Legal Resource Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic*

Last updated August 19th

 

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*Please note: the following information is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Open Door Legal.

 

COVID-19 Legal Issue Directory

Below is a comprehensive guide to any legal issues that may have arisen due to COVID-19. We are monitoring the situation and will continually update this guide as well as our social media with any changes.

1. Open Door Legal’s Services

2. Employment Law

3. Housing Law

4. Utility Shut-offs

5. Immigration Law

6. Family Law

7. Elder Law

8. General Court Updates

9. Health Care and Public Benefits

10. Taxes/Getting your $1,200 stimulus checks

11. Community Resources

12. Scams and Calls Claiming to be the Court or Law Enforcement

13. Mental Health

14. About COVID-19

Open Door Legal’s Services

Our Excelsior and Bayview offices are now open for appointments from 10 am to 4 pm, closed from 12 pm to 1 pm. Our Western Addition office remains closed until further notice.

In compliance with city reopening guidelines, all clients will be required to wear a mask in order to enter the offices. We are monitoring the situation and will continually update our social media and website with any changes.

If you need legal advice, please call (415) 735-4124 or complete our online screening form at https://opendoorlegal.org/start.

 

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Employment

Many people working secure jobs have been unexpectedly laid off or are simply unable to work due to the shelter-in-place order. There has also been an uptick in race-based and national origin-based discrimination and violence toward individuals of Asian descent and other countries disparately affected by coronavirus.

In addition, the federal government has passed new leave laws to protect workers who have fallen ill from coronavirus or are taking care of a family member infected with COVID-19. If you have any questions related to unemployment, cut hours, sick leave, etc, view our frequently asked employment questions here.

Issues our office may be able to help you with during the COVID-19 pandemic:

    • If you or someone you know has been laid off and has not been paid complete final wages.
    • If you have specific leave law questions and want to know your rights regarding school closures, caring for a sick loved one, or caring for yourself while sick.
    • If you have been treated differently than other employees based on your race or national origin.

If you were working for a small business or are a small business owner, multiple loans and grants may be available to you. On March 18, Mayor Breed issued an eviction moratorium for businesses registered to do business in San Francisco, have gross receipts at or below $25 million, and missed rent due from March 17, 2020 to August 15, 2020. For more details on the eviction moratorium for small to medium-sized businesses, visit this website. This comprehensive guide may also be useful as it contains San Francisco-specific information for small businesses.

Congress passed a stimulus package that expanded unemployment benefits to include people furloughed, gig workers and freelancers. We’ve updated our FAQ document to include the new regulations, but to see the most to date news visit this page.

 

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Housing Law

As a result of changes to employment or illness due to COVID-19, we understand that it will be difficult for many households to make their rent payments in the coming months. Eviction lawsuits have been halted throughout California, unless the eviction case is necessary to protect public health and safety. This policy is in place until 90 days after Governor Newsom lifts the state of emergency. In San Francisco, most lawsuits that were filed prior to COVID-19 are on hold and are being delayed on a rolling basis. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office is not performing lockouts until further notice. The San Francisco Housing Authority is also not seeking to evict tenants at this time, except for situations involving serious violence or health hazards. 

Mayor Breed has also ordered an Eviction Moratorium that gives San Francisco residents extra time to pay their rent if they have been financially impacted by COVID-19. The executive order regarding the eviction moratorium is set to expire on August 31—this means that no landlord can evict you for not paying rent that was/is due between March 13 and August 31. Your landlord cannot evict you until October 31. Please note that the rent you would normally owe will still become due at some point; if you have the ability to pay rent, you should. Please be aware that it is still illegal for landlords to change the locks or to use any other self-help methods. All other tenant protections still apply. Find more information on the San Francisco Eviction Moratorium here and take a look at the Mayor’s Rules and Regulations for Tenants and Landlords here.

 

To qualify for protection under the San Francisco Eviction Moratorium, you must immediately notify your landlord (ideally in writing) that you cannot pay your rent because of COVID-19, no later than 30 days after your rent becomes due. See sample fillable letter linked here. You must do this for each month that your income is affected by COVID-19. You must also provide documentation that proves you are financially impacted by COVID-19, within 7 days of notifying your landlord that you cannot pay your rent. This documentation should be in the form of a separate letter from your employer (verifying one’s change in employment and citing COVID-19 as the reason for the change) or a separate letter from your doctor (verifying that you or a family member has been infected by COVID-19). A letter from you stating specific facts regarding why you cannot pay the rent will suffice if a document from your employer or doctor is not available.

The San Francisco Rent Board is not presently holding mediations and arbitrations. All Rent Board petitions are currently on hold.

The San Francisco Housing Authority is open at their 1815 Egbert Ave. office during normal business hours for mandatory functions such as recertifications, inspections, and changes in status. However, response times are slower than normal.

Housing law rules & resources in San Francisco and statewide are likely to change frequently. For the most up to date resources, visit the Eviction Defense Collaborative’s website here. The Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) has resources and sample letters on their site in multiple languages. The San Francisco Housing Rights Committee is still providing tenant counseling over the phone at (415) 703- 8644 (Mon-Thurs, 1-5pm.)

If you are a current housing client, please call your Open Door Legal attorney to check in. If you are not a current client but have housing-related legal issues, please call (415) 735-4124 to schedule a remote intake, or schedule one online here.

 

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Utility Shut-offs

Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

The Public Utility Commission confirmed that during the Covid-19 state of emergency, local utility companies will not turn off services due to non-payment.  The order is retroactive back to March 4, 2020. 

PUC offers two programs for residential customers—Emergency Customer Assistance Program (ECAP) and Community Assistance Program (CAP). If you need help paying your bills due to circumstances brought on by COVID-19, you likely qualify for ECAP, which provides a 15% discount on water, a 35% discount on sewer services, and a 30% discount on Hetch Hetchy power. Apply for ECAP here and learn more about the program here

CAP provides financial assistance for low-income customers that need long-term support. Eligible customers receive a 15% discount on water, 35% discount on sewer services, and the SFPUC Low-Income Residential Service Schedule R-2. If you receive CalFresh, CalWorks, or Medi-Cal benefits or you meet CAP income guidelines, you are eligible for the program. For more information on CAP-Water and Sewer, click here and apply here. Find more information and eligibility criteria for CAP-Hetch Hetchy Power at this website.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)

PG&E offers two discount programs—California Alternate Rates for Energy Program (CARE) and Family Electric Rate Assistance Program (FERA)—to help people pay their energy bills. CARE provides a monthly discount of 20% or more on gas and electricity. If you or someone in your household participates in certain public assistance programs including CalFresh, Medi-Cal, Medicaid, and National School Lunch Program, you likely qualify for CARE. FERA provides an 18% monthly discount on electricity for households of 3 or more people. 

 To qualify for CARE or FERA, you must meet the income requirements that are listed here. Your household income is calculated from the date you apply. It isn’t based on your past income, so if you have recently lost your job or experienced a decrease in wages, you may now qualify for CARE/FERA. Apply here.

PG&E also offers Relief for Energy Assistance through Community Help (REACH). This program helps people pay for gas, providing up to $300 of energy credit based on the last due bill. REACH is available to a customer only once every 12 months. To enroll in REACH, first check to see if you fall under this criteria, find your local agency here, and then contact the REACH program at 1-800-933-9677. For more information, visit the REACH website here.

 

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Immigration

The Immigration Courts and USCIS have announced numerous changes to daily operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis.  In the midst of the confusion, it is critical to remember that everyone, regardless of immigration status, is eligible for free testing and treatment of COVID-19.  You should not avoid seeking medical care because you fear civil immigration enforcement.  ICE has publicly stated that the government “will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.” See ICE’s statement here.

Other important updates:

  • Public charge.  COVID-19 testing and treatment is not considered a negative factor in the public charge analysis, even if Medi-Cal pays for the testing and treatment. See USCIS’ statement here.
  • Immigration Court hearings.  All non-detained hearings before the Immigration Court at 100 Montgomery and 630 Sansome have been cancelled and will be rescheduled by mail. Hearings for detained individuals are proceeding as scheduled.
  • ICE/ISAP check-ins.  In-person ICE check-ins and ISAP check-ins are cancelled until further notice. ICE/ISAP will call individuals to reschedule the check-in, which might be conducted telephonically for the time being.
  • USCIS appointments. USCIS has officially reopened, and the SF field office is on a phased reopening plan. Application Support Centers (ASCs) that serve NorCal have all reopened. Immigration courts remain closed for non-detained hearings through August 28, 2020, with further extensions likely.

For resources available to undocumented individuals during the COVID-19 crisis (in English and Spanish), visit this page.

For a more detailed immigration update, please see below:

View immigration updates in English

查看中國移民更新

Vea las actualizaciones de inmigración en español

 

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Family Law

Families are facing many challenges during this time.  If you have any questions or issues around custody and visitation, child support, guardianship, divorce or domestic violence, please seek help by calling Open Door Legal to schedule an appointment or submitting an online intake form.

If you need immediate support with any domestic violence concerns, you can text or call Casa de las Madres at (877) 503-1850, text them at (415) 200-3575, or visit their website here. For help filing, you can contact the Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic (CROC) 24-hour support line at (415) 864-4722 or (877) 384-3578 (toll free) and call (415) 969-6711 to make an appointment or visit their website.  Domestic violence shelters are still open during this time as well. 

At this time, family law hearings are being continued or vacated. Court remains open for ex parte requests, temporary restraining orders, child abduction due process hearings, and domestic restraining orders where visitation or custody is an issue. The Clerk’s Office in Room 402 and mediation services have reopened. The ACCESS Center (self-help) reopened on June 2 in Room 103, windows 1 and 3. For ACCESS Center hours and more details, visit their website and view this flyer. If you are a current ODL family law client please contact your ODL attorney for updates on your specific case. 

 

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Elder Law

Right now, the top priority of our elder law department is keeping our elderly clients safe. Please let ODL know if you need connection to services and help right now. Most Safeways, Whole Foods, and Targets are opening an hour early just for vulnerable seniors. Call your local store to ask about their policies. Meals on Wheels is still delivering meals and groceries. You can apply on their website here.

Please note that Open Door Legal staff will not be able to meet with clients in person or execute/notarize estate planning documents for the foreseeable future. Open Door Legal is notarizing estate planning documents for current clients. All in-person visits related to guardianship and conservatorship cases are currently suspended, but office appointments over video call are available.

If you are a probate litigation client, please be advised that all trust, estate, guardianship, and probate conservatorship matters on calendar through June 22, 2020 will be continued for 12 weeks subject to further continuances as required.  New filings will be given dates to accommodate future calendars. Temporary letters will be extended to the continued hearing date on presentation of an order from counsel. All motions calendared through June 22, 2020 will be continued to dates set by the Court. The court will still be open for ex parte matters where there is a risk of immediate or irreparable injury. If you have any questions about your ODL case, please contact your attorney.

 

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General Court Updates

The San Francisco Superior Court has drastically reduced their services and cut back on its operations. With a few exceptions, if you have an upcoming hearing or trial in civil court, it very likely has been postponed.  Please refer to the court’s website here for their most up to date and specific information. If you have an open ODL case, please contact your attorney to get more specific information about the status of your case.

 

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Healthcare and Public Benefits

If you work two or more hours per week under San Francisco’s essential services contract, your employer is likely required to provide you (and your dependents) with health plan benefits that meet minimum standards prepared by the Director of Health for the City and County of San Francisco. For more information on emergency workplace ordinances under COVID-19, visit the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement website.

Emergency CalFresh benefits may be available to you. If you have CalFresh and are not receiving the maximum benefits for your household size, additional CalFresh will be automatically added to your EBT card to the maximum allowable amount. You will receive August’s allotment on September 19. For more information, view this flyer and the CalFresh website.

If you are a SF Human Services Agency (HSA) program recipient, multiple free or discounted services and products are available to you, including free diapers, food, meals, entertainment, legal help, identification, recreation, museums, transportation, and utilities. In most cases, you only need to show your EBT card to get your discount or fee waiver. To learn what services may be available to you, visit this HSA website

Check out this update from Legal Services from Northern California on health care coverage and public benefits.

Medi-Cal does not recognize Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) benefits nor stimulus checks as income–these will not impact your eligibility for Medi-Cal. However, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) qualify as income for Medi-Cal. If you are unsure of what type of unemployment benefit you are receiving or are concerned about your MediCal coverage, please feel free to reach out to us.

SF’s Human Services Agency, where you can apply for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, and the county’s financial assistance programs, is still operational online and over phone although their physical office is closed. Visit their website here for more information. 

For general information, call (415) 557-5000. For Medi-Cal, call (415) 558-4700 or (855) 355-5757. For a full list of contact information for HSA services visit this link. 

Testing and Medical Care for COVID-19

Medi-Cal will provide free screening, testing, and treatment for COVID-19 for all Medi-Cal beneficiaries, regardless of immigration status. If you are uninsured, regardless of your immigration status or income, Medi-Cal can cover your COVID-19 testing and treatment services. 

Medicare covers lab tests for COVID-19 and all medically necessary hospitalizations (for example, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and would otherwise be discharged from a hospital, Medicare will cover the cost for you to quarantine in hospital). If a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D) will cover it.

 

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Taxes/Getting your $1,200 stimulus checks

Stimulus Payment Update

Earlier this year, the government approved a coronavirus economic relief package that included economic impact payments (sometimes referred to as stimulus checks) to a majority of US taxpayers. The total amount of your stimulus check was based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing or — if you haven’t filed this year — your 2018 filing. If you still have not received your payment, you can use the IRS website to check on the status of your check and input your direct deposit information. You can also use this website if you are a tax non-filer. 

 

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Community Resources

This document includes a master list of helpful resources ranging from medical information about coronavirus, emergency financial assistance, food access, mental health resources, and more across the Bay Area.

Project Homeless Connect is still offering services, but may be delivering some services in a virtual format. Reach out to their resource line to connect with them: 1-855-588-7968, or view their COVID-19 preparedness plan here. For homeless families, the Coordinated Entry Access Points are still operational. Call Catholic Charities for the Bayview Access Point at (415) 430-6320 or Compass Family Services for the Central City Access Point at (415) 644-0504.

 

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Scams

Important Alert: The San Francisco Superior Court has reported a telephone scam in which the caller purports to be a member of law enforcement who threatens the person with a bench warrant for missed grand jury duty. If anyone calls you saying they are from the court or law enforcement, this is a scam. The Court and law enforcement do not communicate by telephone or by email. Please do not give them any of your information or money. Read more here and take a look at this flyer from the Institute on Aging and Open Door Legal.

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus by selling everything from treatments to vaccines to work-from-home schemes. To understand what they are doing and how to prevent yourself from being scammed, please read this helpful link.

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Mental Health Resource

In this stressful time, please make sure to take care of yourself and your family. If you need anyone to talk to you can call or text the California Peer-Run Warm Line at 1-855-845-7415. This is a non-emergency resource for anyone in California seeking emotional support for COVID-19 concerns or any concerns at all. Some concerns that callers commonly share are challenges with anxiety, panic, interpersonal relationships, anxiety, financial uncertainty, depression, and alcohol and drug use.

 

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About COVID-19

For more information and the latest health updates, please visit the CDC’s website here.

CITATIONS

1. American University, Key Studies and Data About How Legal Aid Improves Housing Outcomes https://www.american.edu/spa/jpo/toolkit/upload/housing-7-30-19.pdf

2. George Washington Law School, In Pursuit of Justice? Case Outcomes and the Delivery of Unbundled Legal Services https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.