Bills Due? Relief Is Available For Coloradans Affected By Coronavirus
A new month is upon us and that means it's time to pay the bills. But with so many Americans out of work due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus, some housing, utility and financial service providers — both local and national — are adjusting their payment options.
Here's a rundown of relief options for Coloradans facing economic hardships right now.
The Colorado Apartment Association, an industry group for landlords and property managers in the state, has issued guidance to its members to stop enforcing evictions through the end of April. It has also asked members to waive all late fees and work with residents who have been directly hit by the virus — either through job loss or health-wise — to set up payment plans.
Michelle Lyng is a landlord with properties in Denver and a member of the association. She said that tenants worried about missing a payment are likely to find a sympathetic ear if they talk to their housing providers as soon as possible.
"We kind of feel like we're in this together. This is a really challenging situation we're in. I would call it unprecedented in my lifetime," she said.
But Lyng also urged tenants to continue paying rent if they can because that allows property managers to be more flexible with other residents who might have lost their jobs or are experiencing health issues because of the virus.
Gov. Jared Polis has also asked property managers to hold off on evictions until at least the end of April. He's asked law enforcement agencies to divert their resources away from carrying out evictions.
But there is no statewide moratorium on evictions, so tenants' situations may differ at the discretion of their landlords.
A few groups in the Front Range are trying to organize rent strikes online, but it is not yet clear if anything will come of those efforts.
As for homeowners worried about upcoming mortgage payments, federal regulators as well as Polis have asked all banks and credit unions to hold off on residential and commercial foreclosures for the time being.
Several big banks, including Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, as well as local banks like Bank of Colorado and Colorado Community Banks, have released guidance for customer relief. The guidelines for each bank vary, so mortgage holders should check with their individual lenders.
Most utilities in Colorado say they will not disconnect service for customers that can't make payments right now.
Xcel Energy, one of the state's biggest electricity providers, has suspended all service disconnections until further notice. Customers who need to put off paying an electric bill should call customer service to work out a payment plan with the energy company.
Many local utilities like water — for example, in the city of Fort Collins — say they will not shut water off even if customers can't pay their bills right now. Customers who may not be able to pay their water bills should contact their providers to work out a plan.
Some utilities, including Fort Collins, have time-of-day pricing, which will remain in effect for the time being. Under this system, electricity is 70% more expensive at certain times in the evening when people are usually just getting home from work. Now that many people are working from home all day long, that could also affect the size of energy bills.
The head of the Federal Communications Commission has asked all telecom companies to sign a pledge to stop cutting internet service for people who can't pay their bills right now, waive any late fees and open WiFi hotspots in communities so people who don't have access at home can get online.
Most of Colorado's biggest internet providers, like CenturyLink, Comcast, AT&T and TDS, have signed on to this pledge.
Many major healthcare providers, including UCHealth, Banner Health and Children's Hospital Colorado, have not implemented special COVID-19 policies around deferring payments. But all their regular financial assistance programs are still up and running. Customers who are having trouble with payments should contact providers directly about options.
For people who have lost health insurance because of COVID-19 or those who need to purchase insurance, Connect for Health Colorado, the state's health insurance marketplace, has opened a special emergency enrollment period through April 3 for coverage that begins April 1.
Coloradans who have already purchased insurance through Connect for Health Colorado also have options. Customers who have lost jobs, or whose situation has changed at all, can access extra financial assistance.
Monica Caballeros, a spokeswoman for the marketplace, said that current enrollees who can't keep up with payments should give them a call. "The next step would be to get in touch with us, let us know what those adjustments to your income are so we can up that amount of financial help," she said.
Polis issued an executive order pushing the state 2019 income tax filing deadline out 90 days, to July 15. The new deadline applies to all people and businesses in the state.
The IRS has granted a similar extension for filing federal tax returns.
Some counties, including Denver and Weld, are also starting to offer breaks to people and businesses who are late on paying property taxes.
Federal Relief Checks
Many Coloradans expect to receive federal relief checks. But the federal government's timeline for issuing those checks is still unclear and Coloradans won't see those checks until mid-April at the very earliest.
Once those relief checks do start arriving in mailboxes, Coloradans will get to decide how to spend that money. Rich Wobbekind, an economist and head of the business research division at the University of Colorado Leeds Business School, hopes people will think about hanging on to some of that money.
"It never hurts — and especially when you can't go out to eat or spend your money in recreational ways — to build up a little bit of a reserve," he said.
And Everything Else
A lot of other bills are also coming due, like tuition and phone bills. Many companies have or are developing plans for customers impacted by COVID-19.
The Colorado Bankers Association says a lot of banks are also offering relief measures like fee waivers and deferred payments for things like credit cards and car loans. Anyone with a bill they are worried about paying right now should reach out to their providers directly to learn about details.
Nobody can tell for certain just how long the economic effects of the pandemic will last, and it's good to know there is some financial relief available in the meantime. But Wobbekind thinks people should not panic.
"I don't think this is a long-term problem. This is not the kind of economic downturn we had in 2008, 2009," he said. "It could be in severity but I don't think it'll be anywhere near that in terms of duration."