Peter Neal L’22 and his quarantine partner Naomi Biden C’16 have waded through the 335-page CARES Act and devised an online quiz that calculates eligibility for federal relief under the coronavirus stimulus bill’s provisions. The tool is at My CARES Act Benefits, a website designed by the couple that includes both a quiz and calculator as well as direct links to professionals who may be able to offer users pro bono assistance in claiming their relief money. So far, more than 10,000 users have used the tool.
Biden is the granddaughter of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and currently a third-year law student at Columbia. The couple saw an immediate need for an online tool thanks to Neal’s parents’ experience running a small medical practice in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“My parents quickly realized they didn’t have the liquidity to cover payroll,” Neal Said. “Meanwhile, there was no clarity on what the stimulus bill might offer for them, even as it was being signed into law. With both Penn and Columbia being on quarantine, Naomi and I decided to jump into the bill ourselves and see what was there.”
So the couple got to work, first sifting through the text of the bill and each program, “trying to build a summary document with an eye towards creating the quiz that is now on the website,” explained Neal. “This required connecting the dots between overlapping elements of each program to boil it down to as few questions as possible to get your final answer on eligibility and benefits,” he added.
Wading through so much information wasn’t easy as most of the programs in the bill were modifications of existing legislation, “requiring a lot of back and forth with the U.S. Tax Code, etc.,” said Neal.
Biden estimates that the couple spent about 50 hours on the project on three days of limited sleep.
“Once we started, though,” Biden said, “it was hard to stop.”
Neal and Biden weren’t especially technologically prepared to build a website around their quiz, but they tackled that challenge as well and even included a pop-up where users can ask direct questions.
The pair hopes their work can help both individuals and businesses during this unprecedented time in U.S. history and continue to explore additional ways to help people answer questions they may have about the stimulus bill.
“Our country has the most robust intelligence apparatus, largest network of medical research, and strongest treasury in the world – we should be the best prepared country in the world to step in and keep our country afloat, and it is small things like these that can make a big difference for people.”
Biden echoed Neal’s sentiments.
“Now more than ever it is on each of us to reach out and help our neighbor,” Biden said. “Maybe not so much in the traditional sense, but by giving people a place to find out about their benefits and connect them or their small businesses with attorneys willing to lend a couple of hours to the effort.”