The $1.9 trillion relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan (ARPA), has passed Congress and will head to President Joe Biden for a signature. Provisions of the American Rescue Plan include extended unemployment benefits, direct checks to individuals, and more.
While some of the bill was changed during its time in the Senate, it’s largely similar to the initial version passed by the House. However, some key provisions, such as a higher minimum wage, were scrapped amid efforts to pass the bill swiftly.
This article outlines the most relevant provisions included in the bill.
Small Business Assistance
The bill invests billions toward small business assistance. Here is the current funding breakdown:
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan program: $15 billion
- New grant program for bars and restaurants, specifically: $28 billion
- Paycheck Protection Program: $7.25 billion
Just like the two other COVID-19 relief bills passed during the pandemic, this version also features direct payments to Americans. This time around, eligible recipients can expect
$1,400 per person ($2,800 for couples), including adult dependents – a family of four could receive up to $5,600.
However, payment parameters are stricter this time around than with the previous direct payment. The full amount will go to individuals earning less than $75,000 (or $150,000 for couples), with payments cut off entirely for individuals earning more than $80,000 (or $160,000 for couples). Individuals earning an amount between those figures will receive a reduced sum.
The bill extends two previously established pandemic unemployment assistance efforts: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Unemployed gig workers, freelancers, contractors, and others who previously qualified for aid will continue to be eligible under these programs. The financial assistance provided by these two programs is currently set to expire in mid-March, which pressured legislators to act quickly.
The bill also provides for enhanced unemployment assistance payments of $300 per week. Under the bill, these programs and their financial aid are extended through September 6.
The bill sets aside billions in financial aid to homeowners and renters. Here is the funding breakdown:
- Aid for emergency rental assistance: $22 billion
- Aid for mortgages, utilities, and property taxes: $10 billion
- Aid to states and localities to help individuals at risk of becoming homeless: $5 billion
Employee Retention Tax Credit
The ARPA extends the employee retention credit through the end of 2021 (the credit was set to expire in June 2021). This credit was originally enacted with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to encourage employers to retain on their payroll employees who could not report to work because of COVID-19-related reasons.
New features of this credit include:
- Some small startups that began operating after Feb. 15, 2020, will be eligible for a maximum credit of up to
$50,000 per quarter even if they do not experience an eligible decline in gross receipts, or a full or partial
- A new provision for “severely financially distressed” employers will begin in the third quarter of 2021. The
provision will allow employers of any size to count all wages toward the $10,000 cap.
Emergency Paid Leave
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law on March 18, 2020, required certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. That requirement expired on December 31, 2020.
The American Rescue Plan maintains the status quo, in that it does not require employers to offer leave under the FFCRA framework. However, the bill does provide tax credits for employers that voluntarily provide leave under the FFCRA framework through the end of September 2021, and adds employee
time off related to COVID-19 testing and immunization as permissible reasons for taking the voluntary leave. It also increases the amount of wages eligible for the family leave credit from $10,000 to $12,000 per employee, and it provides an additional 10 days of voluntary emergency paid sick leave for employees, beginning April 1, 2021.
Eligible Employers must report the amount of qualified sick and family leave wages paid to employees under the EPSLA and Expanded FMLA on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement PDF, either in Box 14, or in a statement provided with the Form W-2. Eligible Employers must report qualified sick and family leave wages paid in 2020 on the 2020 Form W-2. Eligible Employers must report qualified sick and family leave wages paid in 2021 on the 2021 Form W-2.
For more information, including optional language that Eligible Employers may use in the Form W-2 instructions for employees, see Notice 2020-54 PDF.
Aid to Schools and Child Care
A significant portion of the relief bill involves aid to states, including schools and child care facilities:
- Aid for getting K-12 schools ready for in-person learning: $125 billion
- Money may be used for purchasing protective equipment, improving ventilation systems, and hiring support staff, among other things. However, 20 percent of the money schools receive must be used to address pandemic learning loss – for example, extending learning time into the summer.
- Aid carved out specifically for private schools: $2.75 billion
- Aid for colleges: $40 billion
- Institutions will be required to spend at least 50 percent of their allocated funds on emergency financial aid grants to students.
- Child care provider assistance: $39 billion
- Funds may be used for payroll, rent, protective equipment, and other expenses.
Temporary Increase to Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account Maximum Limit for 2021
Another of the several provisions included in the Act is the option for employers to increase the maximum amount that that may be contributed to an employee’s Dependent Care FSA from $5,000 ($2,500 married filing separately) to $10,500 ($5,250 married filing separately). Retroactive amendments will be permitted if an amendment is adopted by the last day of the 2021 plan year and the plan is administered consistently with the terms of the amendment beginning on its effective date. This relief will be in addition to the optional unlimited carryover and/or extended grace period from the relief enacted on December 27, 2020 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
The relief bill provides an overhaul of the child tax credit for the 2021 tax year. The bill increases the amount of the credit to $3,000 for each child under the age of 18 and $3,600 for children under the age of 6. The credit will also become fully refundable, meaning low-income individuals would receive the benefit.
The bill also expands the earned income tax credit for individuals without children. The maximum credit will be nearly tripled, and eligibility will be expanded as well.
The bill subsidizes private health insurance premiums for unemployed workers through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The provision allows individuals eligible for COBRA insurance coverage to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage after losing employment without having to pay any portion of the premiums through the end of September 2021.
Additionally, the bill invests nearly $35 billion in premium subsidy increases for those who buy coverage on the ACA Marketplace. The bill increases the subsidies provided to currently eligible individuals and removes the 400% federal poverty level cap (equal to approximately $51,000 for an individual) on subsidy eligibility.
Aid to States, Local Governments, Tribes, and Territories
The bill provides billions in financial assistance to states, local governments, tribes, and territories. Here is the current funding breakdown:
- Aid to state and local governments: $325.5 billion
- Aid to tribes and territories: $24.5 billion
- Creation of the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, to carry out capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring: $10 billion
What’s Not in the Bill
A minimum wage hike to $15 per hour – one of the most discussed provisions from the initial bill – has been removed from the final version due to strict rules governing budget bills in the Senate. Some Democrats have suggested this provision may be considered as a standalone bill, but any movement on that front remains to be seen.
Additionally, the bill does not include an extension of the eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on March 31, or an expansion of mandated paid sick and family and medical leave. While neither were included in the original House bill, these were popular provisions contained within one of the previous bills.
While there are many complex provisions in this nearly $2 trillion relief bill, GTM Payroll Services is here to help employers make sense of everything. Reach out with questions about how this new bill may affect your organization.
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