Here are the highlights from our perspective.
On December 15, 2020, two bipartisan COVID-19 relief bills, the Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020 and the Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020, were introduced that contain payroll-related provisions.
Background. Earlier in 2020, the federal government enacted legislation with COVID-19 relief provisions aimed at helping employers and workers. This included the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Certain provisions in each bill provided aid for employers and workers such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Negotiations for further COVID-19 relief legislation between the White House, Senate and Congress have stalled several times.
A new hope? However, the two bipartisan bills introduced in the Senate on December 15 may make it to the finish line before the end of the year based on the statements made by Senators who introduced the bills. According to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who introduced “The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020,” with other Senators: “We’re not going home for Christmas until this gets done.”
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) who, with other Senators, introduced “The Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020,” noted: “This compromise represents the best path forward for Congress and the Administration to provide much-needed relief for the American people before the end of the year.” Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) added: “The Senate should not adjourn until we have passed a new COVID-19 package to provide the relief Americans need.” The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020. A summary of The Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020 says it contains the following payroll-related provisions:
PPP and small business support. This bill would provide $300 million to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to allow the hardest hit small businesses to receive a second forgivable PPP loan. Eligibility for these loans would be limited to businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter in 2020.
Forgivable expenses would be expanded to include supplier costs and investments in facility modifications and personal protective equipment needed to operate safely. Also, business expenses paid for with the proceeds of PPP loans are specifically tax deductible, “consistent with Congressional intent in the CARES Act,” according to the summary.
In addition, the loan forgiveness process would be simplified for borrowers with PPP loans of $150,000 or less.
Unemployment assistance. The bill would also provide for a 16 week extension of all pandemic unemployment insurance programs, including PUA and pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC). The 16 weeks would run from the end of December 2020. It would also ensure beneficiaries of Railroad Retirement Board received the same benefits as other workers.
In addition, federal supplemental unemployment insurance benefits would be expanded by $300 per week for 16 weeks, from the end of December into April 2021.
Payroll support program extension. The bill would extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) through March 31, 2021. As in the CARES Act, funds will go directly to frontline aviation workers’ wages, salaries, and benefits. The Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020. A summary of The Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protection Act of 2020 says it contains the following payroll-related provisions:
State, local and tribal government relief. This bill would provide for $160 billion for state, local and tribal assistance. And, would extend the deadline for spending CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) aid on COVID-related expenses through December 31, 2021.
Liability protection. This bill would also provide “liability protection” for employers. Employers would not be subject to liability under federal employment law in COVID-19 exposure cases or for changes in working conditions related to COVID-19 if the employer was trying to conform to public health standards and guidance.
The bill would also ensure that an employer’s personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, COVID-19 policies, procedures, or training, workplace testing, or financial assistance to an independent contractor does not create evidence of an employer-employee relationship.