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How to get help in Alabama during the COVID-19 crisis


Last updated March 16, 2021.

Life is changing quickly for everyone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. Protecting yourself and your family from the virus is the first of many concerns. The pandemic also has left many Alabamians worried about food, health care, housing, job security and other basic needs.

Alabama has a safety net of public assistance programs that can help people through hard times. And Alabama Arise wants to help people connect with the help they need. Use this guide to find services that may fit your needs now, even if you weren’t eligible before.

Response efforts are changing rapidly, so check back for updates to this resource guide as new information becomes available. Email if you have any questions or recommendations for additional resources.

Below is a table of contents covered in this guide. Click on each topic to go to its corresponding section.

Urgent response resources
Health care and insurance
Living with disabilities and mental illness
Food assistance
Income and small business assistance
Housing and utilities assistance
Additional information

 

Urgent response resources

Coronavirus symptoms and health care providers

Know the major symptoms of COVID-19: cough, fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms may include aches, chills, diarrhea, headache, severe vomiting, sore throat, tiredness or new loss of smell or taste.

    • If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor first to get advice on testing and care. Free testing is available at state testing sites. Charges may apply at other testing sites.
    • If you do not have a doctor, call the Alabama COVID-19 Hotline 24/7 at 888-264-2256 for testing sites and hours of operation near you. Note: This hotline does not provide medical advice.
    • If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.
    • If you have Medicaid coverage and need help finding a doctor, call 800-362-1504 or click here for a provider directory.
    • For more information on testing in Alabama, visit the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Testing page.

Family abuse and domestic violence resources

Prolonged in-home isolation can mask incidents of family abuse and violence, especially toward children, seniors or people with disabilities. People who report abuse or neglect are protected from legal action in response to their reporting.

Members of certain professions are mandatory reporters, meaning they must report suspected or known abuse or neglect. These professions include chiropractors, clergy members, coroners, day care workers or employees, dentists, doctors, law enforcement officials, medical examiners, mental health professionals, nurses, optometrists, osteopaths, pharmacists, podiatrists, social workers and teachers and school officials.

– If you are experiencing domestic violence (that is, if someone in your family or someone you’re in a relationship with is hurting or threatening you), call the Alabama domestic violence hotline at 800-650-6522. This hotline is answered 24/7, and you do not have to give your name to get help.

– To report suspected child abuse or neglect, including failure to seek medical treatment, call your county Department of Human Resources or local law enforcement. Do not email reports of suspected abuse or neglect, as they may not get prompt attention. 

– To report elder abuse, call the Adult Abuse Hotline at 800-458-7214.

– To report abuse in an assisted living facility or nursing home, call 800-356-9596.

Other contact numbers to know

– If you need legal help anywhere in Alabama to protect your right to disability services, call the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) at 205-348-4928 or use the online intake form here.

– If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the sexual assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). You will be connected with a trained sexual assault service provider in your area.

– If you are experiencing homelessness and need shelter, call 2-1-1 and ask for a list of shelters in your area.

– If you need legal help for a problem related to COVID-19, call Legal Services Alabama at 877-393-2333 or click here.

– To report COVID-19-related price gouging or scams, contact these hotlines:

 

Health care and insurance

The risk of COVID-19 exposure, complications and death varies widely by job, age and health condition. That’s why the new vaccines are being offered in phases, with those deemed at highest risk getting the first doses.

The groups eligible for COVID-19 vaccination as of mid-March 2021 are health care workers and other front-line workers, emergency responders, residents and staff of nursing facilities and congregate care settings, and people over 65 years of age. The next groups slated for eligibility are people with underlying health conditions and critical workforce not included in earlier groups.

Supply shortages have been a major obstacle in Alabama’s vaccination rollout, but new vaccine products and a manufacturing push are improving the outlook. For more information, visit alabamapublichealth.gov.

Important information about the COVID-19 vaccines

Here are some important things to know about the vaccines:

  • All approved vaccines have been through the full testing process for any U.S. vaccine. They’ve come out more quickly because testing and manufacturing were scaled up for the emergency.
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes in one dose. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines come in two doses, several weeks apart. If you get either of those, you will need to get the second dose of the same vaccine you got the first time. The person who gives you your vaccine will explain how to get your follow-up shot.
  • Your health care provider is your best source of information about the vaccine and how to get it. If you don’t have a regular provider, contact your county health department or a local clinic about how and when to get the vaccine.
  • The vaccine will be free to everyone. Some providers may charge an administrative fee. If you cannot pay the fee, tell your provider. You can still get the vaccine.
  • Lots of false information is circulating about the vaccines. Be sure to confirm anything you hear or read with information from a reliable source, such as your health care provider, your county health department or a local clinic.
  • Vaccines are being distributed as soon as they are available. Because the supply is limited at this stage, it’s important to follow official guidance on which phase is the one for you. In the meantime, continue taking precautions and be patient. Everyone will have the opportunity to get the vaccine.

COVID-19 puts people without health insurance at special risk for delayed care and financial disaster. Federal and state governments are making changes to help people who are uninsured or at risk of losing coverage.

COVID-19 care

If you are uninsured, you may be able to get free treatment for conditions related to COVID-19. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a $100 billion emergency fund for health care providers. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced. Check with your local hospital or clinic about this.

Medicaid

Alabama Medicaid is taking action help during the health emergency. No co-pays for services and medicine covered by Medicaid. No referrals needed for EPSDT, PCPs or DHCPs. ACHN care coordination available to help by phone. Mental health services are available. No cancellation of coverage during emergency unless you move out of state or you request it. Encouraging use of telemedicine. Medicaid covers all COVID-19 testing and treatment. Call your doctor.
Courtesy of Alabama Medicaid Agency

If you had Medicaid coverage of any kind during March 2020, or if you become eligible later, your coverage will not be terminated for any reason before the crisis has ended, unless you cancel it yourself or move out of Alabama. This includes postpartum coverage for women who recently have given birth. If your case was open in March but has already closed, please be patient. Medicaid will reopen your case very soon.

To help keep your Medicaid from ending after the emergency:

  • Report any information changes.
  • Renew your Medicaid at the scheduled time.

If you have Medicaid coverage, you do not have to pay co-pays to the hospital, doctor’s office, pharmacy or for medical equipment and supplies during the coronavirus emergency.

To make changes to your Medicaid or if you have questions, call 800-362-1504. You also can make changes online through My Medicaid.

Apply for health coverage

If you are younger than 65 and have lost your job, regular pay or hours in the coronavirus emergency, find out if you and your family can get health insurance through Medicaid, ALL Kids or the Marketplace.

Alabama has 17 community health centers, with more than 165 locations across the state, that provide comprehensive primary care and preventive services on a sliding fee scale, regardless of patients’ insurance status. Services include:

  • COVID-19 testing
  • General primary medical care
  • Diagnostic laboratory and radiology
  • Preventive screenings
  • Well check-ups
  • Dental services
  • Immunizations
  • OB-GYN care
  • Pharmaceutical services
  • Other services that vary by location (mental health care, optometry, substance use disorder treatment, etc.)

To find the nearest health center, visit Find My Health Center and enter your ZIP code. Or call the Alabama Primary Health Care Association at 888-322-7068 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Some details of operation are changing because of COVID-19, so call your local center before visiting.

 

Living with disabilities and mental illness

If you or someone you know lives with a disability or mental illness and needs help during the COVID-19 crisis, use this guide from Disability Rights and Resources to find relevant resources by topic and location.

If you need legal help anywhere in Alabama to protect your right to disability services, call the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) at 205-348-4928 or use the online intake form here.

 

Food assistance

Widespread job losses from COVID-19 are making many more Alabamians eligible for public food assistance and other nutrition supports. To help prevent hunger during the health and economic crisis, state and local food programs are making changes in how they operate.

Local food assistance

Alabama has a network of nonprofit food banks that collect, store and distribute groceries to food pantries, where families can get free food directly. To learn more about food assistance in your area and find a local food pantry, check out the Auburn Justice Center’s food pantry map. Or contact the food bank nearest you:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Alabama provides federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Monthly SNAP benefits help eligible households with low incomes buy the food they need to maintain good health. Loss of income in the COVID-19 crisis is making many more families eligible for SNAP.

You can apply for SNAP through the Department of Human Resources (DHR) here.

  • To create a new My DHR account, you will need to provide your name, date of birth, contact information, preferred username and password. You also will need to set up three security questions for your account’s protection.
  • To get help applying for SNAP, call 877-833-2550 or click here.
  • If you are a senior or have a disability, you can find a simplified application here.
  • To get help filling out the simplified application, call 800-438-2958.

WIC Program 

Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a supplemental nutrition program for pregnant or breastfeeding women; women who had a baby within the last six months; infants; and children under age 5. To receive WIC benefits in Alabama, an individual or family must meet all of these requirements:

  1. Live in Alabama.
  2. Meet income guidelines.
  3. Have a nutritional risk that healthier food could improve.

If you think you may qualify, call your county health department to make an appointment, or call 888-942-4673 for further information. The Alabama WIC Program offers free communication assistance at each clinic location. During the coronavirus emergency, the health department is conducting interviews and nutrition assessments by phone.

If you or your children are approved for WIC, you will be prescribed a specific package of food based on your nutritional assessment. You will receive a debit-like card called an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card that you can use to purchase food from your personalized food package. Learn more about WIC food options here.

Your options will be based on your age and need. Not everyone approved for WIC will be able to get every food item on the list. During the coronavirus emergency, the Department of Public Health is allowing some substitutions if not all the food in your package is available in the grocery store. Your grocer can help you figure out what you can substitute for a WIC food that is unavailable.

Children’s meal services

When schools closed or offered hybrid schedules, millions of children lost access to school meals. In response, Congress created a special program called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). P-EBT provides eligible households with the same benefits as the National School Lunch Program ($6.82 a day for each child not receiving meals at school, prorated for children attending school on a hybrid schedule).

In October, Congress reauthorized and expanded P-EBT to include children under 6, living in a household receiving SNAP assistance and living in an area where day care centers or schools are closed. The new round of P-EBT assistance should become available later this spring and will be retroactive to the start of Alabama’s 2020-21 school year. Meanwhile, the earlier payments will remain active and usable for 365 days from the date issued.

If you believe your family was eligible but didn’t receive a P-EBT card, call DHR’s P-EBT Customer Service at 800-410-5827. You also can email DHR with questions at .

Extension of Summer Food Service Program

The 2020-21 school year began with many uncertainties for classrooms and school cafeterias. Despite detailed USDA guidelines for distributing school meals, child nutrition staff grappled with implementing practical methods to serve meals to incoming students. While some districts opted for on-site learning plans and specified food service procedures, most relied on virtual learning curriculums and grab-and-go meals for remote learners.

Parents and child nutrition staff received relief when Congress extended the Summer Food Service Program through the 2020-21 school year. Extending this program ensures that all school-age children receive school meals at no charge to parents.

Elevated COVID-19 rates have since forced most school districts to convert to remote or hybrid learning methods and accompanying grab-and-go meal options. Plans continue to vary from district to district and are likely to change in response to local conditions and experiences. To get updates on your school’s nutrition plan for the 2020-21 school year, contact your local board of education.

Para asistencia en español oprima el siguiente enlace.

Senior nutrition programs

Alabama provides prepared meals for eligible seniors through several programs, some of which have changed their operation during the emergency. Any Alabamian who is aged 60 or over, or is married to someone who is, is eligible. People with disabilities who live with an eligible participant or in a living community where the senior nutrition program operates are also eligible.

Meals on Wheels continues to operate in all regions, though some programs have suspended hot meal delivery because of reduced volunteer capacity and other factors. All senior centers in Alabama are closed under the emergency order, but everyone who participated in senior center meals is getting Meals on Wheels delivery, unless they choose otherwise. Alabama has received emergency funding to enroll new participants during the pandemic.

Area Agencies on Aging by region and county

 

Income and small business assistance

Unemployment insurance (UI)

To file unemployment compensation claims, visit www.labor.alabama.gov or call 1-866-234-5382.
Courtesy of Alabama Department of Labor

If you lost your job or had your hours or pay reduced because of the pandemic, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, also called unemployment compensation. Some normal administrative rules apply, but the state has suspended its job search requirement and the requirement to be able and available to work.

Even if you haven’t been laid off or furloughed, you still can qualify for benefits if one of these is true:

  • Officials placed you in mandatory quarantine.
  • You’re sick with COVID-19.
  • You must care for an immediate family member diagnosed with COVID-19.

Click here for more information from the Alabama Department of Labor.

The state has stopped penalizing employers for higher employee use of UI benefits. If you’re laid off, make sure your employer knows its UI costs won’t rise if you file a claim. This removes the incentive to dispute it.

Alabama provides 14 to 20 weeks of basic UI compensation. Five more weeks are available for people in job training programs, which face an uncertain status during the pandemic.

  • Compensation ranges from $45 to $275 weekly.
  • Payments equal 1/26 of the wages you earned in the two highest quarters, up to the weekly limit of $275.

Until July 31, the federal government provided a $600 weekly supplement to all UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance beneficiaries. Congress is considering an extension in the next COVID-19 relief package.

If you lose your job or hours and need to file or reopen a claim, follow the steps here or call 866-234-5382 (select option 2). Note: Filing a claim requires patience. The website is complicated, and current call volume is high.

If your claim is denied, contact the Alabama State Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program for advice. Or call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Some people in the labor force do not qualify for traditional unemployment insurance (UI) compensation. But many will be covered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s provision for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You are federally eligible for PUA if you are ineligible for regular UI compensation and you are out of work or have lost working hours because of COVID-19.

This provision applies to:

  • Independent contractors who have not participated in the UI system.
  • Workers who have not earned enough wages to get UI benefits.
  • Workers who earned wages in too few quarters to qualify for UI benefits.
  • “Gig workers,” such as rideshare drivers, online sellers and pet-sitters.

The process for filing for PUA is the same as filing a UI claim.

Stimulus payments for people who didn’t receive them automatically

The CARES Act created Economic Impact Payments of $1,200 for each eligible adult and $500 for each eligible child. A second round of relief payments of $600 per adult went out early in 2021. And the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021, will provide $1,400 payments for most Americans.

Many Alabamians who haven’t received payments don’t file federal income tax returns because they don’t earn enough to owe taxes. Others don’t receive Social Security, veterans’ benefits or other direct federal payments.

Click here to check the status of your filed claim. You also can register for any upcoming payments at this site.

Eligible people who missed a filing deadline or did not receive the full amount to which they were entitled still can receive the full amount of their relief payments. If this applies to you, claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when filing federal income taxes for the 2020 filing year. The deadline for 2020 returns is April 15, 2021.

If you’re eligible and have a bank account, your payment will be sent there. If you don’t have a bank account, the IRS will send a check or prepaid debit card. Direct deposits usually arrive within one to two weeks if there are no errors in the information provided. Checks and prepaid debit cards often take longer.

Relief for small business owners 

Our nation’s small businesses are facing an unprecedented economic disruption with the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act contains $376 billion in relief for American workers and small businesses. In addition to traditional programs from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the CARES Act established several new temporary programs to address the COVID-19 outbreak. You can find a comprehensive list here.

If you need help with the SBA’s relief options, the agency offers free business counseling by region. Click here to find assistance near you.

Help for small farmers and farmers markets

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Association (ASAN) has mini-grants available to help small farmers and farmers markets weather the pandemic. The grants are available in Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties. Click here for more ASAN resources for small farmers and farmers markets.

 

Housing and utilities assistance

Federal and state governments have taken numerous steps to protect people from loss of housing and essential utilities during the COVID-19 emergency.

Eviction moratorium

On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed a moratorium on evictions for most Americans. This moratorium is in effect in Alabama, even though Gov. Kay Ivey lifted state-level eviction protections June 1. But the CDC’s moratorium is only in effect through March 31, 2021. If the moratorium is not extended, the lack of state protections for renters means evictions for nonpayment will resume.

To qualify for protection under this moratorium, applicants must submit a statement to their landlords. The statement must assert that the applicant meets each of these five standards:

  • Has used best efforts to obtain available government housing assistance.
  • Meets financial requirements. (The 2020 income eligibility threshold is no more than $99,000 for an individual or $198,000 for a married couple.)
  • Is unable to pay full rent due to substantial loss of income or high medical expenses.
  • Is making efforts to pay the amount possible.
  • Would likely become homeless or live in a shared space if evicted.

People who are behind on their rent or utilities or who are facing evictions can find help from agencies that have received federal relief funds to prevent homelessness during the pandemic. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) has received $23 million for homelessness assistance and relief. Local nonprofit agencies have received these ADECA funds and can make rent and utility payments for people who are behind. To find out who in your area can help with rent and utilities, call 2-1-1 or visit 211connectsalabama.org.

The Alabama Housing Financing Authority administers a separate fund of $256 million that can help with past due rent and utilities. To find out more and apply for assistance, call 833-620-2434 or click here.

Housing assistance

The CDC emergency action does not remove the legal requirement to pay rent. It also does not prevent evictions for reasons other than nonpayment.

  • If your landlord gives you an eviction notice or says you’re being evicted, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.
  • If you become homeless due to eviction or any other reason, call 2-1-1 for shelter referral and rapid rehousing assistance.

You also can call 2-1-1 if you need help paying rental deposits, first month’s rent or a mortgage payment. Ask for a referral to an agency that receives Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing funds. These funds can be used to prevent evictions, help cover the costs of a new rental or cover utility bills that may lead to loss of housing.

If your income is very low and you need help paying rent, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) may be able to help with short-term assistance. You can find your local DHR office here.

If you are in an unstable housing situation, call the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama at 205-939-0411.

If your landlord changes locks or cuts off utilities to force you out, call Legal Services Alabama at 866-456-4995.

Keeping your electricity and water services on

Though no statewide process exists for utility assistance, some providers have stopped shutoffs. And some utility payment assistance funds are available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

If you need utility bill payment assistance through LIHEAP, contact the Community Action Agency (CAA) serving the county where you live.  Find your local CAA here.

If you are unable to pay your utility bills, call your utility provider and ask for a deferment.

 

Additional information

To find other assistance in your area, call the statewide helpline at 2-1-1. This number will connect you to your area’s information and referral system. You also can click here to search for local help online. 2-1-1 is available 24/7 by phone and online to help you find assistance with clothing, employment, food, health care, housing, legal problems and other needs from government and non-government agencies.

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