired for any legal reason. 

However, if your employer has fewer than 500 employees, you have some protections under the federal coronavirus relief bill. It is illegal for an employer to fire you for staying home from work for one of the following reasons:

  • You’re under federal, state, or local quarantine.
  • A doctor told you to self-quarantine.
  • You have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking diagnosis.
  • You are taking care of someone who is quarantined.
  • You are caring for a child whose school has been closed.

For more, see NPR’s breakdown of what’s in the 'Families First' coronavirus relief aid.

Is there government monetary compensation offered if I self-quarantine?

It depends on the circumstances. 

If you already have sick leave, vacation time or other similar paid leave benefits to use up, you won’t be getting money from the government for self-quarantining. 

If you’re ill, quarantined, or seeking diagnosis for COVID-19, you might receive sick leave under the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act that became law on March 18. We expect to learn more about how the policy will be implemented in the weeks ahead. 

Depending on your circumstances, you might become eligible for unemployment benefits. For instance, if your employer required you to stay home without allowing you to work remotely, you might be eligible for unemployment. However, if your employer allows you to work remotely and you choose not to, you would not be eligible for benefits. To be eligible for unemployment benefits, your employer has to lay you off. You also can’t qualify for unemployment if you’re unable to work. 

My workplace has closed temporarily. How do I file for unemployment?

You can file online. In Missouri, you’ll need to provide your information to the Department of Labor through UInteract. In Illinois, send your information to the state Department of Employment Security on its website

Unemployment offices are experiencing high call volumes right now, so they recommend submitting claims online rather than over the phone. 

Will unemployment benefits be expanded to seasonal workers who work at sporting events and stadiums?

If you are working at a seasonal job and are laid off, you could be eligible for unemployment benefits if your wages and employment duration reach minimum thresholds. (See details for Missouri and Illinois.) 

However, if a seasonal job simply does not hire employees this year because of the pandemic, you wouldn’t automatically be eligible for unemployment because you weren’t a current employee. But you may still qualify for unemployment based on how and when you left your previous job. 

What if I can’t pay my utility bill?

Ameren has stopped all disconnections over unpaid bills and isn’t charging late fees to customers right now. The company has a financial assistance program but has temporarily stopped taking applications because the volume. 

Spire has also suspended late fees and disconnections until at least May 1.

Should I be scared? Should I stock up on food?

This is a really important question. Response to coronavirus has upended regular life for people across the country and around the world. If you are feeling scared, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in experiencing stress or anxiety related to the virus or to prevention efforts. 

The CDC recommends that you call your health care provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

There is not a shortage of food or disruption of supply chains that would indicate people need to stock up. You may find that your local grocery store temporarily runs out of certain in-demand items — such as toilet paper, hand soap or certain foods — more often than usual. Other than that, your grocery store probably looks similar to how it normally does.

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