March 19, 2020
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
Several arms of the federal government have taken, or are weighing, significant steps to help the country deal with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the implications for individuals and businesses.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes a wide range of provisions, including some addressing insurance coverage and reimbursement of diagnostic testing costs and others expanding safeguards for economically disadvantaged individuals. It also includes two significant groups of measures that will affect certain employers and workers through December 31, 2020.
Extended federal tax payment deadline
After U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s announcement that the deadline for paying federal income taxes would be extended, the IRS released guidance on March 18 outlining the details. IRS Notice 2020-17 follows up on President Trump’s Emergency Declaration that, among other things, instructed Mnuchin to provide relief from tax deadlines for taxpayers adversely affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
According to the notice, Mnuchin has determined that any person with a federal income tax payment due April 15, 2020, is affected by COVID-19 for purposes of the relief. The notice doesn’t extend the federal tax return filing deadline, only the deadline for making payments. Bear in mind, too, that states aren’t necessarily following suit regarding state income tax payments (although many states have announced their own COVID-19 tax relief).
Under the notice, the due date for making federal income tax payments up to applicable limits is postponed to July 15, 2020. The limit for each consolidated group or corporation that doesn’t file a consolidated return is $10 million. For all other taxpayers, the applicable limit is $1 million, regardless of filing status. In other words, the $1 million tax limit applies equally to a single individual and to married individuals filing a joint return.
The relief is limited to federal income tax payments due on April 15 for the 2019 tax year and federal estimated income tax payments for the 2020 tax year that are due on April 15. It includes tax payments on self-employed income.
Penalties and interest
The notice also provides that no interest, penalty or additions to tax for failure to pay will be calculated on the postponed taxes for the period from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020. They will, however, begin to accrue on April 15 for payments in excess of the applicable limit ($10 million or $1 million) that aren’t paid by April 15.
Oregon Department of Revenue tax relief
At this time, taxpayers may still file an extension to file with the IRS, and the Oregon Department of Revenue will automatically grant an extension for the Oregon return. Taxpayers may file the federal extension Form 4868 prior to the due date. Both the federal and state extensions grant additional time to file, but are not extensions of payment due dates.
The department is tied to the Internal Revenue Service filing and payment due dates for personal income taxes. If the IRS declares the April 15th due date to be extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oregon will automatically connect to those dates for personal income tax filers. The department may also waive penalties under certain circumstances if a taxpayer is late in paying its tax obligation due to a circumstance beyond the taxpayer’s control, such as a declared regional or national state of emergency.
Estimated payment due dates for personal income tax are not extended for Oregon, however Oregon law states that interest will not be imposed on an underpayment of estimated tax if the department determines that by reason of casualty, disaster, or other unusual circumstances the imposition of interest would be against equity and good conscience.
Initial quarterly payments for the new Corporate Activity Tax (CAT) remain due April 30, 2020. The department understands that the pandemic may impact commercial activity, up or down, to an extent that makes it difficult for businesses to estimate their first payment. The department will not assess underpayment penalties to taxpayers making a good faith effort to estimate their first quarter payments.
Expanded family and medical leave
The act amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for employees who 1) work for employers with fewer than 500 employees, and 2) have been on the job at least 30 days. Under the bill, these employees (including those who work under a multiemployer collective agreement and whose employers pay into a multiemployer plan) will have the right to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to:
- Comply with a requirement or recommendation to quarantine due to exposure or symptoms of COVID-19,
- Care for an at-risk family member who’s quarantined due to exposure or symptoms of COVID-19, and
- Care for their children if the children’s school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, because of COVID-19.
Although the FMLA generally requires only job-protected leave — not paid leave — the bill mandates paid leave after 14 days at two-thirds of the employee’s usual rate. (The first 14 days are covered under the paid sick leave provisions discussed below).
Note, though, that the bill gives the U.S. Secretary of Labor the power to issue regulations that exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from this expansion if it would jeopardize the viability of the business. Because of this potential exemption and the fact that these provisions don’t apply to employers with 500 or more employees, many American workers won’t be protected by them.
The act will help employers subject to the provisions by allowing them to take a tax credit against their share of Social Security taxes for 100% of the qualified family leave wages they pay each quarter. The amount of wages taken into account for each employee is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 for all calendar quarters. Any excess credit over its Social Security tax liability is refundable to the employer.
No deduction is allowed for the amount of the credit, and no credit is allowed for wages that are subject to the existing Section 45S business tax credit for paid family and medical leave. Employers can elect to not have the credit apply.
The 100% refundable family leave credit also is available for certain self-employed individuals, applicable against income taxes. Self-employed people who would be entitled to paid leave under the expanded FMLA if they were employees of a business are eligible. The qualified leave amount is capped at the lesser of $200 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the taxable year per day. These individuals can count only those days they’re unable to work for reasons covered by the expanded FMLA. The Treasury Department will establish documentation requirements.
Paid sick leave
The act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, at the employee’s regular rate, to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for COVID-19. If the employee must take leave to care for a family member for such purposes, or to care for a child whose school has closed or childcare provider isn’t available, these employees must provide leave paid at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and part-time employees are entitled to the typical number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period.
As with expanded family leave, covered employers can claim an elective refundable 100% tax credit for qualified paid sick leave wages, also against Social Security taxes. But the bill makes a distinction between those wages paid for employee who must self-isolate or obtain a diagnosis and those paid for to employees caring for a family member or child. For the former, the amount of wages taken into account per employee is capped at $511 per day; for the latter, it’s capped at $200 per day. The total number of days taken into account per employee can’t exceed the excess of 10 over the total number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.
Again, any excess credit over their Social Security tax liability is refundable, no deduction is allowed for the amount of the credit and no credit is allowed for wages that are subject to the Section 45S business tax credit.
The self-employed are similarly eligible for the refundable credit at differing amounts — 100% for their personal needs and 67% to care for a family member or child. The amount of wages is capped at $511 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the taxable year per day.
Some states have announced tax relief related to COVID-19. Check with us for more information.
On March 13 as part of the national emergency declaration, President Trump waived interest payments on federal student loans “until further notice.” This allows borrowers to pause their payments without penalty.
It remains to be seen whether any relief will be provided regarding the quarterly estimated tax payments made by businesses and self-employed individuals. And, as of this writing, no further information, such as the new deadline, has been provided. An extension isn’t included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The IRS has published new guidance making clear that high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for COVID-19-related testing and treatment without putting their status at risk. That means individuals with HDHPs that provide such coverage can continue to contribute to their health savings accounts (HSAs) and deduct the contributions on their 2020 tax returns (or make pre-tax contributions their employer-sponsored HSAs).
Health insurance plans generally must satisfy several requirements to qualify as an HDHP. For example, providing nonpreventive health care coverage without a deductible, or with a deductible below the requisite minimum, would forfeit HDHP status. (Vaccinations are considered preventive care.) The IRS is temporarily suspending this rule to avoid administrative delays or other financial disincentives that could impede testing and treating for COVID-19.
Congress and the Trump administration are weighing other actions to increase access to health care, as well as stabilize and stimulate the economy. We’ll keep you updated as new relief becomes available.