August 3, 2020

U.S. Congress At Beginning Stages Of Negotiations On Next COVID Relief Bill

Members of the U.S. House and Senate began negotiations on a fourth COVID-19 relief bill after Senate Republicans released the outlines of their plan. The Senate plan:

  • Makes changes to and expands the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP);
  • Expands PPP forgivable expenses to include personal protective equipment (PPE) and other expenditures and provides borrowers with a simplified certification for PPP forgiveness on loans under $150,000;
  • Provides an additional $10 billion for SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program;
  • Enhances the Employee Retention Tax Credit;
  • Creates a temporary refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of the sum of qualified expenses paid or incurred by employers for employee protection expenses, workplace safety reconfiguration expenses, and qualified workplace technology expenses;
  • Includes temporary, limited liability protections for employers who operate during the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Authorizes short-term assistance to help child care providers reopen and stay open so that parents have a safe place to send their children when they return to work;
  • Authorizes a second round of personal income tax rebate checks ($1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples) with phase-out level for incomes exceeding $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married filers;
  • Allows Flexible Spending Account/Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account unused 2020 contribution amounts to be rolled over into the 2021 plan year; and
  • Authorizes funding to states to support training though the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act for activities such as customized training, on-the-job training, or Individual Training Accounts and allows local boards to use more of their existing funds on incumbent worker training.

The National Association of Manufacturers provides a comprehensive overview of the Senate legislation here. As a reminder, the U.S. House already has passed its version of Congress’s fourth COVID-19 relief bill. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce provided a side-by-side summary comparing the House and Senate proposals as they relate to five priority areas: liability protection, support for small and midsize employers, support for childcare and K-12 schools, unemployment and job training, and state and local assistance.

Despite the introduction of a bill, the Senate Republican caucus is divided over the question of whether anything should be done at all. At least 20 senators have said they’ll vote against another COVID relief bill no matter what is in it.

Also complicating negotiations: as The Washington Post reported, the White House said last week that President Donald Trump is willing to sign a bill that does not include liability protections for employers. (As Connecting the Dots explains in a separate story this week, the Metals Service Center Institute supports proposed liability protections.)

MSCI member company leaders and employees who are interested in making their voices heard on what should be included in the next COVID-19 package can do so by using this template offered by the National Association of Manufacturers to send an email to lawmakers. The email asks that members of Congress support:

  • Liability protections;
  • Making general business tax credits refundable, enhancing the employee retention tax credit, and ensuring that payments made with PPP funds are deductible; and
  • Modifying the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program in order to make more types of businesses eligible, provide more flexibility in the loan forgiveness process, and allow manufacturers that need it to receive additional funds from the program.

Click here to call members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Also of note: lawmakers adjourned on July 31 without extending the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that they had passed as part of an earlier COVID-19 legislative package. Those benefits expired on July 31. Some employers have said that level of benefits, which exceed the median income in many areas of the country, have kept employees from returning to work, or taking other jobs.

Congressional Democrats want to extend the $600 in additional benefits through 2021. In their draft bill, Republicans have proposed lowering the level to $200 through September 2020. In October 2020, workers would receive 70 percent of lost wages. If a state is unable to determine 70 percent of lost wages, it could receive a two-month waiver to continue paying state benefits plus the additional $200 in federal assistance per week.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a tool that allows employers and employees to see how different proposals would impact workers in their state.