Bill Number 1 – COVID-19 Emergency Federal and State Funding

On March 6, 2020, Congress passed a supplemental funding bill in the amount of $8.3 billion.  The deal includes:

  • $3 billion for vaccine research and development
  • $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including $950 million to support state and local agencies)
  • $836 million for the National Institutes of Health, and
  • $61 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Provisions that waive certain telehealth requirements during the public health emergency. This ensures Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth services at home to avoid placing themselves at greater risk of the virus. 

Bill Number 2 – Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

On March 18, the second legislative initiative to address COVID-19, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law.  FFCRA addresses domestic outbreak, including paid sick leave, insurance coverage, nutrition assistance, and unemployment benefits. 

COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Act

This act allows the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a nationwide waiver for states to provide meals under qualified under a qualified program, including school lunch, breakfast, child and adult food, and summer food service.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

This provision applies to private businesses with below 500 employees and public sector employers.  Leaves for qualified COVID-related reasons described below include up to 80 hours of compensation.

Qualified reasons for emergency paid sick time leave: An employee is unable to work or telework due to a need for leave because the employee is:

  • subject to quarantine or isolation order,
  • has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to coronavirus concerns, or
  • is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and seeking a medical diagnosis.

Pay:  Employee’s regular pay, up to $511/day and $5,110 over the benefit period.

Other qualified reasons for paid sick time leave: An employee is unable to work or telework due to a need for leave because the employee is:

  • caring for an individual who is subject to quarantine or isolation order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to coronavirus concerns;
  • caring for their child if their school or day care has been closed, or the child care provider is unavailable, due to coronavirus precautions; or
  • is experiencing “any other substantially similar condition specified by” the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.

Pay:  Two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, up to $200/day and $2,000 over the benefit period.

Duration and use of leave: An employee shall be entitled to paid sick time of 80 hours for full-time employees and an amount equal to the average number of hours such employee works over a 2-week period for part-time employees. Paid sick leave is available for immediate use and does not require a waiting period or accrual. Benefits are not retroactive. An employer may require that after the first workday or portion thereof an employee receives such leave, an employee follow reasonable notice procedures in order to continue receiving such paid sick time. An employer may not require an employee to use other paid leave provided by the employer to the employee before the employee uses the paid sick time provided under this section for the reasons above. Paid sick time shall not carry over from 1 year to the next. Employers may not require, as a condition of providing such paid sick time, that the employee involved search for or find a replacement employee to cover the hours during which the employee is using paid sick time.

Payroll tax credits for qualified sick leave wages and family leave paid by an employer are allowed in the amount of benefits paid (not to exceed the limits identified above for pay) over the permitted duration.

Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA)

This provision expands FMLA employee eligibility for COVID-related leaves described below.  Instead of the typical FML eligibility requirements (12 months of employment, 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the leave start date), the employee need only have been employed for 30 days. The act also provides paid leave benefits for up to 10 additional weeks as described below. 

Qualified need related to a public health emergency (reason) for leave: The employee is unable to work due to a need for leave to care for their child because the school or day care has been closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency.

Pay:  Not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay, up to $200/day and $10,000 over the benefit period. The first 10 days taken may be unpaid, but the employee may use other paid leave during that period, if available.

Duration of leave: 2 weeks, which includes job protection as required in the Family and Medical Leave Act (including amendments to it made by this Act with regard to job protection requirements for an employer who employs fewer than 25 employees). Benefits are not retroactive.

Eligible employees: Employee must have worked for the employer for at least 30 days. Employees shall provide the employer with such notice of leave as is practicable. An employer of an employee who is a health care provider or emergency responder may elect to exclude such an employee.

Payroll tax credits are also allowed for employer leave payments for EFMLEA leaves.

Applicable employers: Private businesses with < 500 employees and all public employers

Emergency Unemployment Stabilization and Access Act

This act includes fiscal year 2020 emergency grants for states to provide and process uninsurance benefits.  Funds to states may be used for the administration of its unemployment compensation law, including ensuring adequate resources in periods of high demand. The act:

  • Includes interest-free loans for states to assist with payment of unemployment compensation benefits through December 31, 2020
  • Provides that the Secretary of Labor will give states technical assistance and guidance in establishing, implementing, and improving employer awareness of short-time compensation programs to help avert layoffs.
  • Provides 100% federal funding for extended benefits (rather than a 50% match) for states that experience a 10% or higher unemployment rate compared to the previous year, and comply with other beneficiary access requirements through December 31, 2020.

Health Plan Testing Coverage

Private insurance, including group and individual plans, including grandfathered plans are required to cover the detection of SARS–CoV–2 or the diagnosis of the virus that causes COVID–19, provided the diagnostic has received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), and the associated visit in a range of settings without cost-sharing, without needing to meet deductible, without prior authorization or other utilization management (during the emergency period).

Medicare, including traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans are also required to cover COVID-testing at with no member cost sharing.

Bill Number 3 – The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act

On March 27, 2020, the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (the “Act”) into law following the Act’s approval by both chambers of Congress.  The Act is aimed at reducing the economic impact of the novel coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic and authorizes $2.1 trillion in aid to various sectors of the economy.  Below are the key components of the bill:

Stimulus Checks

Individuals will receive direct cash payments and expanded unemployment benefits as well as new rules for filing taxes and making retirement contributions

  • Cash Payments, based on either 2018 or 2019 tax filings
    • Single
      • $1,200 for individuals who earn up to $75,000 per year
      • <$1,200 for individuals who earn who earn up to $99,000 per year
      • $0 for individuals who earn above $99,000 per year
    • Married
      • $2,400 for married couples who earn up to $150,000 per year
      • <$2,400 for married couples who earn up to $198,000 per year
      • $0 for married couples who earn above $198,000 per year
      • $500 per child under age 17

Unemployment Payments

For people who are laid off, the stimulus package also includes a dramatic expansion of unemployment insurance benefits, covering more workers who are normally left out, like part-time, self-employed or gig economy workers.

The stimulus package includes an additional weekly benefit of $600 for up to four months, on top of what a person would typically get for unemployment.

It also extends unemployment coverage an extra 13 weeks for people who have exhausted existing benefits.

2019 Tax Filing Deadline

The deadline has been extended form April 15 to July 15.

Small Businesses

The main features for small businesses are emergency grants and a forgivable loan program for companies with 500 or less employees.

Big Businesses

The bill allocates $500 billion in loans and other money for big corporations. 

  • Airlines
    • About $58 billion set aside for airlines to stay open
  • Stock Buyback Plan
    • Any company receiving a loan under the program is barred from making stock buybacks for the term of the loan plus one year
  • Reporting Requirements
    • All loans, their terms, and nay investments or other assistance provided by the government must be publicly disclosed.
    • Oversight
      • The bill creates a special inspector general to oversee recovery.
    • All Businesses
      • The bill establishes a fully refundable tax credit for businesses of all size that are closed or distressed to help keep workers on the payroll.
      • The goal s to get those employees hired back or put on paid furlough.  The credit covers up to 50% of payroll on the first $10,000 of compensation including health benefits for each employee.

Public health

The CARES Act will provide more than $153 billion to public health. This includes $100 billion to hospitals overwhelmed with an influx of coronavirus patients.

Student loans

The CARES Act provides help for people struggling to pay off their student loans.  It allows suspension of federal student loan payments for six months until the end of September and waives student loan interest on those federal loans as well for that time period.

It also allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 annually in tax-free tuition loan payments for employees until January 1st, 2021.

Sources:

Families First Act:

CARES Act:

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package