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Your COVID-19 questions, answered.

Kristin Schwab Mar 26, 2020
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This post was updated on May 15, 2020.

There’s so much news out there right now when it comes to the novel coronavirus that it can be hard to find clear answers to important economic questions. At Marketplace, we’re tracking what the outbreak means for your personal finances and the economy at large. We’ve compiled a list of FAQs here that we’ll update regularly.

My supermarket’s shelves are empty. Are we running out of food?

Short answer: no. Grocers rely on a supply chain that goes from factories to warehouses to stores, with lots of trucks in-between. If you can’t find rice, beans and canned foods it’s probably because of logistics. In fact, the country’s food system has up to four months of these staples squared away.

What’s happening with taxes this year?

Tax Day, April 15, has been moved to July 15. It means you can file anytime between now and then. More than 70% of Americans get a tax refund, but if you owe the government money, you’ll have until mid-July to pay. This only applies to federal taxes. Your state filing deadline depends on where you live.

I’ve been furloughed. What does that mean and what can I do?

A furlough is a temporary layoff. Your pay and benefits during the furlough will depend on your employer. In the meantime, you’re eligible for unemployment benefits through your state — this now includes people who are self-employed, though many have not been able to collect full benefits. Many states have waived the waiting period for collection, but those systems are also overrun by applications. Unemployment benefits vary by state, but the clock on the number of weeks you can collect starts immediately, so experts suggest filing as soon as you can.

Will I be getting a check from the government?

The Senate has approved a bill that grants $1,200 to individuals who reported up to $75,000 on their 2018 tax returns or, if they’ve already filed, their 2019 returns. Meanwhile, $2,400 will be sent to couples who filed joint taxes and made up to $150,000. Payments will be reduced for those making more than those amounts. Financial assistance will not be granted to individuals making more than $99,000 and couples earning more than $198,000.

What options do I have if I’ve lost health insurance?

About 27 million Americans may have lost their employer-based health insurance because of the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Options for those who are newly unemployed include coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, COBRA and short-term health plans. We break them down in our insurance guide.

Is it even worth applying for jobs right now?

Many industries are seeing hiring freezes. But some actually need more workers right now. According to LinkedIn, some of the most in-demand jobs include store associate, health care specialist, warehouse manager and delivery driver.

I need to buy a face mask. How do I choose the right one?

Tons of retailers have stepped in to make face masks, although they vary in quality — that is, if they arrive at all. Delays are common. Look for a mask with multiple layers, made from fabrics that are easy to wash and tightly woven, with a high yarn count. For more details on how to pick the right mask from a reputable maker, check out our mask-buying guide.

How hard will it be to get the economy up and running again?

It depends on how long this lasts, but it won’t be like pushing a start button. Consumers drove 70% of the economy before it came to a near standstill. When we get out of this, people will still need new dishwashers and shoes, but that won’t make up for the impact the shutdown has had on businesses like restaurants. And it will take time to see how COVID-19 will affect consumer confidence when it comes to bigger ticket items, like cars and homes.

I’m feeling coronavirus overload. What are some ways to take my mind off of all this?

The list of companies offering free books, movies and concerts is growing each day. Here’s a list of our favorites, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s live cams, because who doesn’t love penguins?

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Give me a snapshot of the labor market in the U.S.

U.S. job openings in February increased more than expected, according to the Labor Department. Also, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in March. For all of the good jobs news recently, there are still nearly 10 million people who are out of work, and more than 4 million of them have been unemployed for six months or longer. “So we still have a very long way to go until we get a full recovery,” said Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute. She said the industries that have the furthest to go are the ones you’d expect: “leisure and hospitality, accommodations, food services, restaurants” and the public sector, especially in education.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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