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Legal Information Concerning the Covid-19 Pandemic

COVID Housing Security Presentation, July 23, 7:30-8:30pm Via Zoom – Columbia, MO

Mid-Missouri Legal Services (MMLS), the City of Columbia Housing Programs Division and other local partners will be providing an informational session for citizens impacted by housing instability due to the impacts of COVID-19.  With 11,773 COVID related unemployment claims through June 20, 2020 in Boone County and the moratorium on evictions ending July 25, 2020, many Columbia and Boone County households are facing housing instability and an inability to cover monthly housing costs. 

This session will highlight tenant and homeowner rights and actions households can take to protect their current housing, as well as local resources to assist with rent, mortgage and utilities. Citizens can attend virtually through the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82277754538

The Covid-19 pandemic is a time of uncertainty and great change in our work, educational, and social lives. You or someone you know may need information about your rights are if you are sick, if you have to care for a child whose school was closed, if you are told to work from home, or if you are laid off, among other questions. The following material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or assistance. The information below is based on current law. Legislative and executive actions at the state and federal levels could change or expand the protections and benefits discussed below. Finally, this is not an exhaustive list of information or resources. Check with your local Community Action Agency, United Way, or other social service agency for additional assistance.

ALERT: The following information will likely change. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Administration and Congress are discussing economic stimulus legislation. CHECK BACK HERE for updates on new paid leave, benefits for families and children, unemployment benefits, and economic stimulus provisions.

Resources:

Public Health Emergencies and the Fair Labor Standards Act – Wage and Hour Questions  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic

Pandemic Flu and the Family and Medical Leave Act https://www.dol.gov/whd/healthcare/flu_FMLA.htm

Pandemic Preparedness and the Americans with Disabilities Act https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html

Unemployment Benefits https://labor.mo.gov/unemployed-workers.

Utilities https://www.como.gov/utilities/ucs/

https://amwater.com/moaw/customer-service-billing/turn-service-on-off.

https://www.ameren.com/missouri/account/customer-service/payment-options/payment-assistance

Consumer Scams and Emergencies https://ago.mo.gov/app/consumercomplaint.

https://www.ameren.com/account/customer-service/stop-scammers?wt.mc_id=Scam-COV-Page

Moratorium on Foreclosures and Eviction suspended for FHA insured home loans https://www.fhfa.gov/Media/PublicAffairs/Pages/FHFA-Suspends-Foreclosures-and-Evictions-for-Enterprise-Backed-Mortgages.aspx and USDA Single Family Housing Direct Loans https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

Emergency Family Medical Leave Act Expansion https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

Where to Get Free Food?  Click on this link to see locations

For more details click this link.

MMLS Helps Bridge the “Opportunity Gap” for Mid-Missourians

Did you know that Boone County is “among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder?”

Click on the following link to learn more: Missourian

To help reduce this “opportunity gap,” MMLS has launched a Financial Stability Project to expand its representation of low-income consumers in matters that impact their financial stability and economic mobility. MMLS is pleased to welcome consumer attorney Julia Stensby in connection with this project.

Examples of issues for which we can provide legal assistance include:

  • Garnishment and debt collection proceedings;
  • Unlawful and/or predatory loans;
  • Automobile and title cases (including fraud);
  • Credit reporting issues;
  • Employment terminations and wage and hour claims;
  • Appeals of unemployment compensation denials;
  • Contract disputes;
  • Public utility billing practices; and
  • Bankruptcy assistance (limited).

Ms. Stensby will also be working closely with community partners to strengthen collaborations, increase referrals, and connect consumers with financial counseling resources and providers of emergency relief. Community partners, please click this link for a copy of our flyer.

Thank you to Heart of Missouri United Way for providing funds for this project

TIPS TO AVOID CONTRACTOR SCAMS AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS

After a natural disaster, such as the storms and tornadoes that hit Jefferson City this week, community members will come together to help their neighbors with clean-up, re-building, and financial and emotional support. Unfortunately, some people try to take advantage of consumers and homeowners who are anxious to repair their damaged homes. Missouri consumers and homeowners affected by the recent storms and tornadoes need to be on the alert and protect themselves from scams perpetrated by storm-chasers who target survivors of natural disasters.

If you are approached by a company or contractor offering to sell you products or services, take time to ask questions and assess whether the company is a reputable, legitimate business.

Be skeptical – if an offer sounds too good to true, it probably is.

MMLS offers the following tips on warning signs and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Avoid contractors who:

  • Use high-pressure tactics such as offering a “now or never” deal or asking consumers to sign documents immediately;
  • Demand cash up front for the entire amount;
  • Refuse to give an estimate of the job;
  • Are unable to produce local references; or
  • Ask you to obtain the building permit.

The following tips can help you prevent a scam

  • Get recommendations for a contractor from friends, relatives, co-workers, or insurance agent.
  • Check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Home Builder Association, or Attorney General’s Office.
  • Get at least two estimates in writing that itemize the work to be done and separate supplies and labor.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Do not sign a contract quickly without reviewing it carefully. Include an estimated start and end date, the contractor’s obligation to obtain the necessary permits, and any warranties covering materials and workmanship.
  • Ask to see a copy of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance and make sure any subcontractors have liability coverage, preferably under the general contractor’s coverage.  You can ask a friend, relative, or attorney to review the contract. Make sure you have a copy of the signed contract.
  • Get the phone number and street address for the company. If it only gives you a cell phone or post office box, it may be trying to avoid being found.
  • Ask to see the contractor’s business license. A business providing services in Jefferson City and Cole County must have a business license.
  • Ask for and check references from former customers.
  • Never pay in cash. Do not pay full price for services you have yet to receive.
  • Make full payment only when the terms of your agreement have been met.
  • Take a picture of the contractor’s vehicle and license plate number.

Elderly persons and people with disabilities may be targeted by scammers who lie about the extent of damage to parts of the home that the homeowner may not be able to physically access. If you cannot see the damage for yourself, ask for pictures; work with your insurance agent, friends or family to find reputable contractors; and get multiple bids.

Financial exploitation of a person who is elderly or has a disability is a criminal offense. Financial exploitation includes taking money and promising to perform a particular job that the offender does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. You can report financial exploitation to the police or the county prosecuting attorney. Collecting and documenting as much information as you can about the identity, operations, and location of the person(s) taking your money will help the authorities find and charge the perpetrator.

Reporting Scams

Even when a person is careful, they can fall victim to a scam. If you have been a victim of a fraudulent company, report it to the police or the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline. It is not your fault. Reporting the scam can help authorities investigate and stop fraudulent contractors.

Missouri Attorney General Consumer Hotline 800-392-8222 or online https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/consumer-complaints

Other Resources

Mid-Missouri Legal Services www.mmls.org

National Consumer Law Center – Disaster Relief & Consumer Protection https://www.nclc.org/issues/disaster-relief-consumer-protections.html

Attorney General’s Office – Natural Disasters www.ago.mo.gov/civil- division/consumer/consumer-alerts/natural-disasters

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Toll-free 24-hour Elder Abuse/Neglect Hotline: 1-800-392-0210

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Honors a Local Attorney for Pro Bono Service

“Irene Karns, a pro bono attorney for Mid-Missouri Legal Services and a member of the Boone County Bar Association, recently was selected by the Legal Services Corporation of Washington, D.C. to receive a LSC Pro Bono Award. Irene was honored at a Pro Bono Awards Reception on Thursday, January 17, 2019 at Stinson Leonard Street LLP in St. Louis.

Ms. Karns is a retired public defender who has volunteered in MMLS’s Uncontested Divorce Clinic (UDC) for seven years. She has assisted more than 80 clients at the MMLS Columbia office since the Clinic’s inception. The UDC was created by Columbia attorney Brian Taylor, and Ms. Karns has been instrumental in expanding and staffing the Clinic. The UDC is one of the most successful family law clinics in the country, with 90% of participating litigants successfully obtaining their decrees.”

Presenters were from left to right: John Levi, Esq., Chicago, Illinois, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation Irene Karns, Esq., Columbia, MO Victor Maddock of Louisville KY, Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation Jim Sandman of Washington, D.C., Executive Director of the Legal Services Corporation.

Columbia Office

Jefferson City Office