Monday, February 08, 2021

WV Legislative session starts this week


The West Virginia state legislature meets for 2 months every year, and this year's session begins on February 10, 2021. Some pandemic precautions will be in place at the Capitol, so public participation in person will be quite limited, though the proceedings are scheduled to be done in person in the House and Senate chambers. 

You can see the calendar for the session at https://www.wvlegislature.gov/Bulletin_Board/calendar/calendar_2021.cfm

Throughout the session you can see some daily highlights posted on the legislature's blog https://blog.wvlegislature.gov/

Governor Jim Justice will present his State of the State address on Wednesday night which will be broadcast live starting at 7p on WV Public radio and public television. You can find your local public tv channel here https://www.wvpublic.org/find-wvpb-television and your local public radio station here https://www.wvpublic.org/find-wv-public-radio

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

WVSLA celebrates the life of Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson’s extraordinary life began in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918 and took her to a long career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Hampton, Virginia. She died February 24, 2020 at age 101.

Much of her life history was revealed in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” and the book by the same name, ”Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Mrs. Johnson’s love of learning and mathematics helped her excel in school and college at West Virginia State, and at West Virginia University as a graduate student. While she was enrolled in the WVU math program as a graduate student for just one semester, she played a ground-breaking role in integrating African-American students into the master’s program in 1939.

With the can-do attitude that served her well all her life, Mrs. Johnson’s work with NASA involved making complex and unique calculations of the orbital mechanics which were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.

Her 33-year career in the space program started with the very first space flights of Alan Shepard and then John Glenn and extended through to the planning for coordinating the vehicles involved in the 1969 moon landing, Space Shuttle missions, and even a mission to Mars. The astronauts were brought home safely on the failed Apollo 13 mission because of her calculations. She was part of the high-level Space Task Group responsible for launch and landing data. She co-authored 26 research papers.

our black history wv

Mrs. Johnson’s attitude was: “I always tried to do my best, because I did not want anyone to bring my work back to be redone – and they never did!”

The space agency noted her ‘historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.”

Her experiences also made her a strong proponent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as an educational focus.

For her achievements, Mrs. Johnson received numerous honors: the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015; the Congressional Gold Medal in 2020 posthumously; and a Silver Snoopy award, often called the astronaut’s award, for her work in assisting astronauts during the space missions.

She received 13 honorary degrees, including an honorary doctorate from WVU in 2015 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2019. Four buildings have been named for her; two are major NASA facilities. The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility is located in Fairmont, WV.

From her first marriage, she had three daughters; Joylette, Constance, and Katherine. She later was remarried for almost 60 years, and happily, her family expanded to include 6 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren at the time of her death in 2020.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Statewide WV online pre-registration for COVID-19 vaccine is up and running

i got my vaccine stickers

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has created an online registration system for state residents to sign up to get notified of when they can get vaccinated. The system went online Monday 1/25/21.

You don't have to be any certain age or in a priority category to voluntarily pre-register on the site. You have to create an account in the system by providing information like your birthdate and home address. You will have to provide a way to be contacted, such as email or phone or text, for when an appointment becomes available for you to get vaccinated. You have to  create a username and password that you'll need to be able to retrieve later to log in for updates and information. 

The system will still apply the state's vaccine plan priorities, so older people should expect to be ahead of younger people as appointments for vaccination become available in your geographic area.

Learn more about the system here https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/Pages/Vaccine.aspx and click the Sign Up Here gray button at the bottom of the page to create your account.

Senior West Virginians age 60 and over who have concerns or questions about this can call WV Senior Legal Aid at 1.800.229.5068 for help. 

Friday, January 08, 2021

Tips for Avoiding COVID-19 Fraud

Fraudsters never miss an opportunity. Fear of the pandemic and confusion about the vaccine create excellent opportunities for scammers to get between you and your money.

Seniors are among the most vulnerable to both the novel coronavirus and consumer scams related to it. Of course senior West Virginians are seeking information about how to prevent getting infected, so being skeptical is as important as it has ever been. 

To help protect yourself from the opportunistic virus scammers:

- Know that vaccination and testing is FREE. If someone is asking you to pay, it's a scam.

- Recognize that URGENCY and SCARCITY are easily used by scammers to trick you into making bad decisions. Cavemen scammers probably used these tactics, they are so old and effective. Take a minute to breathe and consult your trusted sources before giving your money or your personal information to anyone no matter how much pressure you are under. In fact, the more pressured you feel the more likely you are about to get scammed.

- Know that the government IS NOT going to call you and ask for personal information for you to get vaccine or treatment. This is also true about the IRS, remember those scams? It's that time of year, they'll be coming around again soon, too.

- Don't rely on social media posts about vaccine or treatment or testing. VERIFY that information from the real sources, like your local health department https://dhhr.wv.gov/localhealth/pages/map.aspx, your Governor's website https://governor.wv.gov/Pages/default.aspx, the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) website https://dhhr.wv.gov/COVID-19/Pages/default.aspx.

- Be aware of scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test for you and collect payment information for the test. If you want to verify that a call from a contact tracer is legitimate call your local health department. Learn more about this here http://seniorlegalaid.blogspot.com/2020/06/contact-tracer-or-scammer.html

- DON'T RESPOND to text messages, Facebook messenger, or other social media direct messages about virus testing, treatment, or vaccine, and don't click any links about it in messages. Even if the message is from someone you know scammers can hack your friends' accounts and deliver fake messages.

- PROTECT your personal information and don't give it out if you aren't sure. Get help figuring it out. 

If you suspect you have been contacted by a scammer, or you have been the victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at disaster@leo.gov.

If you are at least 60 years old and a West Virginia resident you can call WV Senior Legal Aid at 1-800-229-5068 for confidential advice about scams and other legal issues.



Monday, December 28, 2020

Free credit reports weekly through April 2021

The three national credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax are all offering everyone free weekly credit reports through April 2021. 

There are 3 ways you can request your reports: online, by phone, or by mail. You can request and access your reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can get your reports mailed to you by either calling 1-877-322-8228 or by mailing a completed request form which you can download from here www.annualcreditreport.com/manualRequestForm.action

For security purposes you will have to go through a verification process if you make your request online or by telephone. You'll be asked a few questions about some specific credit accounts in your report and you'll get multiple choice answers to choose from. For example, they may ask you which finance company your car payment is through, or how much is your monthly mortgage payment. 

Reviewing your credit reports is a good way to catch identity theft and fraud. The same old fraudsters are pulling new tricks related to the pandemic, so it's as important as ever to keep vigilant about your credit and financial accounts.

If you see suspicious or confusing information on your credit reports you can get help figuring out what to do next. If you are at least 60 yrs old and a West Virginia resident you can all WV Senior Legal Aid at 1.800.228.5068 for help in any part of this process.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Struggling with mortgage? Deadline to apply for help 12/31/20


The federal CARES Act creates some help for people who are struggling to pay their mortgages because of COVID-related issues. The deadline to request the help is 12/31/2020.

Who is eligible? People who have federally-backed mortgages (like FHA, USDA, VA mortgages, for example) who are having trouble making the payments because of the pandemic.

What if my mortgage isn't federally backed? Many private mortgage lenders are offering pandemic-related relief, too. 

What kind of relief is available? A forebearance, meaning a temporary reduction or pause in your obligation to make your mortgage payments for up to 180 days with a possible extension of another 180 days.

Do I have to prove my financial hardship? No. If you qualify for the CARES Act relief the mortgage servicer can not legally require you to produce evidence of your financial hardship.

What happens after the forebearance period, if I get one? You'll still be required to pay back the missed mortgage payments, but you can not be required to pay it in a lump sum if you qualify for the CARES Act relief. You'll have a repayment plan, so that is something you and the mortgage servicer should work out before your forebearance is up.

Do I have to pay application fees or other fees to get the relief? No. Under the CARES Act you can not be charged fees for the relief. If anyone asks you to pay upfront fees to get the relief it is likely a scam, report it to consumer protection authorities like the Federal Trade Commission https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ and be careful.

The deadline for this relief is just a couple weeks away! If you are struggling to meet your mortgage payments, or you are already behind, you can call your mortgage servicer to ask about what relief you might be eligible for. You might get the break you need.

For more information see https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/mortgage-forbearance-during-covid-19-what-know-what-do/ and http://cfpb.gov/housing

Social Security and SSI benefits COLA increase 1.3% starting January 2021

 


You probably already got a letter from the federal Social Security Administration about your 2021 benefits increase. But in case you didn't, starting in January you'll be getting a 1.3% Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) increase on your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. 

The COLA by law is calculated using a formula based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the previous year's third quarter. So in years when there is more consumer price inflation the COLA is likely to be higher for the following year. This 1.3% increase is one of the lowest since the COLA was implemented in 1975, though there have been 3 years where there was no increase at all.

You don't have to do anything to receive the increase, it will come automatically in your benefits starting with your January disbursement. Strangely enough, SS and SSI pay benefits for the previous month, so technically the COLA applies to your December benefits, but you receive them in the January disbursement. 

The average monthly Social Security benefit amount in 2020 was $1503, so the average increase from this COLA will be $19.53. Might get you a few bottles of your favorite caramel-colored beverage.

For more information see the Social Security Administration's website page about the COLA

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

WV Senior Legal Aid is open today in honor of our veterans

 

West Virginia Senior Legal Aid appreciates all our state's seniors who have served in the armed forces. We appreciate their families, too. We are open today to provide free legal services to any senior West Virginian age 60 or over, and we encourage any veteran especially to call us at 1.800.229.5068. Thank you for your service.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Behind on utilities? Watch your mail! Short deadline to get help!


On 10/21/20 the Governor announced that West Virginians whose utilities went unpaid because of COVID-19 may be eligible for CARES Act funding to pay them.

According to the press release: "Customers of electric, natural gas, water, and sewer utility companies who have experienced economic hardship and/or uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, causing them to have unpaid utility bills from the period of March 1 – July 31 of this year, may receive financial assistance to pay those bills."

The utility companies will receive the funds, and are sending out letters to potentially eligible customers with the application for help.

Even if you're not sure you qualify, might as well apply. Even if it doesn't cover your entire arrearage, might as well apply. 

If you have unpaid utilities from this time be on the lookout for a letter from your utility company that will include the application. Your completed application must be returned by NOVEMBER 12, 2020. 

It's a very short deadline. Tell your friends about it, they may know someone who needs to know. Some folks just throw out mail from the utility company when they think it's just another bill they can't pay, so it's important for folks who need it to know this letter is coming.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Email saying $299 subscription renewal fee coming out of your bank account? It's a phishing scam.


It might say it's a renewal of your Windows Defender subscription, or some other subscription service. It might say the fee for renewal is $299 and it will be charged from your checking account. It will probably say something about 24 hours and create some urgency for you, a hallmark of scams. It will likely have a phone number that it says to call if you don't want the subscription.

DON'T CALL the number. Don't reply in any form.

This is a phishing scam, and these kinds are rampant right now.

If you've been scammed you are not alone. No one is immune from this kind of victimization, no matter how educated, how smart, or how wealthy you are. 

Hearing about the details of these scams before you get the email increases your likelihood you'll recognize and avoid when it lands in your inbox. So tell your friends! Pass it on.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Track your Absentee Ballot online


There are various news stories out there creating concern about the security of our elections. Specifically there have been concerns raised about absentee voting. One tool West Virginians can use to secure their vote is the absentee ballot tracking system you can find online at https://sites.omniballot.us/54/absentee/app/home

Any registered West Virginia voter can vote absentee in the upcoming November election. Many already have. In order to get an absentee ballot you must complete an application for absentee ballot. You can get a printable application for absentee ballot here  https://sos.wv.gov/FormSearch/Elections/Voter/Absentee%20Ballot%20Application.pdf or you can apply online at https://sites.omniballot.us/54/absentee/app/home. Though you must have a reason to vote absentee, anyone can check the first box claiming health concerns because of COVID-19 and that will be accepted by the Clerk as a valid reason to absentee vote for this election.

The last day to request an absentee ballot is October 28. After your absentee ballot application is received by your County Clerk, you will be mailed an absentee ballot.

Then once you fill out your absentee ballot you can either mail it in or hand deliver it to your County Clerk. 

The last day to mail your completed absentee ballot is election day, November 3, 2020.

You can find answers to questions about voting in this election at the WV Secretary of State's website at https://sos.wv.gov/elections/Pages/FAQs.aspx






Thursday, September 03, 2020

Census participation critical for seniors, deadline moved up to 9/30/20


The US Census Bureau has moved up the final deadline for getting counted in the 2020 census to September 30, 2020. That means you have one month less than previously announced to complete your census.

Seniors are among the most important West Virginians to get counted because so many of our programs and services for seniors are funded in part by federal dollars. Federal funding is distributed across the country through formulas that are based on these census figures.

So the more seniors who get counted in West Virginia the higher our share of federal funding for many programs for seniors like home delivered meals, transportation, and home care.

It's a crime to refuse to participate in the census, though we have never heard of anyone actually being prosecuted for it.

If you haven't completed your census yet for whatever reason, you still have time, but not much. You can submit your information online or find out how to submit it by phone or mail by going to https://my2020census.gov/

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Absentee voting, deadlines, and other election stuff



The general election is November 3, 2020, not so far away. Like in the primary election this year, you can choose to vote absentee in the general election in WV if you want to avoid the possibility of getting exposed to the coronavirus at the polls.

Unlike in the primary election, however, you will not automatically get a postcard with the application for you to complete to request an absentee ballot. This time you will have to get your own WV Absentee Ballot Application. You can either enter your request online at https://sites.omniballot.us/54/absentee/app/home or you can download at https://sos.wv.gov/FormSearch/Elections/Voter/Absentee%20Ballot%20Application.pdf  If you are at least 60 yrs old and need help downloading or printing an application for absentee ballot you can call WV Senior Legal Aid at 1.800.229.5068.

The official deadline for you to get your application for absentee ballot submitted is October 28, 2020. 

But there are practical concerns about the time it may take for your mailed application to arrive, so you risk missing that deadline if you cut it too close. According to the WV Secretary of State's office "Absentee applications received after October 28, even if postmarked, cannot be accepted by law." 

Your completed absentee ballot must be postmarked no later than November 3, 2020 to count. If you change your mind after receiving your absentee ballot and want to go vote in person, YOU SHOULD BRING YOUR ABSENTEE BALLOT WITH YOU to the polls. It must be destroyed there before you vote in person, or you'll have to vote a challenge ballot. It's complicated.

Another option to avoid crowds on election day is to early-vote in person. Early voting in person can be done from October 21 through October 31, check with your county courthouse for locations and times.

Older West Virginians, your vote is important. Your need to protect yourself from infection is important, too. Contact WV Senior Legal Aid at 1.800.229.5068 if you are at least 60 yrs old and have concerns or questions about election procedures or your rights.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

WV DMV: drivers licenses expiration extended to end of 2020, but license plates extension ends 9/30/20


Because of the pandemic the WV Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) had allowed that drivers licenses and vehicle registrations that were to expire after March 1, 2020 were extended through September, 2020.

They have continued that extension for drivers licenses now through the end of the year. So if your drivers license (or drivers permit or commercial drivers license) says it expires anytime after March 1, 2020, you now have until December 31, 2020 to renew it.

The new extension, however, does not apply to vehicle registrations. So if your license plate expiration date is between March 2020 and September 2020, it must be renewed by September 30, 2020.

For more information and ways you can renew your licenses and registrations safely see the WV DMV website at https://transportation.wv.gov/DMV/News/Pages/Driver%27s-license-expiration-dates-extended-through-the-end-of-the-year.aspx

Thursday, August 13, 2020

read free online Surviving Debt: Expert Advice for Getting Out of Financial Trouble

The National Consumer Law Center, an excellent nonprofit resource on economic justice for vulnerable Americans, has made the 2020 edition of their book Surviving Debt available to read for free online during the COVID-19 crisis.

Click here to read https://library.nclc.org/sd/0102



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Contact tracer or scammer?


In order to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus our county health departments are conducting contract tracing to track down and isolate infected people, and to alert people who may have been exposed. Contact tracers do their work by contacting individuals and asking them questions designed to help determine who has been exposed and who may be infected.

This creates an opportunity for imposters to try to get our personal information for identity theft.

We have a duty to the community to cooperate with legitimate contact tracers, and our health departments have the authority to legally order us to cooperate. So if you are contacted by someone claiming to be a coronovirus contact tracer you should carefully determine if the person asking for our personal information is legitimate or an imposter.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says legitimate contact tracers may call, email, text, or visit your home to collect information. They may ask you for:

  • your name and address
  • health information
  • the names of places and people you have visited

Scammers will ask you to do more. Here are some things to do to protect yourself from fake contact tracers.

  • Don’t pay a contact tracer. Anyone who says you need to pay is a scammer, plain and simple.
  • Don’t give your Social Security number or financial information. There’s no reason for a legit contact tracer to need your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
  • Don’t share your immigration status. Legit contact tracers don’t need — and won’t ask for — this information.
  • Don’t click on links or download anything sent from a contact tracer. Real tracers will only send you texts or emails that say they’ll be calling you — not ask you to click or download anything.

What should you do if you think you’re dealing with a fake contact tracer? Check with your state health department to see if they have a way to make sure the person contacting you is a real contact tracer. Otherwise, hang up, close the door, or don’t respond to, click on, or download anything that may be in an email or text. Then, report it to your state and tell the FTC about it at FTC.gov/complaint.

Any West Virginia senior age 60 or over can call WV Senior Legal Aid and talk to a lawyer about contact tracing or other legal issues. 1.800.229.5068.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day



June 15 every year is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This year many older people are struggling with isolation more than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know isolation is a big risk factor for elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

On this day we focus on preventing, intervening in, and getting justice for elder abuse around the world and in West Virginia.

You can report elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation in West Virginia by calling our state's Adult Protective Services hotline at 1-800-352-6513.

Anyone may join this free webinar today from 1p to 3p EDT to learn about elder abuse and COVID-19. 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Make your vote count! Important info about your absentee ballot.

West Virginians, we have an election tomorrow. It's a primary election for many offices, but it's the final election for non-partisan offices like judges at all levels. 

If you applied for an absentee ballot in order for your vote to count you must either: bring your completed ballot in person to your county clerk today, mail your ballot with postmark by tomorrow, or vote in person tomorrow at your polling place. 

But if you received an absentee ballot upon your request but never sent it in and prefer to vote in person at your polling place you should BRING THE ABSENTEE BALLOT WITH YOU to the polling place. You can still vote if you haven't already turned in your absentee ballot and you don't bring in the blank one to be destroyed at the polling place, however, you will have to vote a provisional ballot. That means your vote will not be counted on election night, it will be sent to the Board of Canvassers for further on a case-by-case basis. 

It is fraud a crime to vote twice, so if you voted by absentee ballot it is not legal for you to vote again in person at your polling place.

Friday, May 22, 2020

WV Courts back open for non-emergency proceedings

Several previous orders issued by the WV Supreme Court of Appeals closing the courts except for emergencies have expired and proceedings including hearings and trials will be happening again in magistrate, family, and circuit courts in our state.

Though all the courts are encouraged to use technology to allow remote attendance for proceedings, each county and court will function a little differently. 

If you have had a court proceeding that was delayed during the pandemic you should expect to get notified about scheduling soon. If you have concerns about your safety appearing in court you can call the judge or magistrate's office and talk to the clerk about how to safely make your appearance.

Here's the most recent order about how the courts will resume non-emergency operations http://www.courtswv.gov/covid19/ResumptionOfOperations-ProtocolsandMap5-6-20.pdf. If you are at least 60 years old and a West Virginian with a legal question or problem you can call WV Senior Legal Aid and talk to an attorney for free. 1.800.229.5068.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Retirement Account Changes

Significant changes relating to tax-deferred retirement account distributions have occurred in recent months.

First and foremost, for 2020, the CARES Act suspended the requirement for older account owners to make mandatory distributions from their retirement accounts during the year because of the economic downturn. Of course, voluntary distributions are still permitted.

Further, for over 30 years, those with retirement accounts knew that voluntary withdrawals, subject to federal income taxes, could begin at age 59 1/2 and that required minimum distributions, based on an age/rate chart, had to start at age 70 1/2 (with certain exceptions).

Now, because of the SECURE Act, the magic age for required withdrawals (other than during the 2020 suspension) is 72.

This federal law became effective in December 2019 and has permanently extended the starting time for future mandatory distributions from retirement accounts to age 72. In these roller coaster stock market times, being able to wait that extra time could allow the account balance to recover.

Many people earmark their retirement accounts as possible inheritance funds for their family. Delaying distributions on these tax-deferred funds as long as the law allows can mean larger future balances.

The new law also changes the after-death rules for distributions to heirs. The full account balance must be paid out within 10 years, with exceptions for spouses and certain other individuals. Previously, many heirs could stretch out distributions over their lifetimes to reduce the income taxes owed from receiving such distributions.

Charitable use of Individual Retirement Account (IRA) funds can also be a way to avoid income taxes. Starting at age 70 1/2, amounts up to $100,000 from an IRA (but not from other types of retirement accounts) can be used each year for charitable purposes and escape federal and West Virginia taxation. These charitable gifts satisfy the required minimum distribution rules, when applicable, as well.

For assistance dealing with tax and other legal issues, contact West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 800-229–5068. Those age 60 and over living in the state are eligible for this free help.