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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

The Senate passed an updated version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Wednesday evening. The bill is intended to be a third round of federal government support in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis and associated economic fallout, and is the product of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans for a bipartisan response to the crisis.

The Senate coronavirus stimulus package stresses the direct payment from the federal government to US citizens. As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley stated on Wednesday: “Seniors, veterans, the unemployed and low-income Americans would be eligible too.” The bill makes clear that everyone is eligible except for nonresident aliens and dependents who can be used as deductions for another person.

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These are the key updates in the new Senate bill, according to the Tax Foundation website:

1. Unemployment insurance provisions now include an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient for up to four months, and extend UI benefits to self-employed workers, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. The federal government will provide temporary full funding of the first week of regular unemployment for states with no waiting period and extend UI benefits for an additional 13 weeks through December 31, 2020 after state UI benefits end.

2. The proposed recovery rebates will use 2019 tax returns (2018 if the taxpayer has not filed in 2019) to determine the advanced rebate amount and reconcile the rebate based on 2020 income. This means that taxpayers who receive a smaller rebate than they are eligible for based on 2020 income will receive the difference after filing a 2020 tax return, but overpayments of rebates due to a higher income in 2020 will not be clawed back.

3. Employers are eligible for a 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid up to $10,000 during the crisis. The credit would be available to employers whose businesses were disrupted due to virus shutdowns and those that had a decrease in gross receipts of 50 percent or more when compared to the same quarter last year. The credit can be claimed for employees who are retained but not currently working due to the crisis for firms with more than 100 employees, and for all employee wages for firms with 100 or fewer employees.

4. Certain employer payments of student loans on behalf of employees are excluded from taxable income. Employers may contribute up to $5,250 annually toward student loans, and the payments would be excluded from an employee’s income.

The CARES Act bill includes:

1. Expanded unemployment insurance (UI) for workers, including a $600 per week increase in benefits for up to four months and federal funding of UI benefits provided to those not usually eligible for UI, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. The federal government is incentivizing states to repeal any “waiting week” provisions that prevent unemployed workers from getting benefits as soon as they are laid off by fully funding the first week of UI for states that suspend such waiting periods. Additionally, the federal government will fund an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020 after workers have run out of state unemployment benefits.

2. $350 billion allocated for the Paycheck Protection Program, which is meant to help small businesses (fewer than 500 employees) impacted by the pandemic and economic downturn to make payroll and cover other expenses from February 15 to June 30. Notably, small businesses may take out loans up to $10 million—limited to a formula tied to payroll costs—and can cover employees making up to $100,000 per year. Loans may be forgiven if a firm uses the loan for payroll, interest payments on mortgages, rent, and utilities and would be reduced proportionally by any reduction in employees retained compared to the prior year and a 25 percent or greater reduction in employee compensation.

3. Recovery Rebate for individual taxpayers. The bill would provide a $1,200 refundable tax credit for individuals ($2,400 for joint taxpayers). Additionally, taxpayers with children will receive a flat $500 for each child. The rebates would not be counted as taxable income for recipients, as the rebate is a credit against tax liability and is refundable for taxpayers with no tax liability to offset. The rebate phases out at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint taxpayers at 5 percent per dollar of qualified income, or $50 per $1,000 earned. It phases out entirely at $99,000 for single taxpayers with no children and $198,000 for joint taxpayers with no children (see Chart 1). 2019 or 2018 tax returns will be used to calculate the rebate advanced to taxpayers, but taxpayers eligible for a larger rebate based on 2020 income will receive it in the 2020 tax season. Taxpayers with higher incomes in 2020 will see the overpayment associated with their rebate forgiven. For example, a single taxpayer with $100,000 in 2019 income would not receive an advance rebate but would receive the $1,200 credit on their 2020 return if their income for the year fell below the phaseout. On the other hand, a single taxpayer with $35,000 in income receives a $1,200 advance rebate but would not have to pay the rebate back on the 2020 return if they make $100,000 this year. This is structurally similar to the 2008 rebate design. We estimate the rebate will decrease federal revenue by about $301 billion in 2020, according to the Tax Foundation General Equilibrium Model. This credit is one-time, but policymakers may consider additional rebates if the downturn is prolonged.

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