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Need helping paying rent and other bills following COVID-19 layoffs? Here are some tips

Relief is out there; you just have to ask.

CLEVELAND — With the number of unemployed Ohioans continuing to rise and the first round of rent and other bills due, many are looking for help.

It’s coming, although it seems to at a snail’s pace for people out of work. But between President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency and Gov. Mike DeWine signing the state's coronavirus relief bill, homeowners and renters are getting some breaks.

Evictions have been suspended for at least two months for those with federally-backed mortgages, and rental assistance is being offered to those in Federally run housing. Cuyahoga County is suspending foreclosures for at least the next two months, and even many private lenders are delaying due dates if you call to explain your hardship.

Rental assistance in private buildings is also becoming available through state groups like the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, and the Ohio Supreme Court advised local courts to temporarily halt evictions. That doesn't mean landlords won't try to force out renters who don’t pay, but they’ll have a much harder time according to Abigail Staudt, a housing specialist from The Legal Aid Society in Cleveland.

"They may be able to file it," she said, "but the court's not going to set it for two or three months down the line, depending on how they have instituted new orders, given COVID-19."

Each municipal court has different rules, so you need to contact them if you’re being evicted for non-payment. And if a landlord changes the locks without a legal eviction, you can take them to court.

Filing unemployment is still brutal for many, but just as bad is applying for food benefits. I’ve received emails from viewers who say they’re being required to show an unemployment pay stub before they receive said benefits.

One man who was recently laid off from his restaurant job told me Job and Family Services acknowledged that his information is in the system for unemployment, but said the agency isn’t shared it with the people who handle food benefits. When I called JFS to ask why they were making people wait, they told me that this was not the way the system was supposed to work and that they would reinforce the policy with the employees processing claims.

Ohioans are also getting relief with their utilities: All of them (including for water) have halted disconnections and are restoring services for those already shut off for non-payment.

"PUCO has something called the ‘Winter Reconnect Order’, which we've extended through May 1," Matt Schilling of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio told me.

Many cell phone and internet providers are also promising not to disrupt service for non-payment, and most of the major credit card issuers are extending due dates or waiving late fees. But, they won’t just offer it to you; you have to ask.

Here’s where to go for help:

Renters in Federal housing/Homeowners with Federal Loans:

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