President Trump recently signed a second stimulus package—called the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Act)—into law. The legislation includes over $300 billion in aid for small businesses. Below is a breakdown of some of the business tax changes and extenders in the new COVID-19 relief bill.
Payroll Tax Credit for Paid Sick and Family Leave
The refundable payroll tax credit for paid and sick family leave, established in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, is extended until March 31, 2021. The tax credits are modified so that they now apply to practically any payments made to workers for these purposes.
Payroll Tax Repayment
The time frame for employees to repay deferred employment taxes under the President’s executive order, which was issued in August 2020, has been extended from April 2021 to December 31, 2021.
Employee Retention Credit
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) under the CARES Act has extended to July 1, 2021. Further, the refundable tax credit has increased from 50% to 70%, the per-employee wages limitation has increased from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter, and the determination of a large employer for purposes of the ERC has increased from 100 to 500 employees.
30-Year Depreciation of Certain Residential Rental Property
The new law determines that the recovery period relevant to residential rental property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2018, and held by an electing real property trade or business, is 30 years.
Business Meal Deduction
Rather than the current 50% business expense deduction for meals, the bill temporarily allows a 100% expense deduction for meals provided by restaurants in 2021 and 2022.
Deduction for Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings
The deduction for energy-efficient improvements to commercial buildings, such as lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water systems was made permanent. The amount will be inflation-adjusted after 2020.
Changes to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit
If employers hire workers who are members of one of more of ten targeted groups under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program, they are permitted to use an elective general business tax credit. Previously applicable to hires before 1/1/2021, the TCDTR extends the credit through 2025.
Employer Payments of Student Loans
Section 127, which permits employers to provide certain educational assistance to employees on a tax-free basis, was modified under the CARES Act to authorize the payment by an employer of principal or interest on specific employee qualified education loans through December 31, 2020. The Consolidated Appropriations Act expands this through December 30, 2025. As the pandemic subsides, employers may want to consider this valuable tax-free benefit.
Health and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Arrangements
The bill allows taxpayers to roll over unused funds in their health and dependent care flexible spending accounts from 2020 to 2021 and from 2021 to 2022. This arrangement also permits employers to grant employees a 2021 midyear prospective adjustment in contribution amounts.
A group of centrist lawmakers recently revealed an economic relief bill totaling approximately $908 billion. The plan has gained some traction among both congressional Democrats and Senate Republicans, getting talks moving again after Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach a compromise on a second relief package for months. Here’s a summary of what’s included in the proposal.
The largest chunk of the $908 billion bipartisan bill—$288 billion—is reserved for U.S. businesses, with a focus on primarily assisting small firms, most likely as another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This would allow businesses that have since depleted their PPP funding to apply for another round of payments. This time, however, businesses will most likely be required to prove considerable downturns in revenue in order to qualify for assistance. Part of the $288 billion would also likely include another round of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), which provide smaller loan amounts than PPP.
The next largest chunk of funding consists of $180 billion, which is dedicated to unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. The bipartisan plan proposes $300 per week to each American on unemployment on top of existing state unemployment benefits at least through March. This is half of the $600 per week that Congress approved in March (that expired in July), but in line with the $300 per week unemployment bonus that was approved in August (most of the funds allocated for that bonus expired in October). One question that has not been addressed is whether the unemployment benefits will be made retroactive to compensate for prior months without jobless benefits.
State and Local Funding
The relief bill offers $160 billion to state and local governments to assist them through the next several months without additional cuts to personnel or services. This has been one of the biggest sticking points in getting an additional relief bill passed as Congressional Republicans contest that that such aid is wasteful “bailouts”. As a condition for their support of the broader package, some Republican lawmakers are considering a compromise by looking to establish new boundaries on state and local funds.
Temporary Protection from Liability Lawsuits
The other big sticking point comes from Democratic opposition for the “liability shield” sought by the GOP. Senate Republicans have tried for months to give business entities immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. This bipartisan plan offers a temporary moratorium on COVID liability lawsuits, which would allow time for individual states to draft their own laws.
What’s Not Included?
The bipartisan plan markedly excludes a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, a measure that has long been supported by congressional Democrats and President Trump. Congressional Republicans have been forthcoming on their resistance to spending more than $1 trillion on another stimulus package, and once unemployment assistance, aid to state and local governments, and small business relief is added up, it’s unfeasible to both include direct checks and keep the overall price-tag below $1 trillion. (Republican Senator Josh Hawley and Sen. Bernie Sanders have since teamed up to propose an amendment to this plan that would include direct stimulus checks to Americans.)
The plan also leaves out Republican-backed tax cuts, including Trump’s call for a payroll tax cut for firms, and Democrats’ push for bonuses to essential workers and health-care professionals. Also missing from the plan is a renewal of the federal moratorium on evictions that is set to expire at the end of the year.