Category Archives: Pittsburgh

May 2021 Money News

Woman's hands holding up a bouquet of flowers shaped like a heart, mostly matching the colors of the rainbow. Pink background. Ladybugs crawling up woman's right wrist and hand.

Happy May, friends!

Can you believe we’re here already?

I have a couple bits of super exciting news here for Femme Frugality, but I can’t share them just yet. Be sure to subscribe to the email list to stay up to date on the latest!

In the meantime, there’s plenty of money news outside this little corner of the universe. Let’s talk about some of it.

Taxes

We’ve talked about taxes for the past couple months. Things keep getting better!

The first think you should know is that the deadline to file your 2020 taxes is May 17, 2021. As in this coming Monday.

However, if you’re receiving a refund and you’re stressed TF out because life is just too much right now, you can breathe a little easier. You have up to three years to file your 2020 tax returns before you’re considered ineligible for your refund.

But I STRONGLY encourage you to file by Monday.

Because here’s the thing:

If the past year has been terrible for your personal economy, the government probably owes  you money that you could use TODAY. Potentially a lot of money. Potentially even if you didn’t have a job through this mess.

Finally get access to your stimulus payments.

Filing your taxes also makes it way easier to get access to stimulus payments. For example, let’s say you didn’t file in 2019. You might have missed out on multiple stimulus payments.

The first two will be accounted for in your 2020 tax return.

The IRS should be able to issue you the third payment after you file your 2020 taxes.

The easiest way to make this happen is to set your refund up for direct deposit into your personal bank account — one that you don’t plan on closing any time in the near future.

Get access to those monthly child tax credit payments come July.

The government has estimated that it will preemptively issue portions of the Child Tax Credit for the 2021 tax year via direct payments to families starting in July.

To get access to these direct payments, the IRS will need to have your information on hand. Filing by the tax deadline makes that more likely to happen.

Expanded Child Tax Credits and Huge Refund for the Self-Employed

Over the past couple months, we’ve talked about a lot of different tax credits that are unique to this pandemic we’re living through. These credits can end up adding up to tens upon tens of thousands of dollars owed to you by the IRS — even if you’re just an ordinary person.

In March, we covered a tax credit that can make a huge difference for the self-employed.

In April, we briefly discussed:

  • The first $10,200 you received in unemployment in 2020 no longer counts as taxable income.
  • There are changes to the Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax credit that both make it larger and make a larger portion of it refundable.
  • The Child and Dependent Care Credit has also become refundable, larger and claimable for an additional year.
  • There are BIG changes to premium credits for those who pay for an ACA health insurance plan. It is extremely likely that these changes work in your favor no matter how much or how little money you make, and can result in a larger tax refund or lower overall tax burden. Learn more here.

All that giving you did last year? It counts for once.

Last year, a lot of us found ourselves digging into our pockets to support anyone who was doing the hard work of making our chaotic world a better place.

Normally, if you don’t itemize, donations to 501(c)(3) orgnaizations don’t mean much. The standard deduction for a head of household is $18,800, and for those married filing jointly it’s $25,100.

Most American families simply don’t make enough money to justify itemizing. The standard deduction is more than all their itemized deductions — including charitable giving — so there’s no point in itemizing.

However, this year, if you gave to a 501(c)(3), you can deduct those charitable donations beyond the standard deduction. The most you can claim is $300 on top of the standard deduction, and you’ve got to have receipts to back up your claim.

You can file your taxes for free.

For real.

I don’t go into those expensive, inexperienced big-box places. Even in times of non-pandemic.

Most people can file their taxes for free online all by themselves. Here are a bunch of options.

If you have a complicated tax situation, invest in an accredited CPA.

Help for Pittsburgh

If you’re in Allegheny County, there is still an Emergency Rental Assistance Program where you can apply for help with back rent.

Just a couple days ago, the City of Pittsburgh specifically launched a program that offers free legal services to those facing housing challenges a la eviction for renters and foreclosure for homeowners.

A portion of the funding for this program is specifically set aside for residents who are undocumented or are otherwise ineligible for legal services through other programs.

The best way to get a handle on a potential eviction situation is to get legal assistance as early on as you can.

However, if you already found yourself on the other side of eviction, we talked about some steps you can take to improve your situation last month.

 

Mother’s Day Cards That Fight Domestic Violence

NOTE: If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can seek advice by calling TheHotline.org at 1-800-799-7233. They can help you get a safety plan together, access community resources and learn more about internet safety as someone may be monitoring your usage.

greeting card with vague black outline of a big person hugging a child. Each individual has a red heart over their chest.

Domestic violence in the US is heartbreakingly yet unsurprisingly even worse during the pandemic. People are trapped with their abusers for longer periods of time, unable to safely access resources — and that was no easy task prior to social distancing.

These community resources that those experiencing IPV depend on are grossly underfunded. A lot of times, even if you are able to safely reach out for help, they may not have enough space in the shelter or funding available to get you to safety.

If you’ve thought about donating before, this is a really good time to support these organizations, as they’re facing complex challenges in meeting the needs of our communities.

Mother’s Day Cards to Support Women’s Shelter

Here in my hometown of Pittsburgh, All Hands On Deck is kicking off 2021 with a Mother’s Day Card Drive. Nine local artists designed all 15 cards, which are available for $6/each.

All of the proceeds will go to the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

So if you’re buying your mom a fancy greeting card anyways, why not have the profits go to a good cause?

When you purchase a card from the AllHandsPGH Etsy shop, it will be printed at the PGH Print Shop in Etna. All cards will be mailed by May 3rd, to ensure it gets there for Mother’s Day on the 9th.

Whether you’re from the Burgh or not, I hope you’ll consider swapping out that grocery-store greeting card for one of these personalizable options that supports our women’s shelter!

Here are just some of the designs:

gretting card featuring one of the three sisters bridges in pittsburgh, shot from an angle where you can see a small part of downtown in the background. In the foreground are pink spring flower blossoms.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Yellow print says 'WOW MOM' on a blue background. Hand-drawn flower on front is orange, pink and yellow.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Fifties-style drawing of a mother holding her young child. Text reads 'Everyone loves a Pittsburgh mom"^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Pink card with purple letters that reads 'Thank you for putting up with my shit' A drawing of poop is featured on the card.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

greeting card with painting of a woman in a headwrap and red dress. Background is green, pink, blue, orange and yellow in abstract patterns.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

greeting card with vague black outline of a big person hugging a child. Each individual has a red heart over their chest.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Greeting card with a grid of light red hearts on a dark red background. Black outline of a rose printed over top, with the words "Mom Beauty & Power" printed below.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Greeting card with a picture of a woman kneading bread in an 1800s kitchen. Above, text reads "To my mother who loves me, one disappointing look at a time," Below, text reads "Happy Mother's Day!"^^^Get this card here^^^

 

Pittsburgh skyline shot from the Monongahela side just below the Point. Gateway Clipper is traveling toward the Point under the Fort Pitt Bridge.^^^Get this card here^^^

 

greeting card with painting of a woman tenderly holding the skull of an alien skeleton that appears to be alive between her hands.^^^Get this card here^^^

More about All Hands on Deck

From the people behind the org:

Last fall, with the help of Bar Marco and Public Print House, All Hands on Deck held three outdoor artist markets in the Strip District with the intention of safely bringing together artists and vendors to sell their work, while collectively raising money for local nonprofits that support Pittsburgh artists.
 
From just these three events in our inaugural year, we were able to raise a total of $2,181 which was split between Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, the Afro American Music Institute, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council

 

 

Earn $500 by Celebrating MLK Day This Weekend

MLK Monument in DC. A mountainous bulk of stone. On the front it reads, 'Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.' MLK's profile is carved into the side of the rock. From this angle, it looks like he is looking directly at the Washington Monument.

Today I’m excited to bring you a potential money-earning opp that can also help you celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

The NAACP in Indiana County, Pennsylvania is hosting a free virtual event on Saturday, January 16, 2021 at 11a.

At the event, you’ll be able to enjoy spoken word performances, reflections of Dr. King, a performance by the Indiana Community Children’s Choir, and special guest artist Tieshay Cheryl.

What’s this about $500?

Part of the event is a spoken word contest. The top four finalists will perform at the event virtually on Saturday. The grand prize for this contest is $500 for one winner.

To enter the contest, you’ll need to submit a 90-second video across any of the following categories:

  • Spoken word.
  • Poetry.
  • Interpretive dance.
  • Contemporary or pop music.
  • Theatrical skit.

Your video should focus on the event’s theme, which is Equality, Action, Acceptance, Progress. Performances must be culturally, educationally and entertainingly expressed for a diverse audience.

Do I have to live in Pennsylvania to enter?

No. The beautiful thing about this event being virtual is that entries can be accepted from anywhere.

That, and remote events keep you and your community safe during the pandemic.

What’s the deadline?

The deadline submission has been extended. Your submission must be received by January 14, 2021.

Don’t be confused if you see printed materials with other dates. The deadline has been extended, even if some of the printed materials haven’t been updated.

How do I enter?

You can find all the entry information on the event page. You’ll need to submit this form with your video.

Can I attend the event if I don’t enter the competition?

Yes! The event is free and open to anyone. You just have to register by January 14, 2021 to get access to the Zoom link.

The event is free, and donations are appreciated. You can donate whether you’re able to attend the event or not via $naacppa on CashApp.

Rent Relief for Pennsylvanians

As a part of the CARES Act, states were given money to run their choice of any number of programs. One of those programs is rental assistance.

Today, applications opened up for the state of Pennsylvania. Here’s a little more information for those who have fallen behind on their rent.

The CARES Rent Relief Program Launches in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP) is open to all Pennsylvanians, but administered at the county level. Here are some of the key details.

How do I qualify?

To qualify for assistance, you as the renter must have seen a household income decrease of at least 30% directly because of COVID-19 related circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to have been sick — it just means that this disaster impacted your monthly income.

You must also meet income eligibility limits for your county. Eligibility limits are set at the area median income based on your county.

The bigger your household, the higher the income limits.

How much help can I get?

Pennsylvania has capped assistance at $750/month. It is possible to get less money if your rent is less than $750.

You can get assistance for up to six months, for a total of up to $4,500 in assistance. The program has $150M in funding, though theoretically it could be expanded in the future.

You: I thought people didn’t have to pay rent during Corona because Congress said.
Me: No, that’s not how it works, unfortunately.

How will I get the money?

The money will be paid to your landlord by the county organization managing the RRP in your area.

When your landlords agrees to participate in the RRP, they must agree to accept the max payment of $750 as if the rent were paid in full. They will have to forgive the renter the rest.

This is a flaw in the program as $750 not going to cover rent for a lot of families across the state.

Some county organizations may be offering additional funding on top of the state-issued RRP funds. This may help your landlord fill the gap between the $750 and however many dollars you’re supposed to pay in rent.

What if I have a roommate?

Take the amount of rent you’re responsible for in the paperwork. If it is less than $750, the lower number is your new max rental assistance amount.

Now, make sure you are income eligible and that you have lost at least 30% of your income due to pandemic-related issues.

Let’s say you split $800 rent two ways. You could each potentially qualify for $400 in rental assistance each month for up to six months, getting your landlord 100% of the money even though the total exceeds that $750 limit.

Can I request assistance for future months?

Yes. If you qualify for the program, you can get help for months past and those upcoming months which you anticipate to be economically troublesome.

You will have to report your income every month. If it goes up high enough, you could lose access to rental assistance for that month.

How do I apply?

You can apply from July 6, 2020 through September 30, 2020. The organization you apply with will vary by county. Find your county organization here.

For my Pittsburgh readers: Allegheny County

What forms do I need to submit?

You will have to fill out one form and your landlord will have to fill out two. They’re fairly simple — as long as your landlord has been taking good care of you. They have to certify that the property is up to code, but the state’s not going to run inspections.

You will need to get your landlord on board for this to work. Here are the forms they have to fill out:

You will need to fill out the:

You will also need to submit supporting financial documentation as the renter, a copy of the lease and a utility bill or some other proof that you live at the property.

Depending on your county, you may be able to fill these forms out online. You should be able to submit them via email across the state.

Do other states have COVID rent relief programs?

Yes! But everything from their existence to their income limits to their payouts and administration process is going to vary based on state.

It’s fun, I know.

To find more information on your state’s program, search for “(your state)” + “CARES rent relief program” or some variation thereof.

Your city or metro area may be offering rental assistance at the local level, too. These programs exist, but they don’t exist everywhere and aren’t being done in a uniform manner. So you really have to search.

The most comprehensive list I have been able to find is from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. It does not include every single locality, though it does have information for some major cities.

Note

Assistance programs have been changing quickly during the pandemic. The information above is gleaned from the linked documents produced by the state of Pennsylvania at the release of the program. Requirements may change and there may be expansions or contractions of the program in the future.

Contact your county office for the most up-to-date information.

Pandemic Money Hacks

As I find money tips that may help through this crisis, I’m sharing them in batches. You can find Batch 1 here.

Here’s what we’ve got in store for Batch 2:

You won’t lose unemployment if your employer illegally reopens in PA.

Governor Wolf.

Through this crisis, he has allowed public health and science to inform his decisions, and as a result, saved countless lives.

He has offered Pennsylvanians the opportunity to do the right thing voluntarily, but has also held businesses accountable when they openly flout the emergency orders put in place to protect the health of our citizens, our healthcare systems and our communities.

And now, he’s out there protecting your unemployment benefits.

Human lives over short-term profit.

Here is the full statement from the governor. Please read it knowing it comes from a twice-democratically-elected governor in a very purple state, regardless of the skewed images you might see on social media.

Basically, about half the state had restrictions partially lifted last week. But that’s not how people here were treating it.

More important to the people of Pennsylvania, that’s not how some employers wanted to treat it. There was this very real, lingering question:

If an employer opens up in an area where it’s been deemed unsafe to work, will you lose your unemployment by refusing to go back into a potentially unsafe environment?

Because maybe, just maybe, you’re not willing to die or kill your grandma for your employer?

The answer is, ‘No,’ according to Wolf’s statement.

At the time of writing this piece, in the state of Pennsylvania, if your business or locality is violating state orders by opening prematurely, you are completely within your bounds to refuse to go in to work. If you stay home, you will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is a huge relief for anyone worried about their own health, or the health of the communities in which they live.

It’s a huge relief for the average person struggling economically through this mess as their employers attempt use them as pawns to manipulate financial benefit programs like PPP.

Mortgage Forbearance

If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, or are a renter who would like to know what your landlord’s options might be before you approach them about a late rent payment, it’s going to be really helpful to understand the mortgage forbearance rules out there right now.

You can find some perspective from Justine at Live with Plum. As she notes, forbearance is not forgiveness; you’re still going to need a plan to pay this off.

If you’re a renter, you’ll want to check the Batch 1 tips to find out why it’s so vitally important to understand your landlord’s options.

Start Looking at Summer Food Programs Now

Even if you didn’t qualify for or rely on the school lunch program before COVID-19, you might now.

At least in Western Pennsylvania, most school districts are distributing food via a basic signup list, waiving income eligibility limits to make sure all the kids have food.

This eliminates a lot of the paperwork barriers that often impede people from getting the benefits they need, and reduces social shaming.

If you’ve never dealt with the school lunch program before, you may not have thought about the summer yet. Luckily, there are summer meal programs across the country funded by the USDA.

Ask your school district about summer meals now. These meals are sometimes administered by community nonprofits and recreational organizations rather than in schools.

But during the pandemic, things have undoubtedly changed.

The USDA provides a searchable map so you can find local sites. But at least here in Western PA, the map is telling me to do the same thing: Contact your school directly.

Traditionally, admission to these summer meal programs required a separate application. In this time of crisis, so much of your eligibility and access is going to depend on decisions made at the local level.

Get in touch with your district to make sure your kids have enough food over the summer. Make your plan now.

Because believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through May.