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Coronavirus Breaks: Help for those struggling to pay bills

Posted: 1:21 PM, Apr 01, 2020
Updated: 2020-04-29 14:31:21-04

CABLE / INTERNET / CELL PHONE

AT&T: For the next 60 days (as of March 13, 2020), AT&T will not terminate service and will waive late payment fees of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer due to an inability to pay their bill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Comcast/Xfinity will not disconnect a customer’s internet or voice services or assess late fees if they notify the company that they can’t pay their bills during this period. Xfinity care teams will be available to offer flexible payment options and can help find other solutions.

Xfinity is pausing data plans for 60 days and giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.

Xfinity WiFi hotspots located in businesses and outdoor locations across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free – including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers.

Low-income families who live in a Comcast service area can sign-up for Internet Essentials. New customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. 

T-Mobile is waiving late fees and suspend and restore fees for people impacted by COVID-19. Customers can also save $8 by paying online. And if they fall behind on payments, they can set up a payment arrangement plan.

Verizon will waive late fees and overage charges for 60 days from March 16 to May 13 for customers and small businesses who let them know they are unable to pay as a result of economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Verizon will not terminate service to those customers.

To qualify, you must complete this form.

CAR PAYMENTS

Most major car companies are offering payment deferrals and have set up sites for customers to go to get phone numbers, etc. If a customer’s loan is through a third-party, they encourage their vehicle owner to reach out to the lender to see what options are available. Edmunds put together an extensive article on all of this with links to the major automakers’ COVID-19 response/information center, as well as advice for people who lease vehicles.

CHILD CARE

Day care centers serving essential personnel are allowed to stay open. To see the full list of providers, click here.

These programs are at no cost to designated essential personnel. To find child care, call Maryland’s LOCATE referral system at 1-877-261-0060, or click here.

For child care facilities that have closed, here's guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education on billing:

"Child care programs must abide by the existing contract with parents. If, under an existing contract, parents have the right to cancel services and/or obtain a refund of any tuition they have already paid, programs should honor those rights.  Often a parent can cancel with one to two weeks notice and will only be obligated to pay for that time. Parents often are reluctant to stop payment because they fear they will lose their spot in the program for when normal operating procedures resume. 

In cases where parents wish to maintain a spot in their child care program, some programs may require families to continue paying tuition even while the program is closed. We advise programs to  work toward a fair and reasonable resolution and should not penalize families who may be under financial stress because of the current crisis. Moreover, take into consideration any program that continues to charge full tuition may do so as an effort to continue to pay its employees during this time.  

The Office of Child Care does not address contractual disputes between a child care program and its individual clients." 

CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS

Like many financial institutions, credit card companies have set up special pages detailing their response to the coronavirus outbreak. And like many others they encourage their customers to contact them if they face financial hardship. CreditKarma created an extensive list of credit card, banking, and credit union institutions. It runs down what each is offering. 

ELECTRICITY / GAS

BGE is suspending service disconnections and waiving new late payment charges at least until May 1 and will be working with customers on a case-by-case basis to establish payment arrangements and identify energy assistance options.

In addition, BGE will be working with residents whose service was disconnected prior to the March 13 moratorium on service disconnections to have service restored and help ensure access to safe and healthy environments. Residents should contact BGE at 800-685-0123 to begin the reconnection process.

For help paying utility bills, visit Maryland’s Office of Home Energy Programs.

INSURANCE

AUTO: Many auto insurance companies are reducing customers' bills including Progressive, USAA, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, GeicoTravelers, State Farm, Auto-Owners, and Mercury. Drivers who have insurance with those companies don't have to do anything to get this automatic discount.

Drivers using an auto carrier which hasn’t announced a discount, should call their insurance agent or reach out to the company directly to ask about savings.

HEALTH: According to new regulations, issued by Governor Larry Hogan to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, health carriers must waive any cost-sharing, including co-payments, coinsurance and deductibles, for any visit to diagnose or test for COVID-19 regardless of the setting of the testing. For example, the test could be given in an emergency room, a physician’s office or an urgent care center.

Health carriers must waive any cost-sharing for laboratory fees related to COVID-19 and vaccinations (when available).

The Maryland Insurance Commissioner may require a health carrier to make a claims payment for COVID-19 that the carrier had denied as experimental.

A health carrier shall evaluate a request to use an out-of-network provider to test for COVID-19 solely on the basis of whether the test is medically necessary or appropriate.

Health carriers may only require prior authorization for COVID-19 testing based on medical necessity.

The MIA is instituting an expedited grievance procedure to review adverse decisions on requests for coverage for COVID-19 testing.

To file a complaint with the Maryland Insurance Administration, click here.

MORTGAGE

Homeowners are encouraged to contact their lenders to ask for modifications such as deferred payments, or paying just the principal or interest.

The Maryland Bankers Association has compiled a list of banks in the area and what they're doing to help customers.

Banks in Maryland are working with their customers on a case-by-case basis to come up with solutions that best meet individual needs which may include fee waivers; loan modifications, payment deadline extensions, payroll advances, emergency lines of credit as well as other assistance.

RENT

Maryland courts have suspended evictions and foreclosures. Cases can still be filed, but they won't be processed at this time. Court closures have been extended through May 1. Tenants still owe rent and should speak with their landlords about deferring payments or coming up with a payment plan.

The Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland works to ensure landlords, lenders, realtors, and property managers are in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. If you're having an issue with rental housing, you can fill-out an intake form here.

Here's a link to their updated COVID-19 information for residents, business owners, and property managers/rental housing providers.

SCHOOL MEALS

To find school meals nearby, visit the Maryland State Department of Education’s meals site.

WATER

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young has announced that late fees will be waived while residents deal with the implications of the coronavirus. In addition, DPW continues to offer repayment plans for customers who fall behind on their water bills. 

DPW does not shut off any water service due to water bill nonpayment. 

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

The Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service is accepting low-income clients with legal questions. To fill-out an intake form and see if you qualify for services, click here.

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