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Maybe you don't have to get your car inspected now? FAQ on coronavirus, government and you

Posted March 30, 2020 5:14 p.m. EDT
Updated May 5, 2020 2:22 p.m. EDT

— Government touches everyone's life, and COVID-19 has disrupted it.

Readers are calling and writing with questions, and this list of frequently asked questions will be updated as often as necessary with answers.

If you have a question along these lines, please scan the FAQ below first. On most computers you can hit "ctrl F" (command F on a Mac) to search for a key word.

If you don't see your question answered, email it to us at tfain@wral.com. Please put COVID FAQ in the subject line.

Do I still have to get my car inspected?

Legislation passed by the General Assembly on May 2 and signed into law two days later by Gov. Roy Cooper grants a five-month extension of the expiration date on more than two dozen state Division of Motor Vehicles credentials.

The five-month extension applies to any credential that expires on or after March 1 and before Aug. 1, including the following:

  • Driver's license
  • Learner's permit
  • Limited learner's permit
  • Limited provisional license
  • Full provisional license
  • Commercial driver's license
  • Commercial learner's permit
  • Temporary driving certificate
  • Special identification card
  • Handicapped placard
  • Vehicle registration
  • Temporary vehicle registration
  • Dealer license plate
  • Transporter plate
  • Loaner/Dealer "LD" plate
  • Vehicle inspection authorization
  • Inspection station license
  • Inspection mechanic license
  • Transportation network company permit
  • Motor vehicle dealer license
  • Sales representative license
  • Manufacturer license
  • Distributor license
  • Wholesaler license
  • Driver training school license
  • Driver training school instructor license
  • Professional house-moving license

The measure also allows the DMV to waive any penalties for a late registration renewal during the extension period. Customers who already paid a $15 fee for a late renewal in March or April will be reimbursed.

The bill also extends the due dates for motor vehicle taxes that are tied to vehicle registrations to correspond with the extended expiration dates.

Are food stamp benefits going up?

The state announced March 30 it would increase benefits for Food and Nutrition Services recipients for March and April. All families will get the maximum allowed for their family size. For a family of four, that's $646 a month.

Some 360,000 households will get the temporary increase, and the money will go out in a random, staggered order, hitting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards every other workday starting April 1, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Recipients will still get regular benefits and should get two separate payments for March and two for April. To check eligibility, call 1-888-622-7328, visit ebtedge.com or download the ebtEDGE mobile app.

Certification periods have also been extended to keep people from visiting local social services offices. At least some work requirements are also temporarily suspended, and beneficiaries will be notified of this change, DHHS said. For questions, call 1-866-719-0141.

Are schools still feeding students?

In many cases, yes. And parents who need food for their children can text FOODNC to 877-877 to locate nearby free meal sites. Texts are available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877. More information is available online.

Are school employees getting paid?

For the most part, they should be, and let us know if you miss a paycheck. But they are expected to keep working to get paid. State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said in a March 20 letter that "school employees are eligible to be paid if they work" and that "local superintendents have been encouraged to reassign employees, including hourly employees, with appropriate tasks to keep staff working." Those employees should be allowed to work remotely "to the extent feasible," the letter states.

Why can't I reach anyone at the unemployment office?

In a word, volume. The state Division of Employment Security has gone from handling 3,200 claims a week to 20,000 a day. Anything you can do online, do online. If your password doesn't work you can email NCDESpasswordhelp@nccommerce.com.

Initial checks typically go out two weeks after filing, and filers need to fill out a weekly certification to keep getting benefits. The requirement to look for work has been waived. The additional $600 a week benefit from the federal government should kick in April 17, DES said April 9. The division has an FAQ on COVID-19.

Will I get less money because it took so long to file unemployment?

You shouldn't. The division says it "will ensure that claimants do not miss out on any weeks of eligibility due to the high call volume." The additional $600 a week will also be retroactive.

If I'm an independent contractor or self-employed, can I get unemployment benefits?

Not typically, but the federal government put money into legislation that passed March 27 to help. The state Division of Employment Security said on April 9 that it expects to have this claims system ready April 25.

When will the weekly $600 unemployment boost arrive from the federal government?

Starting April 17 for people who are already getting state benefits, according to the state. Those who are self employed, independent contractors, neither of which is typically eligible for benefits, will have to wait to apply until April 25, DES has said.

When will the federal government send out stimulus checks?

These checks, $1,200 per adult for most people, plus $500 per child, are expected to go out some time in April, likely starting the week of April 13. Like the $600 unemployment boost, they're part of a wide-ranging stimulus bill Congress passed March 27. Initially the government said people on Social Security, and who don't normally file tax returns, would need to fill out a form to get their checks. That changed after some backlash, and the IRS said April 1 that Social Security recipients would get their money automatically.

What's an "essential business?"

Simply put, this is a business that can stay open despite local or statewide stay-at-home orders. It's a long list under the state's order, including electronics retailers, lawn and garden centers, book stores and liquor stores. Where local orders are stricter, the local order controls. Businesses looking to be added can contact the state Department of Revenue and fill out a form.

The types of businesses that may remain open are listed on the state's executive order, starting on page 4. Wake County's proclamation is here.

When are income taxes due?

July 15, for both state and federal income taxes. There won't be a penalty if you file by then, and House Speaker Tim Moore said March 31 that the General Assembly will waive interest payments as well, a change that takes legislative action. The legislature is set to come into session April 28, though it may come in earlier to deal with a range of COVID-19 issues.

What about sales and other business taxes?

The Department of Revenue said March 31 that it will waive penalties through July 15 for late filing on sales taxes, withholding taxes and a number of other categories. It also won't impose penalties for failure to obtain a license or failure to pay any tax due March 15 through July 15, if the license is obtained or the tax paid by July 15.

Why are DMV offices still open?

The Division of Motor Vehicles closed more than half of its offices (list and more information here), but it doesn't have the authority to extend expiration dates, which would take legislative action. Most drivers can renew licenses online. The federal REAL ID deadline, once set for Oct. 1, has been pushed to 2021.

The DMV isn't offering road tests right now for regular licenses, so people trying to get their first licenses have to wait. The division is still offering road tests for commercial driver's licenses. All offices that remain open are appointment only, and customers are asked a series of wellness questions.

What about people who need road tests at the DMV?

We've heard from young people with provisional licenses that are about to expire who cannot take the road test. They're out of luck for now. It's possible, perhaps even likely, the General Assembly will extend license expiration dates and that police officers will be lenient. WRAL News is seeking more information from legislators.

What's happening with elections?

A Republican runoff in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District has already been pushed to June 23. Changes for the November general elections are a ways off, but the the State Board of Elections has asked the governor and General Assembly to consider a number of changes, including making Election Day a holiday to free up more (and younger) poll workers and to simplify voting by mail.

With many local boards of election closed now, people with a North Carolina driver's license or other DMV-issued ID can apply online to register to vote, the State Board of Elections announced March 30.

Can I go fishing, and what else can I do?

State officials have told people to stay at home as much as possible, but also said outside recreation is allowed, provided you stay away from others. You can also go for a family drive, and you can travel between homes you own.

We're getting lots of questions about what is and isn't allowed under various stay-at-home orders. The statewide order provides guidance starting on page 3. Local orders, including Wake County's, may be more strict, and the stricter order controls.

Their intent can be summed up in Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen's admonition on April 2: "We want folks to stay home, end of story."

Are state parks and boat ramps open?

A number of state parks are closed, and all state park restrooms are closed. All park campgrounds are closed until at least April 30, and those with reservations will get a call about their refund. Most boat ramps remain open.

The state Wildlife Resources Commission operates separate facilities, and the agency provides more information on boat access and their closures online. Regular fishing and hunting license regulations remain in place, as do season regulations and bag rules.

Are drive-in parking lot church services OK?

Regular church services would violate the state's general ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, but some churches are offering parking lot services where people remain in their vehicles and a sermon is broadcast via radio. Those are allowed. The governor clarified this in a March 31 letter to law enforcement, saying they "appear to be acceptable as long as individuals remain in their vehicles and avoid contact."

What about my court date?

Most court dates are delayed until at least June 1, a decision announced April 3 that extended previous postponements. That announcement also extended deadlines to pay most fines and fees by 90 days and directed court clerks not to report unpaid court debts to the DMV, meaning drivers licenses won't be suspended for non-payment. You can still pay tickets online here. You can sign up for text message reminders of new court dates here. People are asked to visit NCcourts.gov first for answers to scheduling and other questions, and there's a court-date lookup service here. Each county system also has its own page with local information. If questions remain, call the local clerk of court.

Can I be arrested for violating these stay-at-home orders?

Potentially. Violating the statewide order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, but the governor has made it clear he expects law enforcement to issue warnings first when people ignore the mass gathering ban or other social distancing rules. In a March 31 letter to law enforcement, the governor said he trusts officers' judgment, but, "simply put, arrests should be a final option.”

Will the power company shut off my electricity if I can't pay?

Duke Energy and a number of other power companies or co-operatives had already announced shutoff prevention policies, but Gov. Roy Cooper expanded that March 31 with an executive order that prohibits utility disconnections during the pandemic. This applies to electric, gas, water and wastewater services for 60 days.

The order gives people at least six months to pay without fees, penalties or interest. It encourages, but does not require, phone, cable and internet companies to follow suit, and it encourages banks not to charge overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties. There's an FAQ on the order.

What's happening in state prisons?

As of April 2, several inmates and prison workers have tested positive. The system has changed a number of procedures, adding a 14-day quarantine for new arrivals, screening for symptoms, cutting down on transfers and giving inmates two free phone calls a week or postage-paid cards. Work-release programs have been canceled, and the system's Correctional Enterprise plants, which make various items, have boosted production of hand sanitizer and soap. They're also making surgical masks and, at the sign factory, face shields. A Department of Public Safety briefing presented March 31 to state legislators has more information.

We'll answer additional questions as they come in.

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