COVID-19

Up-to-date as of 5/29/2020

Is PTLA open? Can I still get help?

To protect our clients and staff, all PTLA offices are closed to the public. If you have a current case, please reach out to our staff by e-mail or phone. If you are looking for legal help, please visit our Contact Us page for information about our up-to-date call in hours. Thank you for your understanding.

NEW! We just added an extra call center shift! Our phone lines will now be open Fridays, 9:00a.m. - 11:30a.m. until further notice. Check our Contact Us page for more details.

We are also posting updates and new information to our website almost every day. Check this list as we add more resources!

What’s going on? I don’t know where to get my questions answered or reliable information.  

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there – but there are also trustworthy sources of information! If you have general questions about COVID-19, what’s going on in the state of Maine, and what services or resources are available, contact 211 Maine. You can just dial 211, or text your zip code to 898-211. Maine 211 is available 24/7, and should be able to answer your basic questions and provide accurate, up-to-date information. 

Maine Equal Justice has created, and will continue to update, a webpage about resources available to low-income Mainers at this time.

I heard the courts were closed. Is my court case still happening?

Some civil cases are delayed until at least August 3rd. This includes: 

Many other court cases are going on as scheduled. Hearings and court dates are by phone or video. You should get a notice from the court with a date and time. You should get instructions about how to call in or appear by video or phone. If you have questions about how to go to court, call the court and ask the clerks. Some of the rural courts are having some in person meetings. Here’s a list of courts by County, click yours to find their contact information: http://www.courts.maine.gov/maine_courts/district/index.shtml 

  • The courts are still open to the public. If you have questions about your case or what is going on in the courts, you can call the clerk of the court where your case was being held.  
  • You can ask the court to hear your case soon because its urgent. The courts will only allow it in special cases. If the other side asks the court to do hear the case, you can write to the court say why it is not urgent. 
  • If you do have to go to court, expect increased screening before you can actually go into the courthouse. The courts are taking steps to try to keep everyone as safe as possible. Read about Maine Courts COVID-19 Entry Screening.   
  • You will not be allowed in the court if you have symptoms of or exposure to COVID-19. 
  • You will not be allowed in the court if you do not wear a mask.  

For more information about eviction and rental housing issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, see our page: COVID-19 Maine Eviction and Rental Housing FAQ

What if I am not safe at home because of abuse? What resources can help me stay safe?

If you have an emergency, you can still call 9-1-1.  Even though some police departments are taking reports more over the phone or by appointment, they are still a good option if you are in an emergency situation and you feel unsafe.

Advocates from Maine’s domestic violence and sexual assault resource centers are available to assist survivors.  

Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assalt

If you need information about the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), please go to their website. There you will find information about their work, and also information about how to get help if you need it.

If you need help:

  • You can chat online with an advocate from MECASA anytime Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. To chat with an advocate, go to this site and click the “chat now” button. They are also available by phone anytime, day or night, at: 1-800-871-7741. You can also text them Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • MECASA’s website lets people know that someone reading your phone bill may be able to see that you have texted with them. Please consider this when planning for your safety.  

Are the courts still open to help survivors?

The courts are open for Protection from Abuse and Harassment cases. Complaints for Protection from Abuse and Harassment can be filed at courthouses while they are open. Courthouse hours can be found here. Even under the Stay Healthy at Home Executive Order, you are still allowed to travel to courthouses to file and attend court for these cases.

You can file the types of cases listed below in three ways: (1) going to the courthouse in person, (2) by mail, or (3) by email: 

*The links here are to the forms you complete in person or by mail. See below for the email form links.

**There are no court forms for these motions, you should just send a letter to the court if you want to file a Motion to Continue (a motion to reschedule your hearing, for example if you are sick or cannot get to court for another reason) or a Motion for hearing to held by video or phone. Make sure you also send a copy of your letter to the other party in your case.

Learn more about how to file in our new article: Maine Protection Orders & COVID-19

If you do have to go to court, expect increased screening before you can actually go into the courthouse. The courts are taking steps to try to keep everyone as safe as possible. Read about Maine Courts COVID-19 Entry Screening. If you are not able to enter a courthouse to file a PFA or PFH, you should tell the marshall that you need to file a protection order. The court will make sure that you can file, but may have you talk to the clerk or a judge on the phone. You can call an advocate at the domestic violence or sexual assault helplines for help with the protection order.

Do I still need to follow court-ordered parental rights agreement? What about visitation during the stay at home order?

People with orders from a divorce or parental rights case should do their best to follow those orders so long as it is safe and possible to do so. Talk to your children’s doctor about your situation if you have health concerns. Communicate with the other parent about your concerns.

On March 31, 2020, Governor Mills issued a series of mandates, including a “Stay Healthy at Home” directive. This requires people in Maine to stay in their homes at all times, unless for an essential job or for an essential personal reason. Some of the essential personal reasons include buying food and medication. You can find the full list of these essential personal activities here. Under this directive you could transport your children to visits with their other parent under two of the listed essential personal activities.

  • You are allowed to provide care, including transportation, of yourself or a family member for essential health and safety activities.
  • You are also allowed to leave your home for travel required by a law enforcement officer or court order.

Learn more about parental rights during this crisis here: Maine Parental Rights & COVID-19 FAQ

Can my electric, water, or other utilities still be shut off if I can't pay during this time?

No. On Monday, March 16th the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directed utility providers to stop all shut-offs, including disconnection notices or demands immediately. This covers electric, water, natural gas, and certain home telephone providers. According to the Commission: "No one will lose utility service or be threatened with disconnection during this civil emergency," said Chairman Philip L. Bartlett, II. This applies equally to residential and business customers and is effective immediately. Read the full statement from the PUC suspending utility shut-offs.

Can I get unemployment benefits if I lose work because of COVID-19?

You may be able to get unemployment benefits if you lose or have to leave work because of COVID-19. Maine Equal Justice has put together this handy resource for workers impacted by COVID-19.

The Maine Department of Labor has also published the following COVID-19 Related Unemployment FAQ

On March 17th, the state passed an emergency law to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance to cover:

  • An employer temporarily shutting down because of COVID-19;
  • A person who is quarantined, but expected to go back to work once the quarantine is over;
  • A person who leaves work because of risk of exposure, or to care for a family member.

This emergency law also:

  • Temporarily waives the one week waiting period for benefits, so that workers can start getting benefits immediately.
  • Suspending the requirement to search for work if an employee is still connected to their employer
  • Made it so having employees filing for unemployment benefits will not affect an employer's experience rating.

NEW! Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) gives unemployment coverage for self-employed workers and others not normally covered by state unemployment insurance. This program was created through the federal CARES Act and provides up to 39 weeks of benefits through December 26, 2020.

From the Maine DOL Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQ:

How do I file for unemployment benefits under this new program?

  • If you have already applied for benefits and been denied due to insufficient earnings, do NOT reapply. Your claim is in the system and will automatically transfer to PUA. Continue filing your weekly certification.

 

  • If you are self-employed, filed a claim before PUA became available and received a denial; you do not need to refile an initial PUA claim. You will be enrolled in PUA but will need to file weekly PUA claims.  If you have any outstanding weekly claims to be filed, these will be identified on your PUA monetary determination and you will be advised to file those claims.  The system will allow you to file for the weeks noted.

 

  • If you are self-employed and have not yet filed a claim, visit www.maine.gov/unemploymentand fill out the streamlined application form for PUA. Submit your weekly certification each week thereafter.

 

  • If you are NOT self-employed and have not yet filed an initial claim under any unemployment program, you need to file a regular unemployment claim first to determine if you are eligible. If you are determined ineligible, your claim will be automatically converted to a PUA claim. Visit www.maine.gov/unemployment and fill out the application for the regular state unemployment program.

 

From the Maine DOL for self-employed workers who need to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:

"Applications for PUA will open on Friday, May 1. Beginning Friday, people who have been self-employed should do the following:

  • Create a ReEmployME account
  • Verify your email address in ReEmployME – click on the Benefit Maintenance menu and follow the instructions to receive a confirming email
  • Sign up for direct deposit – also through the Benefit Maintenance menu. This is faster than the debit card option
  • File your PUA claim – through the Unemployment Claim menu
  • File your weekly certification for any weeks after your loss of employment
  • Continue filing your weekly certification every week

Anyone who is not self-employed should follow the traditional process of applying for benefits. Visit www.maine.gov/unemployment for more information."

The Maine DOL has also put together this Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQ.

 

Unemployment Updates and Resources

Monday, April 6, 2020 Unemployment Update - Phone Hours Based on Last Name

From the Maine Department of Labor: "Starting Monday, April 6...last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday; I-Q on Tuesday; R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time."

A Maine Department of Labor poster listing their alphabetical call-in schedule

If you are wondering about how to file for unemployment in Maine, the Portland Press Herald provides this guidance:

The Maine Dept. of Labor also has detailed filing guides: Guide for using ReEmployME and the ReEmployME Instruction Guide."

Read the Maine Department of Labor COVID-19 Unemployment FAQ.

Check the Maine Equal Justice COVID-19 page for further updates!

Many thanks to Johnson, Webbert, & Young, the Southern Maine Workers' Center, and the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project for their efforts in putting much of this unemployment information together!

What if I'm a farmworker who worked part of the year in Maine?

If you are a farmworker who worked in Maine, you may be able to collect unemployment benefits in Maine.  Please call our Farmworker Unit for more information at (207) 400-3283 or at (207) 942-0673.

If you are a farmworker who worked in more than one state, you might be able to collect unemployment benefits based on all the work you did in all the places you worked.  Please call our Farmworker Unit for more information at (207) 400-3283 or at (207) 942-0673.

When are my taxes due, now?

The IRS has extended the deadline to file your 2019 personal income taxes to July 15, 2020. They have also extended the deadline to make payments on your 2019 personal taxes until July 15, 2020.

If the IRS is trying to collect taxes from prior years, call us to see if we can help.

The State of Maine has also extended the deadline to file your 2019 income taxes to July 15, 2020 - to match the IRS deadline. This also extends the deadline to make payments on your 2019 Maine income taxes until July 15, 2020.

Where can I find resources about things like healthcare, food, childcare, benefits like SNAP or TANF?

Maine Equal Justice has created, and will continue to update, a webpage with information and resources specifically for low-income Mainers at this time. Check there regularly for more information. We will also be posting the answers to frequently asked questions about legal issues on this page. Check back for more information soon!

PTLA COVID-19 Resources & FAQs

We are working to put together resources and FAQs to address some of the problems people are having because of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to add to this section as things develop. Here are the resources we have so far, beyond what we cover on this general page:

Rental Housing

Homeownership & Foreclosure

Work & Farmworkers

Money, Taxes & Debt

Family Law

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking

KIDS Legal - Rights of Students & Parents/Caregivers

Health & Public Benefits

Attention Attorneys! Volunteer with Pine Tree Legal Assistance to lessen the post-pandemic financial distress of low-income Mainers

Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) - in collaboration with our friends at the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) - is offering a unique consumer debt defense training opportunity for Maine attorneys this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Attorneys can access these trainings for free in exchange for a commitment to accept one pro bono case referral from PTLA within the next year.  Please note that registrants must certify that they do not engage in debt collection work.

Learn more about this opportunity to help our communities!