COVID-19: New Coronavirus Relief Package Signed Into Law
More pandemic relief is officially on the way. On Dec. 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed a new, $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package. Here’s what employers and employees need to know about the legislation.
Recap: New COVID-19 Relief Bill
On Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, CNBC reported Congress had reached a compromise on a $900 billion economic stimulus package to provide relief during the coronavirus pandemic. The next day, the Senate and House voted to pass the law.
Less than a week after passing through both houses of Congress, President Trump signed the bill into law. The package avoids a partial government shutdown and is the first piece of major legislation passed by Congress since March 2020, when both the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) debuted.
What Employees Need to Know
Qualifying Americans can expect another round of direct payments up to $600 per person and $600 per child, though CNBC reports the House of Representatives will vote on Dec. 28, 2020, to increase the per-person maximum amount to $2,000. If passed, the measure will go to the Senate. Regardless, according to the bill, the cutoff for delivering stimulus checks is Jan. 15, 2021.
Other components of the bill include:
- A $300 federal unemployment supplement for unemployed workers through mid-March 2021.
- Temporary preservation of programs that expand unemployment insurance eligibility during the pandemic.
- The extension of a federal eviction moratorium through Feb. 28, 2021, to help people retain housing during the crisis.
- $25 billion in emergency rental assistance.
- A ban on surprise medical bills, beginning in 2022.
- $13 billion for increased access to nutrition, including funding for food banks and food pantries.
- Updates to health and dependent care FSAs, including permitting unused dollars to roll over for 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 and mid-year changes to contribution amounts in 2021.
What Employers Need to Know
Employers will receive much-needed support from the bill as well. The stimulus package includes $285 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a CARES Act program that provides small businesses with loans to stay afloat during the crisis.
The New York Times reports this latest round of funding includes stricter guidelines on which companies are eligible to receive loan dollars. New measures include a loan cap at $2 million as well as $12 billion set aside for minority-owned businesses. The regulations also limit loan availability to recipients that meet the following criteria:
- Employ less than 300 employees
- Experienced at least a 25% drop in sales from the previous year in at least one quarter
Two additional provisions include the extension of a tax credit for employers that offer paid family and medical leave to employees—now available through Dec. 31, 2025—and the extended the FFCRA’s refundable payroll tax credit to employers that voluntarily offer paid sick and family leave to employees. The latter extension makes the tax credit available through March 2021.
CNBC also reports that the bill provides the following:
- $82 billion for schools and colleges;
- $35 billion in funding for clean energy projects, including wind and solar power;
- $20 billion for small business grants;
- $15 billion for live event venues;
- $15 billion to the airline industry for enhanced payroll assistance; and
- $7 billion to expand access to high-speed internet connections.
Additionally, the new package will help fund the distribution of both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines.
- For healthcare employers, this could mean that vaccines are more easily accessible to frontline employees like nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff.
- For other employers, the funding could help provide critical infrastructure for safe, efficient distribution of the vaccines when they’re available to wider swaths of the population.
Signs point towards additional legislation in the coming months. In a statement released on Dec. 20, President-elect Biden said that while the action “provides critical temporary support for millions of Americans,” his incoming administration plans to work with the new Congress to provide additional support for families and employers.
One vital provision not included in the package is liability protection for businesses, which could exempt employers from legal responsibilities if and when their employees contracted COVID-19 on the job. This provision may still find its way into more coronavirus legislation in the new year.
Regardless, employers and employees can expect new stimulus talks to resume sometime in January 2021.
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