Free COVID tests by mail
You can once again order four free rapid COVID tests per household via covidtests.gov. Those interested will need to enter their name and address into the website, and the tests will be delivered by the USPS for free. This is the second time the Joe Biden administration has invested in delivering free COVID tests to any U.S. household that requests them; the first rollout happened in January 2022. This recent effort is being funded by $600 million and taking place to prepare for a likely increase in cases during the fall and winter.
Four new tests doesn’t mean you should throw out your old ones, even if the packaging says it’s expired. Many tests have had their expiration periods extended by the FDA; look up your particular test to find the new expiration date at fda.gov.
Keep in mind also that these will be antigen tests, which are more likely to give a false negative than molecular PCR tests (meaning, show a negative result when someone actually has COVID). One meta-study of antigen tests found that they accurately detected COVID in between 55-73% of cases. In other words, if you have COVID and use an antigen test, the study suggests there is around a one in three chance that you’ll get a (false) negative result. Because of that, the FDA recommends two antigen tests if you’re symptomatic or three if asymptomatic to rule out COVID, spaced forty-eight hours apart. In case of an exposure to COVID, the CDC recommends wearing an N95 mask around others for ten days, even if testing negative, and staying home if possible.
Work permits for migrants
The Department of Homeland Security under President Biden announced work permits for Venezuelan asylum seekers via the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for a period of eighteen months. The status is not a guaranteed pathway to legalization nor citizenship, but lawfully protects migrants from deportation during that time. The TPS extension only applies to eligible asylum seekers who arrived before July 31, 2023, thereby excluding thousands of migrants that have been bused from Texas to Chicago since. Immigrant advocacy organizations like the Resurrection Project are calling for the inclusion of more recent arrivals and asylum seekers of other nationalities. Meanwhile, some non-profit organizations are gearing up to provide referrals and free legal aid to TPS applicants. The National Immigrant Justice Center based in Chicago is offering consultations at (312) 660-1370.
Student loan payments resume
Student loan payments resumed October 1 after a three-and-a-half year pause. However, vulnerable borrowers worried about not making payments have a safety net: the twelve-month student loan “on-ramp.” Until September 30, 2024, “…if you miss payments, this ‘on-ramp’ will temporarily remove the threat of default or having your credit harmed,” announced President Biden during a June 30 press conference. The on-ramp option will be automatic, so borrowers do not need to sign up. While student loans won’t fall into delinquency and missed payment will not be reported to credit bureaus, interest will still accumulate (increasing the amount owed) and missed payments will still be due after the twelve-month on-ramp ends. Additional options can be found at: studentaid.gov/announcements-events/covid-19
After the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s original student loan forgiveness plan, the fight to end the student debt crisis continues. “The responsibility to fight for student debt relief falls squarely on the president’s shoulders,” said Natalia Abrams, president of the Student Debt Crisis Center, back in June. Since then, the Biden administration has assembled a committee of volunteer student loan borrowers, government officials, educators and others to meet monthly through the rest of the year to draft a “Plan B,” which will be released sometime in 2024. The committee will focus on more specific groups than Biden’s original proposal, which would have benefitted around forty million borrowers.
Some borrowers are considering boycotting student loan payments by refusing to pay, despite serious consequences such as late fees and eventual default. An August 2023 poll showed that six in ten borrowers surveyed said that they’re likely to boycott repayments.