A sign along Seventh Street in St. Paul offers encouraging words to Minnesota residents. Credit: Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

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More than 380,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits in Minnesota since mid-March, an unmistakable indicator of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the economy.

Since then, local and federal governments have quickly set up new programs and expanded existing programs to aid people who’ve been hit economically by the crisis. Below is a quick guide to the grants, loans, and other assistance available to people who need help.

I lost my job in the wake of the pandemic. Can I apply for unemployment?

To be eligible for state unemployment insurance benefits, you must have been laid off from your job or be working significantly fewer hours through no fault of your own. If you were fired from your job for reasons involving honest mistakes or a skills mismatch, you may still be eligible for unemployment. The state has added COVID-19-related hardships to the list of legitimate reasons for applying.

Unemployment payments are based on your pay from all employers during the last 12 months and amount to roughly 50 percent of your average pay during that time, up to a maximum of $740 per week. You can calculate your expected unemployment payment here.

On top of this, all unemployment beneficiaries will receive an additional $600 per week from the federal government from March 29 through July 31. The additional $600 payment comes as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last month.

To remain eligible for unemployment insurance, you must continue searching for work that suits your skills and be willing to work at once should a new job opportunity arise. Minnesotans may apply for unemployment through the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and are encouraged to do so online.

I am self-employed and out of work because of the coronavirus. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

Yes. Before the coronavirus, self-employed people and independent contractors were not eligible for unemployment benefits, but now they are under a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as part of the federal coronavirus relief package. DEED has not yet opened the door to these newly eligible people, but is working to do so and expects the expanded benefits to be available by the end of April.

In the meantime, self-employed people who are out of work can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and DEED has specific instructions for how to do so here

Will I automatically receive a federal coronavirus stimulus check?

As part of the federal relief package, Congress authorized one-time payments to adults of up to $1,200, plus an extra $500 for each child under 17 for parents. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will determine if you’re eligible for a payment and how much you’ll get using information from either your 2019 federal tax return, if you’ve filed it already, or your 2018 federal tax return. 

If you’ve filed either return, you don’t have to do anything more to receive your money. Paper checks will take longer to receive than payments auto-deposited into bank accounts. If you need to set up a bank account with the IRS, you can do so here

You must have a social security number to be eligible for the stimulus money. You also cannot be a dependent of someone else. 

I own a business and had to cut my operating hours and reduce staff. I’m still struggling. Where can I apply for support?

At the city level in Minneapolis, if your business has 20 employees or fewer and makes $1 million or less each year in revenue, you can apply for a no-interest loan of between $5,000 and $10,000.

At the state level, DEED is offering emergency no-interest loans for small businesses that would aid them with between $2,500 and $35,000. You can apply for assistance here.

Federally, Congress authorized several new programs designed to help businesses as part of its massive coronavirus stimulus bill. These include the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which helps businesses obtain loans through banks of up to $10 million, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which provide up to $2 million to businesses impacted by the coronavirus. These loans will have interest rates. 

My business was determined to be nonessential by the state and ordered to close, but I’d like to re-open after the order is lifted. What resources are available to help me pay my bills while I have no customers?

Businesses under these circumstances can apply for the programs described above. Also, if your business is located in St. Paul and was ordered to shut down by the state as part of the coronavirus response, you can apply for a $7,500 grant through the city’s St. Paul Bridge Fund here

I’m a business owner who had to close during the pandemic. Am I personally eligible for unemployment benefits?

Business owners who previously elected unemployment coverage for themselves and paid unemployment taxes are eligible for state unemployment insurance. Others who are unsure if they’re covered are still encouraged to apply.

I can’t afford to pay a medical bill right now. Where can I get support?

If you’ve been laid off from your job and lost your health insurance, you’re encouraged to check your eligibility for Medical Assistance (MA), the state’s version of Medicaid. Generally, if your monthly income is $1,467 or less (or $1,983 for a family of two, or $3,013 for a family of four), you qualify for MA. You can apply through the state’s healthcare marketplace here.

Coronavirus tests are free for people with insurance under MA, Medicare, MNsure, military coverage, and employer-based coverage.

I lost my health insurance. Can I apply for private insurance through the MNsure marketplace?

Minnesota opened a special enrollment period for MNsure that began on March 23 and will end on April 21. Anyone without health insurance may apply here. For those who qualify, coverage will be retroactive back to April 1.

I can’t afford to pay my rent or mortgage. Can I get help with this? 

Low income people in St. Paul may be eligible for rent assistance. A family of four living in St. Paul and making $40,000 or less can apply for $1,000 in aid for rent or mortgage payments through the city’s St. Paul Bridge Fund. Similarly, people living in Minneapolis can apply for help through the city’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program. A family of four making $30,000 or less is eligible for $1,500 in aid, and up to $2,000 under extraordinary circumstances. 

Homeowners who bought their homes with government-backed loans through programs like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Veterans Affairs can hold their mortgage payments with no penalty for at least 180 days and extend this hold for another 180 days if needed. Homeowners who bought their homes with private bank loans may also be eligible to delay payments and are encouraged to contact their mortgage servicers to ask about options. 

If you still can’t make these payments, authorities are not allowed to evict you from your home during the COVID-19 pandemic, per an executive order from Governor Tim Walz. 

I can’t pay my student loan debt right now. Can I put the payments on hold?

If you have a federal loan, it won’t gain interest from April to September of this year. In other words, your student debt won’t grow between those months should you choose not to make monthly payments. But the debt also won’t go away. 

I am undocumented. For which programs am I eligible?

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive federal stimulus checks under the federal coronavirus relief bill or state unemployment insurance benefits. 

Undocumented business owners in Minneapolis are, however, eligible for the city’s no-interest loans of between $5,000 and $10,000 described above. Minneapolis officials also are working on micro-grants for hospitality and service industry workers affected by COVID-19, especially those who are not covered by other coronavirus relief efforts.

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for the state’s Medical Assistance program. The federal government has exempted medical treatments for coronavirus from services that could trigger the newly-expanded “public charge” rules for immigrants.

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...