COVID-19 Relief Legislation and Year-End Legislative Priorities
Background: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed and the President signed into law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to provide resources and economic assistance to American workers, families and businesses.
Issue: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act include several temporary workplace provisions including economic support for small businesses, paid leave and employer-provided benefits. Absent Congressional action, many of these provisions are set to expire on December 31, 2020.
Outlook: Congress is expected to consider additional COVID-relief legislation before adjourning for the year or in early 2021.
SHRM Position: As the voice of all things work, workers, and the workplace, the health, safety and financial stability of workplaces are the highest priorities for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and our 300,000+ members who impact the lives of more than 115 million workers and their families. As Congress develops additional COVID-19 relief legislation, SHRM urges policymakers to consider the following issues which are important to our members:
• Expand the Paycheck Protection Program to include all nonprofit organizations
• Ensure any extension of FFCRA temporary leave provisions continues to include assistance for employers and employees and avoids any new leave requirements
• Allow maximum flexibility for health spending accounts
• Extend the CARES Act provision to allow for the continuation of employer-provided loan repayment as a benefit
• The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is vital to help small employers cover payroll costs, mortgage and rent payments and health-care benefits for employees. We encourage Congress to support the inclusion of all nonprofit organizations in any future COVID-relief legislation.
• Nonprofit organizations, like SHRM Chapters and State Councils, provide important services to their communities, including resume and job-search support, skills development and training, professional development and scholarships. Absent congressional action, the financial viability of these organizations is at risk.
• Pre-COVID many employers offered generous paid leave to their employees. Today, employers continue to offer traditional paid leave benefits and are implementing FFCRA’s temporary paid leave requirements, with costs being reimbursed through tax credits.
• Employers of all sizes continue to experience decreased revenue streams as a result of COVID-19. Given the financial constraints during this crisis, we urge policymakers to avoid imposing additional paid leave requirements that may inadvertently force employers to reduce employment at a time when financial stability is needed most.
• Due to the pandemic employees have been forced to forgo planned elective medical procedures, health care providers have limited access to routine treatments and childcare services have been suspended, leaving health spending account funds unused. Therefore, Congress should ensure maximum flexibility for health spending accounts and increase the maximum amount of unused benefits or contributions remaining in a health flexible or dependent care spending arrangement that may be carried over from the 2020 to the 2021 plan year.
• The CARES Act temporary allows employers to provide a student loan repayment as a benefit to employees. Under the provision, an employer may contribute up to $5,250 in 2020 toward an employee’s student loans, and such payment would be excluded from the employee’s income. The $5,250 cap applies to both the new student loan repayment benefit as well as other educational assistance (e.g., tuition, fees, books) provided by the employer under current law. The provision applies to any student loan payments made by an employer on behalf of an employee March 27 through December 31, 2020. We urge Congress to extend this benefit beyond this year.
• Employer-provided education assistance benefits will be critical in economic recovery efforts as employees look to upskill and reskill and employers restructure benefit offerings to support workforce development. According to SHRM’s August 2020 Research, Americans overwhelming (over half or 56% of survey respondents) agree that employer-provided student loan repayment should be permanently extended.