New/Updated Benefit Programs

PLEASE READ BELOW FOR TWO IMPORTANT VETERANS BENEFIT UPDATES

  1. NEW PROGRAM FROM DAV.

Are you a disabled veteran who has lost employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic? If so, you can now apply for aid through DAV’s COVID-19 Unemployment Relief program.

This COVID-19 Unemployment Relief program was established to provide assistance to service-connected disabled veterans who have lost employment as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including veterans who are self-employed as contractors or small business owners. This critical aid is meant to help veterans pay bills, obtain food and provide for their families during this challenging time.

If you or a veteran you know may be eligible, please visit dav.org/covidrelief to learn more and apply for aid. All applicants must upload and submit documented proof of service-connected disability and documentation that shows loss of employment as a direct result of the pandemic.

2. UPDATED RULES FOR ASSISTANCE FROM OPERATION HOMEFRONT

I just wanted to share that we have opened our Critical Financial Assistance applications to cover the entire month rather than the traditional 1st– 10th.  This is for current service members and veterans who served post- 9-11.  If they would like to apply, please call Critical Financial Assistance: (877) 264-3968 or go to our website at https://www.operationhomefront.org/.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Scott

Area Manager- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi

Operation Homefront

O: 770-727-0017

C: 470-210-9938

elizabeth.scott@operationhomefront.org

731 Peachtree St. NE

Suite A

Atlanta, GA 30308

Government Programs Summary

The following is a summary of some (but not all) of the programs and benefits available due to COVID19 pandemic. This is for information only. Please do your own research. And keep in mind, many of these programs are new, rules and processes will need to be put in place, and many government employees are also working remotely.

Everyone

·       All U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 if married) who are not a dependent of another taxpayer are eligible for a $1,200 “rebate,” $2,400 if married. In addition, they are eligible for an additional $500 per child.  The rebate is reduced after these income limits and phases out completely for individuals with incomes over $99,000 and married taxpayers over $198,000 (higher if you have children).  The IRS will use the most recently filed tax return (2018 or 2019) for your income.  Anyone with direct deposit instructions on file with the IRS (from a tax return, social security benefits, etc.) should receive these funds electronically.  Everyone else will get a check.  If you’re ineligible based on 2018 or 2019 income but would have been eligible based on 2020 income, you will most likely receive this benefit as a credit on your 2020 tax return. 

·       For 2020, all taxpayers taking the standard deduction can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions in addition to their standard deduction.

·       For those with federal student loans, loan payments are suspended through September 30, 2020 and no interest or penalties will accrue during this suspension period.

·       If you are an employee, your employer (until 12/31/2020) can pay up to $5,250 towards your student loans as a tax-free benefit.

·       The deadline for filing a 2019 tax return was moved from 4/15/2020 to 7/15/2020.  In addition, the deadline to make 2019 IRA contributions and 1st quarter 2020 estimated taxes was similarly extended.

·       There is a new exception for “coronavirus-related distributions” from retirement plans and IRAs in 2020.  This basically applies to those diagnosed with the virus, those having a spouse or dependent diagnosed with the virus or those experiencing adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed or laid off because of the pandemic. Taxpayers can withdraw up to $100,000 in 2020 from their qualified retirement plans.  If they keep the funds, the income can be spread over a three year period with no early distribution penalty.  If they do not need to retain the funds, taxpayers can recontribute the amount withdrawn to the retirement plan within three years. 

·       For taxpayers over 70 or those owning an inherited IRA, required distributions for 2020 have been eliminated.

Small Businesses

·       For purposes of this Act, all businesses with less than 500 employees are eligible for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the SBA.  Most likely, the employee limit will be based on your average monthly employee count over the last 12 months. There are some exceptions for larger companies if the SBA guidelines still consider the business to be “small” based on revenue or employee count in their industry but in general, the 500 person limit will apply to most.

·       Nonprofits and individuals who operate under a sole proprietorship or as an independent contractor are also eligible.

·       If your business meets the employee test, Congress simplified the remaining SBA eligibility rules and basically if you were operational on 2/15/2020, had employees or independent contractors and your business was substantially impacted by COVID-19, you are eligible.  The last guideline is a subjective standard. All other usual SBA requirements including detailed underwriting, borrower fees and personal guarantees are waived. 

·       The maximum amount of your loan is equal to 2.5 times your average monthly payroll costs for the trailing 12 months prior to receiving the loan (or $10 million, whichever is less).  Payroll costs include wages, commissions, tips, paid leave, healthcare payments and retirement benefit payments.  However, if you have employees earning in excess of $100,000/year, only the first $100,000 is considered for these workers.

·       The loan proceeds can be used to maintain payroll, make rent payments, cover the interest on mortgage payments or for utility payments. 

·       For any amounts expended on the purposes in the bullet above during an 8 week period following loan issuance, the government will forgive a comparable amount of the original loan.  This forgiveness is not taxable.  The loan forgiveness may be reduced by the following:

o   The business employee count during the 8 week period following loan issuance is less than the employee count during the period 2/15/19-6/30/19 or 1/1/20-2/29/20 (employer’s choice). 

o   The business reduces the salary of anyone (except a high earner making over $100,000) by greater than 25% during the 8 week period following loan issuance.

o   **These two rules will not apply to reduce principal forgiveness if the employee count or original salary is restored by 6/30/20

·       I’ve focused the points above on the loan forgiveness features.  However, for businesses who won’t spend the full loan proceeds during the 8 weeks following loan issuance, there are favorable rules for the ongoing, unforgiven loan (i.e. rate, term, etc.).

·       As mentioned in my opening, the process for loan application has not been released but if you’re interested, I recommend you start gathering historical payroll reports, up to three years of business income tax returns and three years of personal tax returns for owners (owning >20% of the company). 

Unemployed

·       The CARES Act extends unemployment insurance benefits to those not traditionally eligible including the self-employed and independent contractors.

·       The extension excludes those able to telework (work from home) or receiving paid leave.

·       At a high level, those receiving these enhanced benefits will receive the amount ordinarily paid by their home state (variable based on past earnings) and a flat $600/week from the Federal government through 7/31/2020.  For many low/medium wage earners, these benefits will be as much or even greater than the amounts earned when employed. 

·       The normal one week waiting period for benefits is waived.

·       The benefit period may be extended to a total of 39 weeks for the period 1/27/20-12/31/20 but the additional $600/week benefit from the Federal government only covers up to four months and ends on 7/31/20.   

·       Although the details for proving this continue to evolve, eligibility also depends on the need for a benefit attributable to a COVID-19 related circumstance.

Cobb Veterans Meeting 1.8.2020

The next Cobb Veterans Meeting is Wednesday, January 8th, at 10:00 am at:

Cobb Senior Services Wellness Center

1150 Powder Springs Street

Marietta, GA 30064

Our guest speakers are a team from Cornerstone who will be presenting a Certificate of Honor to each Veteran attending the meeting.  Come and enjoy the great doughnuts, coffee, and be honored for your service.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Mike

Mike Nichols

Veteran Outreach Program Leader

RSVP Program Leader

Cobb County Senior Services

1150 Powder Springs St., Suite 100

Marietta, GA 30064

mike.nichols@cobbcounty.org

770-528-1448

Georgia Veterans Affairs Update

All,

We attended a hospital visit at the Atlanta VAMC on Wednesday:

Issues discussed are as follows:

-Projected dates for new clinic openings:

Pike County Clinic—January 2022

Covington (Newton) Clinic- January 2020 (Furniture delivery December 2019)

South Fulton Mental Health- February 2020

Pickens County Clinic (Jasper)- February 2020

South Cobb Mental Health- January 2020 (furniture delivery December 2019)

West Cobb/Austell Clinic- March 2020

Fulton Eye Clinic- March 2020

Fulton C&P Telehealth Clinic- March 2020

Cobb Multi-Specialty Clinic—New Contract Awarded January/February 2020—projected opening in 2022.

-The VA spoke about using VA fact sheets to spread the correct information: VBA Fact Sheets- https://benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets.asp ; Community care fact sheets- https://www.va.gov/COMMUNITYCARE/pubs/factsheets.asp ; Mental health- https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/transitioning-service/articles.asp ; Suicide prevention- https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/data.asp ; VA Mission Act- https://www.missionact.va.gov/ ; Community care- https://www.va.gov/COMMUNITYCARE/docs/pubfiles/factsheets/VA-FS_CC-Eligibility.pdf

-Phone issues continue to plague the Atlanta VAMC. The system is very old and is now on the priority list to be replaced according to the VA Central Office. Until then please use 404-329-2222 or 404-728-7690 to contact the hospital.

-The VAMC also admits that some of the employee have failed to use the phone equipment correctly resulting in back connections or no connections at all. The VA Central Office call team will be coming down to advise on this issue.

-VA appointments—Medical Support Assistants are forbidden from scheduling appointments prior to speaking with the veteran first. So if this has happened to you in the last 3 months please report it so they can correct it.

-Pharmacy labels smearing—Dr. Davis is going to address this with the pharmacy. He thinks it maybe a printer issue (not heating up enough)—he is going to suggest they put clear tape over the labels in the mean time to solve the smearing and fading problem. He also said that the pharmacy uses the script talk system to assist our blind veterans.

-The VA wanted to remind everyone to get their FLU shots this year. It will ensure that you will be protected–even if you do happen to get the flu it will not be anywhere near as severe.

-The Atlanta VAMC admits that there are issues with the Veterans Experience Office and senior leadership is working hard to change the negative culture that plagued the VAMC for years. They are making progress, but it will take time to make drastic changes in the culture.

-There have been a lot of personnel changes at the hospital (firings, mandatory retirements, reassignments etc). The hospital executive staff is working diligently on removing those responsible for negative behavior and sub-standard care. They are hoping that by removing obstacles to change within the facility will contribute to better patient care and overall service.

-The VA stated that due to veteran population growing so quickly, there is a critical shortage of Primary Care Doctors in the Atlanta VAMC area of responsibility to fill a lot of the new clinics. They specifically spoke about the shortages at the Rome clinic. Finding providers has been a challenge since the VA is not the most competitive when it comes to salary. They asked that if you know any doctors and nurses who are willing to come to the VA to please have them contact Dr. Davis his email christian.davis@va.gov

-Dr. Davis stated that HR is expediting the hiring process for doctors and nurses.

-The Department Commander requested information about homeless veteran issues in Georgia and specifically in the Atlanta area and what was being done about it. They stated that according to the HUD survey conducted in January 2019, there are 345 homeless veterans in the Atlanta Area which is a 45% decrease since 2010.  

-Ms. April Edwards, VA Homeless Coordinator provided information on the homeless issues. She briefed CRRC at Fort McPherson https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/crrc.asp  They stated that the VA was no longer going to “enable” homelessness by providing sleeping bags and other items during outreach, they want to transition them off the street. She stated that veterans must want to get off the street in order for it to work and that reducing homelessness is a partnership with multiple organizations – It takes a village. She also mentioned that some homeless veterans in rural areas don’t want to go to Fort McPherson. HUD is pushing for city and county governments to assist with homelessness in there areas. They also mentioned Operation Reveille- https://www.va.gov/homeless/events.asp

Thanks,

Mark

Mark D. Demers, MBA, CM

Veteran Appeals Officer/

American Legion Department Service Officer

Georgia Department of Veterans Service

1700 Clairmont Road

Decatur, Georgia 30033

Office:404-929-5345

Fax:404-929-5347

E-mail:  mark.demers@va.gov

Website: https://veterans.georgia.gov/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gavetsvc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gavetsvc

American Legion- Department of Georgia: https://georgialegion.org/

Service Officer Tool Kit- https://georgialegion.org/service-officer-training/

American Legion (National): https://www.legion.org/

Monthly Cobb Veterans Outreach Meetings

The Cobb Veterans Outreach Program has 3 meetings every month, each meeting at a different Cobb Senior Center.

The East Cobb Senior Center Veterans Meeting is held the 3rd Wednesday of every month at 10:00 am.

East Cobb Senior Center                   (Next meeting is May 15th)

3332 Sandy Plains Road

Marietta, GA 30066

The Marietta Senior Center (Wellness Center) Veterans Meeting is held the 2ndWednesday of every month at 10:00 am.

Marietta Senior Wellness Center                 (Next meeting is May 8th)

1150 Powder Springs St., Suite 100

Marietta, GA 30064 

The Freeman Poole Senior Center Veterans Meeting is held the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 10:00 am.

Freeman Poole Senior Center           (Next meeting is May 14th)

4025 South Hurt Road

Smyrna, GA 30082

Please contact me with any comments or questions.

Thank you,

Mike Nichols

Veteran Outreach Program Leader

RSVP Program Leader

Cobb County Senior Services

1150 Powder Springs St., Suite 100

Marietta, GA 30064

mike.nichols@cobbcounty.org

770-528-1448