Answering your coronavirus questions: If you applied for unemployment in 2019 and got denied will it deny you in 2020?
HOUSTON – We are always working to answer your top questions and concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the Houston area. Here are a few of your top questions with the answers below.
My husband called into work one day with no coronavirus related symptoms, his job told him he must go get tested and return with a note. Why?
We are seeing more and more of this. Employers can ask an employee to take a test before returning to work. Especially since it seems like some people are experiencing odd symptoms and end up having coronavirus. We heard of one case of a person just having stomach troubles and their employer asked them to get tested. The result was positive.
If you applied for unemployment in 2019 and got denied will it deny you in 2020? I was laid off because of the virus but was denied help.
Unless TWC knows the circumstances of why you got denied, it’s hard to answer. They should have given the exact reason. Each case of unemployment is being evaluated individually (which would also explain why people are having to wait longer for help). In normal times, people can reapply every quarter, which moves the quarters for the base period up and may help their eligibility.
You can read more about unemployment benefits at TWC.Texas.gov.
Was the stimulus check supposed to be used for child support? The whole check was taken away. I thought just some was going to be used but not all?
If someone owes child support, that money will be given to the person owed the money. Depending on how much back child support you owed, all of the money could be taken away. So, you may not get any money at all.
I am inquiring regarding the opening of TDCJ prisons for visitation.
As you might know, there are a number of facilities (30+) in total lockdown after employees and offenders tested positive for the virus. The lockdowns for these places extend 14 days from the date of a positive test. There is a hotline set up so you can call and ask specifics about your visit.
Do you have to wear a face mask while driving through Harris County?
You do not have to wear a mask while driving. However, our experts did suggest to limit cross-contamination, put your mask on in your home, and wait to remove it until you get back home.
Are masks required in the church?
The mask order is in effect, so yes a mask is suggested in a church building since it is a public building. The governor is leaving it up to businesses and churches to regulate the rules. We’ve seen that most churches that served coffee and donuts is not doing it now, just to be on the safe side.
When will the DMV open up so I can register my vehicles?
There is a temporary waiver available that will extend your deadline. This temporary waiver is in effect until 60 days after TxDMV notifies the public that normal vehicle registration, vehicle titling, and related services have resumed. The 60-day period will be the same for all counties.
Customers may continue to renew their registration online at www.TxDMV.gov. At this time, TxDMV continues to fill online registration sticker requests and process all other online services.
If a person did taxes in 2018 and not in 2019 and was claimed as dependent in 2019 will they get the stimulus check?
It depends on the last time you actually filed taxes. So, if your 2018 shows someone claimed you as a dependent, then you would not get your own stimulus check because the person who claimed you would get it. If they have not filed the 2019 check, the government will use the information from the 2018 filed claim. You can check the status of the check here.
Will I have to quarantine for 14 days traveling from Texas then to Oklahoma?
No. You do not have to quarantine after traveling out of the state to a neighboring state.
What will be open again starting tomorrow?
Restaurants and retail stores are allowed to reopen starting Friday, but with a reduced occupancy of 25%. That will likely mean you’ll have to wait in some lines or make some reservations if you’re out and about this weekend. Both libraries and museums can reopen on Friday, but also with a reduced occupancy of 25%. Interactive exhibits must be closed, however.
Abbott said that health officials do not believe it is safe to reopen bars, gyms and hair and salons at this time. He said that could change by mid-May.
How will we know the businesses that are deciding to open on Friday?
When it comes to opening Governor Abbott did say no business is required to open. We are hoping to keep track of as many businesses that are opening up on Friday. In an effort to help Houstonians know if their favorite business is opening, we’re asking businesses to fill out this form. By doing so, their business will be put into a list featuring retail stores and restaurants that will be open starting Friday.
Why can’t nail salons open?
Governor Abbott did address this question when he released the plan for reopening the state. He said on advice from doctors, they decided to keep nail salons and beauty salons closed for now. He mentioned the close proximity and time spent during those visits. Even if everyone is wearing a mask there could still be contamination. This could change during Phase 2 of the reopening on May 18th. If the numbers show the COVID-19 rates are not going up, nail salons, etc could be opened.
How are you to social distance in church?
Governor Abbott explained that in order to social distance in church people would be asked to skip two seats in between each family and sit in alternating rows. Churches would be asked to provide hand sanitizer stations and encourage social distancing measures. For example, churches may have everyone come in a certain way and exit a certain way. Just like restaurants, the state is leaving best practices up to the individual groups as long as they follow the general guidelines.
What about resources for parents who have to return to work?
More daycare centers should be opening up across the city. For now, here is a list of daycares open for essential workers.
Will restaurants have hand sanitizer on each table?
For part of the reopening plan, restaurants are being asked to have hand sanitizing areas available for guests. We don’t know if it will be on the table. You won’t see condiments and silverware on the table or menus on the tables. The protocol will say condiments will be available by request only. It also says to use paper menus to be tossed out between each customer.
Will the Harris County face mask order apply to residents of other nearby counties if they travel into Harris County?
Anyone who is in Harris County is being asked to wear a mask. So, if someone is visiting the area, they should be wearing a mask while in public. The order is for anyone who is physically in Harris County.
Do I need to wear a mask if I am running in a public park?
You do not have to wear a mask if you are exercising alone in public. Just keep a safe distance if you see other people.
Does my adult special needs son need to wear a mask?
Judge Hidalgo addressed this specifically in Wednesday’s press conference about the mask order. She said if there is an adult with special needs and it is hard for them to wear a mask, it is OK if they do not wear one. She said that person should just avoid going out into the public like we are already doing. But, again, if you have to go out and don’t have on a mask it is OK.
Will grocery stores like Kroger, HEB, Walmart, and Target be requiring customers to be wearing a face-covering before they can enter?
As of right now, we are not seeing that grocery stores or other retailers are requiring customers to wear masks. Some of these companies are updating policies to require their employees to wear masks, so you might start noticing that change. We will let you know if any companies update or change their mask policies.
I don’t have access to a mask. Where can I get one?
Judge Hidalgo stressed that people don’t need to go buy a mask and encouraged people to use cloth items they already have at home. This can be something like a scarf, bandana, or another piece of cloth. But, if you can find a location close to you, here is a list of the places handing out masks.
When will the Texas-Louisiana border be open without a 14-day quarantine? I need to get back to see my 89yr old father but need to be able to get back to work in Louisiana.
Louisiana’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said April 17 that the state is “not where we need to be” to reopen, but he expects to be closer by May 1. As far as traveling restrictions into Texas go, Governor Greg Abbott is expected to make an announcement on that this week. DPS is still manning checkpoints for those coming to Texas from Louisiana. People are encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from Louisiana for personal reasons.
Just checking to see if there are any additional details concerning seniors and stimulus checks? My uncle has not received any funds.
You may just have to wait longer to see the money. While the government did start handing out checks earlier this month, they did say it may take longer for some people to see the money in their accounts. The IRS did set up a quick way to check and see when you might get your benefits. Use this calculator to see an estimate.
When will the Galveston beaches reopen?
There may be some confusion about when the beaches reopen. Galveston County reopened beaches within the county jurisdiction, including Bolivar Peninsula and other unincorporated areas, on Monday, April 13. However, beaches within the City of Galveston remain closed until Friday, April 30. The beach closure is based on guidance from local health authorities.
The City of Galveston is developing a plan for a gradual lifting of the Galveston emergency orders, including the restrictions on public beaches. This plan will go before the Galveston City Council on Thursday, April 23, and will be available to the public.
I am being told small business loans are not available. Why is the bank stating this?
One of the main coronavirus relief fund sources for suffering small businesses hit its $350 billion limits Thursday and is no longer accepting any more lenders or applications, the Small Business Administration announced.
The SBA approved 1,661,397 loans from 4,975 lenders before it was exhausted. Due to bottleneck issues between the agency and banks, only a fraction of those has actually been credited to customers’ bank accounts.
Will people who owe back child support get a stimulus check now that they are paying again but still owe back support?
If someone is behind on child support they will not get a stimulus check. The stimulus payment will go to the appropriate collecting office for the taxpayer’s state. From there, that collecting office will issue the money to the custodial parent - or the person due to the child support.
Are passports still being processed and made?
You can still apply in person for a U.S. passport at some acceptance facilities and renew through the mail. However, you should expect significant delays receiving your passport and your citizenship evidence documents. This is from a State Department statement released last week.
The best idea is to contact the National Passport Information Center to find out what services each individual facility is offering. To make an appointment at a passport agency, you have to call the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778.
Will you have to claim the government stimulus check on your taxes next year as income?
Short answer: No. The one-time cash payments are meant to relieve some of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The payment may look and feel like a tax refund, but it’s different. And it’s definitely not a loan.
The payments are no-strings-attached government aid that you won’t need to repay. We also checked and there’s no clawback provision in the CARES Act that enables the IRS to demand repayment of recovery rebates.
What happens when your stimulus check is sent to a closed bank account?
If your check was sent to a closed bank account, the IRS will know and make other arrangements. They plan on sending a check in the mail for people who don’t have direct deposit information on file.
If the IRS doesn’t have your direct-deposit information but you qualify for a payment, you’ll be getting a check in the mail over the next few months.
Where can I donate gently used household items and clothing now that many charities are closed?
A lot of people are using this time to clean out their homes. It’s true, places like Goodwill are asking that you NOT bring donations at this time. Since many of these places are not considered “essential businesses” they are not open. So, even if there was a way to get your donations (by a pickup, for example) they wouldn’t have the crew to sort and organize all of the donations. We checked with several of the top resale shops in the Houston area and all are asking that you just hold on to your items for now.
My mom lives in Liberty County. If she needs to be hospitalized due to coronavirus does she have to go to a hospital in her county?
Your best bet is to call your primary care physician and ask what they think is the best hospital for you to take her. If it is an emergency, any hospital will take a patient in. We do know that rural hospitals have been preparing to take in COVID-19 patients.
I heard checks are going out for the coronavirus stimulus, but I haven’t seen the money yet in my account. When will I get the payment?
Direct deposits began this weekend. The Treasury said that tens of millions will receive direct deposit payments by Wednesday. Everyone who gets a payment will receive written notice within 15 days after the payment that specifies how much you received and how it was delivered. The IRS also said the “Get My Payment” app will allow taxpayers to track the status of their payment.
I purchased Astros tickets for March 27. Since the game was canceled what should I do to get a refund or tickets for the rescheduled game?
As of right now, the MLB is treating postponed games as a rainout, so the intent of the games will be rescheduled.
If you bought your ticket through the Astros website you can move the price you paid to an account credit and decide which game you’d like to attend (after the game is listed). The games won’t be listed until the restrictions are lifted. We don’t know when that will be. The ticket information is not right on the website, but you can use the “live chat” function under the “tickets” section and get help pretty quickly that way.
If my job told us to take off for two weeks due to COVID 19 because someone tested positive is the company supposed to pay you?
You may be eligible for unemployment for that time you are off. There are normally strict work requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits, including meeting minimum earnings tests and working as an employee for a company that pays unemployment insurance premiums. But under the CARES Act, you may be able to get help.
The CARES Act makes unemployment benefits available to many more workers. You can now qualify if you were self-employed, if you worked as an independent contractor or gig worker, if you just started a job, if you were scheduled to start work but can’t, and if you must stop working to care for a dependent.
I lost my contract job in January. Am I eligible for unemployment just like those who no longer have jobs as a result of the coronavirus?
You might be! Many more people are now eligible for unemployment under the stimulus package. You do not have to be actively looking for work to qualify anymore. These expanded benefits apply only to workers whose jobs or whose ability to work has been affected by COVID-19. The Texas Workforce Commission has been flooded with calls and there is a wait time, but they are working to hire more people to help with the calls. They are now also open 7 days a week.
If I was claimed as a dependent on my parent’s return but I am over 17 and I file my own taxes would I still receive a stimulus check?
No, you won’t. Students age 17 or older don’t qualify for a stimulus check if their parents or guardians claim them as a dependent. Their parents won’t get the $500 per child payment either. That applies only to children ages 16 and younger. Yes, this means many students who work but are claimed as a dependent on taxes will not get a check and their parents won’t get the added benefit either.
Where do I return the checked out books from the library before they closed due the virus? Is there a penalty or waiver fee?
Here’s what the Harris County Public Library System says: Until further notice, no new late fees and fines will be assessed during the closure period, retroactive to March 14, 2020.
Where do you send the pictures of nurses?
You may have seen the KPRC photos on TV and on our website. During this coronavirus pandemic we have been showcasing healthcare workers in our community. We wouldn’t be here without you! Here is the link where you can send a photo of yourself or friends!
Are all tollways in and around the Houston area still charging during this crisis? Are tolls free at any time?
By order of Commissioners Court, tolls are being waived on Harris County toll roads in order to assist those who must continue to travel, through the duration of the Harris County Judge’s declaration of a local disaster. Unpaid tolls incurred between March 11, 2020 at 9:00 p.m. and March 24, 2020 at 11:45 a.m. are still due. Only the toll amount is owed, no service or violation fees (penalties) will be added. Pay online at Missed A Toll.
How can I file for unemployment? I don’t remember my log-in information from when I filed years ago?
A lot of people are frustrated but they are working hard to help you. Yes, you have to wait to talk to someone at the Texas Workforce Commission if you need log-in help. To deal with the increased volume in the effort to assist Texans filing claims, the TWC has brought in 450,000 employees from other departments, hired 100 new employees, and enlisted the services of two third-party call center vendors.
Would popping a face mask into the microwave for a few minutes be an effective way to sterilize it?
It is not recommended for you to microwave face masks to sterilize it. Many common decontamination methods such as high-temperature steam sterilization, alcohol washing, and bleach washing have been shown to degrade these types of respirator masks.
If you changed banks since filing 2019 taxes, how do you update that information to receive the stimulus package they are sending out?
The treasury is expected to get started on stimulus payments today. You can go to the IRS website and change your bank information there. If they can’t send the check with the routing number provided from last year, they will just send a paper check. This could mean that you will have to wait longer.
How will the courts handle child support for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic?
You’re always welcome to change the way you make your child support payments, but the court-ordered amount can change only through a court order. Even if you are having trouble making your full payment, it is important to pay as much as you can toward your obligation every month. The State Attorney General’s office says it is working to implement virtual negotiations and hearings.
Q: I got an eviction notice. Help!
If you can’t pay your rent because of job loss or income interruption resulting from the economic impact of COVID-19, it is imperative that you immediately communicate with your landlord. For most residents, rent is due on or before the first day of the month. A number of landlords are working with their residents to accommodate residents’ needs at this difficult time. Some landlords have waived fees, applied security deposits to the rent or temporarily abated rent. In order to qualify for any landlord workout program, be prepared to verify your job loss or income interruption. Additionally, be sure to have your arrangement in writing and signed by you and the landlord. Here are more resources available if you are interested.
Q: I’ve heard the media say they are working to fix the long waits at the Texas Workforce Commission, but I’m not seeing that. We can never get through to them!
To deal with the increased volume in the effort to assist Texans filing claims, the TWC has brought in 450,000 employees from other departments, hired 100 new employees, and enlisted the services of two third-party call center vendors. Starting Friday, April 10, the call centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Q: What about the driver’s license renewal? Mine is expired.
The Texas Department of Public Safety extended the time to renew the driver’s license. DPS considers these conditions to be met: The expiration date on the driver’s license or ID card is on or after March 13, 2020. The current date is within 60 days of the end of the State of Disaster. The extension only applies to the expiration date on licenses and not for people who are ineligible to drive due to suspension, revocation, or denial.
Q: Want some definitive guidance as to whether my 7-year-old should be spending time with other children?
At this time, state and county leaders are encouraging zero play dates. Theoretically, it might be possible for your child to play 6 feet apart from another child, but it would be hard. Keeping younger kids from touching their friends is nearly impossible. Sticking close to home and practicing social distancing is your best bet for now.
Q: Can couples get a marriage license in Harris County now during the stay at home order?
The Harris County Clerk main office and annex locations are closed to the public. Both people must be present when you get a marriage license. We called the Harris County Clerk’s office to double-check and they verified that you are unable to get a marriage license at this time. Right now they are set to stay closed until April 30 but that could change. Check the clerk’s website to see when they might open back up.
Q: I notice new places are opening. Where can I get tested for coronavirus in Houston?
Drive-thru testing for COVID-19 is available throughout Houston and across the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Many sites offer free testing, while others require payment or health insurance. To be tested, most facilities require patients to show coronavirus-related symptoms.
Officials began the process by testing high-risk people such as first responders, healthcare workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions. MD Medical this week opened two drive-thru locations.
Q: When will I get my stimulus money?
Stimulus checks are set to hit bank accounts by the end of this week or early next week. If you are one of 10 million people who will get their check by snail mail, you want to know when it’s coming. You can now better track when your check might be coming. The U.S. Postal Service offers a free service that can help. When you sign up for Informed Delivery, you will be emailed grayscale photos of each letter-sized piece of mail that will be delivered to your mailbox each day. If you get a picture of an IRS envelope, you know it is likely your stimulus check.
Q. Even after limiting quantities, hiring stockers and shortening business hours there are still shortages for toilet paper … why?
Part of the problem is consumers are going to the bathroom in different locations than before the pandemic. (For example, not at work or at school.) So right now there is a greater need for “home” toilet paper. “Work” toilet paper is made differently (larger types of rolls). Sales for regular toilet paper were up 40% in March and now companies are just adjusting to the demand.
The process to make toilet paper is highly automated, so it’s taking time for large companies to adjust. The biggest toilet paper makers in the US including Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark say they are working around the clock to produce record amounts of toilet paper.
Q: My son was fired from his job late February and was denied unemployment, can he reapply for pandemic unemployment?
Your son may be eligible now for unemployment. The rules for who can get unemployment has changed.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has been overloaded with calls, with many reporting hours-long wait times. They are asking Texans to use their area code to file unemployment claims online during specific times to ease the load and speed up the process to file for unemployment.
Q: Is 5G cell phone technology really linked to the cause of coronavirus?
This rumor might sound out of the left-field, but the question even has the federal government responding. A worldwide online conspiracy theory has attempted to link 5G cell phone technology as being one of the causes of the coronavirus. Many cell towers have been set on fire as a result. 5G technology does NOT cause coronavirus. FEMA reminds people to do your part to stop the spread of “fake news” and this includes not passing along the information.
Q: What if I made over the $99K threshold in 2018 but was under the threshold in 2019. Will I still be eligible for a stimulus check?
If you have already filed your taxes for 2019, then yes you will be eligible. The government is using the latest filed tax return to determine if you are eligible for the stimulus check.
Q: Is it true that Texas stopped water and electricity shut-offs during this time?
Yes, this is true. The state Public Utility Commission has ordered a temporary moratorium on the disconnection of electric, water and wastewater service for customers who fail to pay their bills. On March 26th, the Public Utility Commission of Texas responded to the governor’s declaration of emergency with a plan to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Texas utility customers who are experiencing genuine economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.
Q: Will the IRS keep the coronavirus money if you owe them money?
Even if you owe back taxes, you will get a check if you qualify. These payments are treated differently than your tax refund. Before, it was possible to have your refund seized if you owe back taxes. For this coronavirus stimulus, those rules don’t apply. The only people who could get their check reduced because of debt owed are parents with outstanding child support.
Q: How can I change my direct deposit for the stimulus check?
You will be able to adjust the direct deposit info soon. The Treasury Department is developing a web-based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online so that individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.
For people who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will use this information to calculate the payment amount. For those who have not yet filed their return for 2019, the IRS will use information from their 2018 tax filing to calculate the payment. People who do not set up direct deposits with the federal government will be mailed a paper check.
Q: I got my 2020 property tax appraisal in the mail. Considering everything that is going on, is there any way the Harris County Appraisal District can cut us a break?
A lot of homeowners have written and called into KPRC asking this same question. Short answer: no. HCAD’s Jack Barnett said the tax code requires that properties in Harris County be appraised on Jan. 1 of every year. The appraisal notices were mailed out at the beginning of March, before anyone realized the coronavirus pandemic would close schools and businesses, forcing furloughs and layoffs. For now, there is no way to stop or delay these notices from being sent out.
Q: With the stay home order can my husband and I (I’m disabled) go for a drive, maybe the ferry or seawall? We won’t stop anywhere.
Police are not stopping people to check and see where they are going. However, what are the chances you will need gas, a bathroom break or a snack stop? What if you get a flat tire and need assistance? You would be exposing yourself and others. Your best bet is to stay home. This will not last forever, you can do it!
Q: What about Independent contractors or those who are self-employed? Is it true they can receive $10,000 in aid?
Yes and no. That number is not exactly accurate. However, independent contractors are now eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Many people who would not have been eligible for benefits in the past are now able to get help. The amount varies depending on your job and previous income.
Q: I saw in a social media post that the national guard is being deployed to force people to stay indoors is this true?
In March, Governor Greg Abbot did activate the Texas National Guard in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Guard members are standing by, but so far have not been needed. Abbott said if deployed, they could do things like help with traffic at drive-through testing or help hospitals organize patients, etc.
Q: Why does Texas believe it is safe and appropriate to have “church services” as an essential business while the rest of the USA doesn’t?
Most churches have moved to online services and meetings. We have heard of some churches in Texas that are still getting together in person. To date, Texas lawmakers have not explicitly addressed that question.
Q: My husband applied for unemployment back in January and he had to appeal it. He has been waiting to hear from unemployment.
You may be in better luck early next week when it comes to getting ahold of someone at the Texas Workforce Commission offices. They are working each day to add hundreds of new workers. These people, mainly call center workers who will help get through the backlog of people, are waiting for help. Hundreds of workers are set to start in the next few days, so you should see a difference when you log on and wait to get in touch with someone.
Q: Why are so many people, including HPD officers, wearing masks when WHO says not to unless you are sick?
We have also noticed more people are wearing masks around town. It could just be that they are adding an extra layer of protection just in case. There has been no order to wear masks. The World Health Organization says if you are healthy you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person who might be sick. You should also wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Q: If I am not able to work due to my job being closed, can I apply for unemployment just while my work reopens?
Texas Workforce Commission is overwhelmed with employment claims since the coronavirus crisis has caused some businesses to shut down operations and lay off staff.
In the last six weeks, more than 725,000 people have applied for unemployment in Texas. That represents more than the total number of people who requested funds in 2019.
Q: The weather in Houston has been very nice lately, but mosquitoes are also on the rise. Can mosquitoes carry the coronavirus?
The World Health Organization addresses the claim on their mythbusters page saying: “To date, there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes.”The novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.
Q: Do you have new information about who is getting sick from the coronavirus?
You’ve heard it over and over that people with underlying conditions get hit harder with coronavirus. These are the people who often end up very ill, even hospitalized. In its first report looking at underlying health conditions that could make COVID-19 worse, the CDC analyzed data from confirmed cases in every state for the last month. What they found is people with chronic lung disease, heart disease and diabetes were at an increased risk of severe complications from COVID-19.
Q: I saw on social media to avoid grocery shopping on April 1 - 3 unless you are a WIC/SNAP recipient. Is this true?
This is not an order, but it would be nice. It is true that WIC/SNAP benefits are reloaded for low-income families at the first of the month. We know there is a surge as families go to the store to redeem them. (And because families were home for much of March they may have gone through their monthly grocery budget.)
We know that grocery stores in the Houston area and beyond are working overtime to keep the shelves stocked. It’s also a good idea to check the tags of the items you are buying. There is a WIC shelf tag for qualifying items. So with grocery stores selling more these days, supplies could run out of the WIC tagged items.
If you have the option, choosing something else would leave the stock for someone who only has that choice.
Q: Are chiropractic clinics allow to be open to public during this COVID-19?
Doctors of chiropractic are part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce, according to a memo released on March 28 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The memo aims to give state, local, tribal and territorial governments guidance as they consider what actions to take in their communities to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) while still maintaining critical industries and the workers who support them.
The news comes on the heels of a letter the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) wrote to Homeland Security earlier in March, urging the agency to include chiropractors in the list of essential healthcare providers.
Q: Shouldn’t something be said about not taking the entire family into the store (grandma, 5 kids, grandpa).
It’s a good idea to designate one person for trips to the grocery store.
HEB President Scott McClelland said, “If you come to the store, don’t come with your entire family. I was at a store yesterday and because people are all bored… they’re like ‘Hey- let’s all go to the grocery store!’ And so a family of six showed up. Send one person and that way we’ll lessen the ability for the virus to spread.”
Q: Are car washes open during this time?
Car washes are open during this time as long as workers are following social distancing guidelines.
Of course, self car washes are open. Bring your own disinfectant wipes so you can clean off all of the items you might be touching.
Q: I’m pretty sure I was let go from work after disagreeing about the procedures we had in place for staying safe while dealing with coronavirus. What can I do?
County Judge Lina Hidalgo set up a hotline for people who may have questions or to report a business for breaking any of the order. You can call 832-839-6941 for more information.
In the meantime, Legislators passed two new acts that will allow employees to get paid leave due to coronavirus related issues and concerns. Both acts take effect on April 2. Under these new acts, your employer can not retaliate by firing you or demoting you for taking advantage of the leave. Employers with fewer than 500 employees will receive a tax credit for paying employees who do take paid leave. Check here for answers to more top employment questions.
Q: We as parents are running low on food. What is being planned to give families food that need it now?
The Houston Food Bank is working to provide food to dozens of stops around the Houston area. You can search your address and find the location closest to you, or you can call the helpline at 832-369-9390.
Q: Why is the Wood Forest Golf Course still open to members? Serving food and beverages?
We have answered this one before but because we keep getting questions we think it’s important to address it here again. Golf courses in Harris County are allowed to stay open, but driving ranges must close, according to the county’s website. The use of the shared gear is not allowed. Players must take their own equipment and follow the social distancing recommendation.
Q: I am having problems trying to apply for unemployment. The number I have been told to call is not taking calls. How do I talk to someone?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, on a typical day, the Texas Workforce Commission took about 13,000 phone calls a day. That number is up to 100,000 calls a day, TWC reports. We have had many reports from people saying they just could not get through to talk with anyone. TWC is working to shift workers to call centers and working to increase its capacity to handle more phone calls. For now, keep trying.
Q: I need to know what help will I get from my mortgage company? I have faithfully paid my mortgage bill. Will payments be deferred?
If you’re worried about missing a mortgage payment, contact your lender immediately. Numerous banks have said they are willing to work with distressed borrowers, including potentially suspending or reducing mortgage payments for a stretch. For renters who can’t make payments, we do know there is a halt on evictions. According to the Texas Apartment Association (TAA), the state supreme court has halted most evictions, including for non-payment of rent, until April 19.
Q: I am an essential worker. Do I need a special ID or letter to be out?
At this time, the order does not require proof that you are allowed to be outside your home. According to the Harris Ready website, the order presumes citizens will adhere to their civic duty and follow the order. If your employer is an essential business and you have an identification badge for your job, you can show the badge to law enforcement should you be stopped.
Q: My employer is making me work in an office with employees who are not practicing social distancing or wearing PPE’s. What can I do?
If you feel like your workplace is now following the guidelines, you can ask for help. To report non-essential entities violating current public health orders click this link or call 832-839-6941.
Q: Can you apply for food stamps if you are no longer working now?
If you are now out of a job, you may now be eligible for SNAP food benefits in Texas. Good news, most people who apply for benefits don’t need to come into the office for an interview. If you need help with your benefits, you should first visit YourTexasBenefits.com or call 2-1-1. SNAP food benefits are put on to the Lone Star Card and can be used just like a credit card at any store that accepts SNAP.
Q: Can I drive to the Brenham/Chapel Hill area to see the wild flowers as long as I follow social distancing?
It is tradition for many families to take yearly bluebonnet and wildflower pictures. We get it. So, should you drive out of the area in search of the perfect picture place? The Stay Home-Work Smart order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo relates to travel and commerce within Harris County. There is no language that prohibits travel outside of the county, so in most cases that kind of travel is technically legal. But will you need to stop along the way? Visiting other areas will only expose you and your family. Of course, there are certain cities, states and countries where you are not allowed to travel.
Q: Is there a Curfew?
The Houston and Harris County orders explain that residents should not leave their homes unless they are shopping for groceries, medicine or any other “essential” task. Only Montgomery and Chambers counties have issued curfews for residents, but other local leaders are urging people to stay in their homes as much as possible.
Q: It’s time to re-register my car. How am I going to get my car inspected during a shelter in place?
You don’t have to worry about it right now. Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement granting a temporary extension to obtain a renewal of vehicle registration. Since vehicle inspections need to be finished before you can renew your vehicle registration, these deadlines have also been extended.
Q: What is the obligation of employers to inform you when you have been in direct contact with someone that has confirmed COVID-19?
Yes, an employer has an obligation to let you know if someone tested positive for COVID-19 at your workplace. However, because of certain health laws, they probably won’t let you know who the person was. The person who tested positive may say it’s okay to let their coworkers know, so they can better access their risk.
Q: Is there a possibility that the lockdown (Stay Home Work Safe Order) will go longer than the expected date of April 3, as case numbers grow?
The order is effective until 11:59 p.m. on April 3, 2020. For now, the order is set to expire at that time. But, city and county leaders are always monitoring the situation and have said they will adjust orders as necessary. Of course, we would let you know if that happens.
Q: Can we still have our yards mowed by our lawn maintenance? I didn’t want to call and schedule if not allowed.
We are getting a lot of questions from people wondering if they can still hire lawn crews. Yes, you can. Landscaping companies are considered essential businesses and are permitted to work under these orders.
Q: I am still not sure if I work for an essential business. How can I tell?
It’s understandable that you might have a question about what is considered an “essential” business. The list of what businesses are considered essential is long. Anyone who still has a question about whether they work for an essential business can call a hotline set up by Harris County at email@example.com.
Q: Will my trash still get picked up?
Yes, your trash service should continue going without disruption. Trash and recycling collection are considered essential services under the order. Essential government functions for all local cities in Harris County are also protected, including public works, law enforcement and jail operations.
Q: Can I get arrested if I break any of the stay-at-home order rules?
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo made it clear during her March 24th press conference that we are not a police state. She said they are relying on people to do their part and trusts that they will, but added that if someone willingly violates the order in a way that puts other people at risk, they will work with law enforcement.
The order states that law enforcement agencies in Harris County have the authority to enforce the order. Violators could face a fine of no more than $1,000 and jail time of up to 180 days.
Q: I’m still confused. What activities can I leave my house to do?
We are getting a lot of questions from people asking what exactly is OK to leave the house to do? The order states people can leave their homes for activities deemed essential. In part, these include obtaining medical supplies or medication; visiting health care professionals; obtaining supplies needed to work from home; obtaining or delivering necessary supplies, such as food, pet supplies or sanitary supplies; caring for a family member or pet in another household; and performing work duties as a part of an essential business.
As we answered yesterday, you are allowed to go to public parks and outdoor recreational areas, but playgrounds have been closed. You are also asked to avoid touching picnic tables or benches.
Q: I grocery shop for my mother who does not drive. Am I able to continue to do that and deliver them to her?
Yes, since you are allowed to go to the grocery store for essentials you can still shop for family or friends. You can also visit her home for deliveries. However, consider leaving the packages at the door. It’s been advised to clean off anything you bring into your home and that includes groceries and to-go food containers.
Q: Can I visit the post office to mail something?
The post office will remain open during the stay home, work safe order. You are allowed to visit the post office to mail something.
Q: Do those that get disability SS benefits get any help from the package they passed?
If you’re not required to file a tax return due to being on Social Security, the government will use the information on your Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or Form RRB-1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.
Q: Can I still hire movers and move during my stay at home order?
Yes, you can still plan on moving during this time. Moving companies fall under the Transportation Systems category of essential businesses that can remain open. The transportation sector includes trucking and moving of necessary goods as well as public transportation. Of course, if you are planning a move, everyone should practice social distancing and self-isolate after arriving in their new home.
Q: Can I go for a walk around my block?
We’ve had a lot of questions from people asking if they can go for a walk in their neighborhood or walk on the trails near their home. Yes, you can as long as you are maintaining proper social distancing from other people you may come across. Per the order, parks remain open but the use of benches, playgrounds and workout equipment is prohibited.
Q: I don’t feel safe going to work, but my employer says I have to show up. What do I do?
Legislators just passed two new acts that will allow employees to get paid leave due to coronavirus issues and concerns. Your employer can not retaliate by firing you or demoting you for taking advantage of the leave. Under the new legislation, there is a list of reasons you can take leave.
Q: Since I am at home more now, I am working on my yard. Are places like Home Depot or Lowes open?
Since a lot of people are at home, many are working on their yards and getting housework done. The good news is home improvement stores are allowed to stay open during this time. These stores are considered infrastructure and development. For example, construction and manufacturing companies are still open and they might need supplies to keep up and running.
Have more questions? Here are the answers to the top questions we are getting about coronavirus.
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