As the situation with COVID–19 (coronavirus) continues to evolve, the Big “I” knows it is at the top of mind for our members and small businesses throughout the country. It is imperative that Big “I” members take the necessary precautions and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
On Saturday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The legislation guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave, enhances unemployment insurance, expands food security initiatives and increases federal Medicaid funding. President Trump pushed for a payroll tax cut to be included, but bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill kept that out of the bill. That proposal may be revisited in follow-up legislation to address the crisis.
Included in the House-passed bill are many provisions that impact Big “I” members and small businesses. The legislation requires businesses under 500 employees to provide 12 weeks of job-protected family and medical leave and two weeks of paid sick leave for coronavirus related reasons. It is important to note that while these mandates are only for businesses with fewer than 500 employees, companies with fewer than 50 employees can request a hardship exemption from these provisions.
The legislation also provides a refundable tax credit equal to 100% of both qualified paid sick and paid family leave by an employer for each calendar quarter. This tax credit can be applied against the employer portion of Social Security taxes. This credit applies to amounts paid with respect to employees who must self-isolate, obtain a diagnosis or comply with a self-isolate recommendation. For employees who are on leave to care for a family member with coronavirus or for a child whose school has been cancelled, a lesser credit applies.
The situation is fluid as there are reports that the House may have to act again on the legislation to make “technical corrections” and, of course, the U.S. Senate could still make changes to the bill. However, the Big “I” expects the above provisions to become law in the next few days. Additionally, Congress is expected to consider additional legislation in an attempt to ameliorate some of the economic impact of the crisis. Of course, the Big “I” government affairs team will continue to provide regular updates.
Joseph Cortina is Big “I” director, federal government affairs, and Wyatt Stewart is Big “I” senior director, federal government affairs.
To help Big “I” members prepare and respond to the coronavirus epidemic, the association created a resource page, which will be updated as the outbreak develops.