Understanding the $900B Stimulus Package

On Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, Congress passed an emergency stimulus package designed to deliver approximately $900 billion in COVID-19-related aid. The bill, which was part of a $1.4 trillion spending package that will keep the government open for the fiscal year, has been sent to President Donald Trump, and he is expected to sign it into law.

Notably, the bill provides funding for unemployment benefits, small businesses, direct economic payments to individuals, vaccine distribution and rental assistance. This article provides an overview of what is included within the emergency relief bill.

Unemployment Benefits Funding and Extension

The bill includes funding for unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. Specifically, this bill allows unemployed Americans to receive $300 per week in federal funding in addition to the existing unemployment aid they may be collecting from their state, if those state-level benefits have not already run out. The additional unemployment benefits and extensions included within this bill would provide aid for 11 weeks from their expiration at the end of December 2020 through at least March 14, 2021.

Initial COVID-19 relief for unemployment benefits was introduced by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act provided funding for states to waive any waiting week requirements for unemployment income (UI) benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide an additional $600 per week to all individuals receiving UI benefits for weeks of unemployment ending before July 31, 2020. President Trump signed a memorandum to extend a portion of unemployment wages after the initial $600 per week expired.

Additionally, the bill includes an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is a program that allows workers who are not traditionally eligible to receive unemployment benefits, including self-employed and gig workers, to do so. An 11-week extension in base benefits through this program is also included within the bill.

Aid for Businesses

The bill includes approximately $325 billion in funding to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist U.S. businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the bill allocates $284 billion in funding to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable small business loans to eligible applicants. Under the bill, certain firms that had already applied for, received and exhausted PPP funds will be eligible to apply for another PPP loan. To be eligible for a second PPP loan, a small business must have less than 300 employees and have sustained at least a 30% loss in revenue during any quarter of 2020. Additionally, small 501(c)(6) organizations with 150 or fewer employees that are not lobbying organizations would be eligible for a PPP loan with this round of funding.

The bill also provides the following with regard to the PPP:

  • Expansion of expenses eligible for loan forgiveness to include supplier costs and investment costs related to modifying facilities and obtaining personal protective equipment for safety
  • Simplified loan forgiveness process for businesses that have borrowed $150,000 or less in PPP loans
  • Confirmation that business expenses paid for with PPP loan funds are tax deductible

Businesses interested in applying for a PPP loan should contact their lender for more information.

The bill also directs $15 billion in funding for independent live-venue operators affected by COVID-19 and another $20 billion for small business grants.

Direct Economic Impact Payments

The bill includes another round of economic impact payments—commonly referred to as stimulus checks. The CARES Act provided the first round of stimulus checks for eligible Americans. Under the CARES Act, tax filers with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns were eligible to receive the full payment of $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple. Parents were also eligible to receive $500 for each qualifying child.

The bill follows the same eligibility guidelines as the CARES Act, but the amount of the stimulus check is less this time around. Instead of being eligible for a $1,200 payment, qualifying taxpayers are eligible for a payment of $600 per individual or $1,200 per married couple. Parents will also be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child.

Other Provisions Included in the Bill

The bipartisan bill provides funding for a variety of other issues, including:

  • U.S. Postal Service—$10 billion
  • Health Care Provider Relief Fund—$35 billion
  • COVID-19 Testing and Tracing and Vaccine Distribution—$69 billion
  • Transportation Industry Relief (Airlines, Airports, Buses, Transit and Amtrak)—$45 billion
  • Education—$82 billion
  • Housing Assistance (Rental)—$25 billion
    • Additionally, the bill extends the federal moratorium on evictions until the end of January 2021.

Another provision included in the bill is a ban on surprise medical bills—to help protect insured patients from large medical bills when they unknowingly receive out-of-network care. The bill also includes enhanced tax credits, including the employee retention tax credit for employers that keep employees on payroll and provide paid sick leave. Under the bill, the earned income tax credit and child tax credit would become available to those who lost wages or their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and expand the low-income housing tax credit. 

Click here to view the full text and see what else is included within the bill.

What’s Not Included in This Bill

Although providing direct aid to state, local and tribal governments and establishing an employer liability shield were included in early drafts of the bill, the two provisions were not included in the final text. These provisions were intensely negotiated by both parties and were the main cause of the stalled negotiations, but were ultimately dropped in order to pass the bill in a timely manner.

While the bill doesn’t provide direct aid to state, local and tribal governments, it does extend the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money provided by the CARES Act. Under the CARES Act, states and cities had until the end of 2020 to spend their funds, and any unspent amount would have to be returned to the Department of Treasury. This bill extends the original CARES Act deadline for a full year.

Lastly, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was not explicitly extended by the bill, and so employers are no longer required to provide federal FFCRA leave past Dec. 31, 2020. There is, as alluded to earlier, a provision in the bill that pertains to FFCRA which provides that employers who voluntarily choose to continue to provide leave in line with FFCRA terms can continue to receive a federal tax credit for leave through March 31, 2021.

Employers should keep in mind that some states and local jurisdictions have passed their own FFCRA-like laws that extend beyond Dec. 31, 2020, and others that were set to end Dec. 31 may be extended well into 2021.

What’s Next?

As previously mentioned, the bill has been sent to President Trump, who is expected to sign the bill into law. We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates as necessary.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Last-Minute Open Enrollment Considerations

The COVID-19 pandemic has upturned everything this year. So, it’s understandable if you are a little less prepared for open enrollment at this point. However, there’s still time to address open enrollment with employees in meaningful ways. Doing so will help them get the most from their benefits, which are especially valuable in these uncertain times.

This article outlines a few last-minute strategies for maximizing open enrollment for your employees.

Keep the Communications Coming

If you haven’t already, be sure that all employees know that open enrollment is approaching. This is one of the most important times of the year, and it’s even more important now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your communications should reflect that. More specifically, they should detail action items for employees prior to enrollment.

Between remote work, kids learning from home, sick relatives and potential family job losses, employees may be struggling to stay afloat. Open enrollment is a time for adjusting benefits based on significant life events, such as a need for increased medical coverage.

With that in mind, your communications should touch on:

  • The importance of considering lifestyle changes and the potential need for additional coverage
  • The different plan options available
  • Any voluntary benefits that may help during the COVID-19 pandemic

Don’t be afraid to bring up other topics that may be affecting employees, like their workloads or mental health. In fact, employees should be encouraged to reach out about those types of issues.

Assign a Point Person

Employees will almost certainly have questions about their open enrollment, especially if it’s happening virtually this year. As such, you should have a designated person tasked with answering all employee questions. Their contact information should be provided in all employee enrollment communications.

Change Up the Medium

People retain information differently, so email communications aren’t always sufficient for conveying a message. Instead, consider diversifying your approaches. Sending an email alongside a video or PDF flyer can be more effective. If time allows, consider sending mailers to employees as well.

Going further, hosting a virtual enrollment webinar could help employee retention even more than individual messages. This would be a time when employees learn about available plan options and notable changes, and ask questions to the moderator.

Summary

Open enrollment may almost be here, but you still have time to help employees maximize their benefits. Speak with Morris & Reynolds Insurance for more open enrollment strategies, guidance and employee deliverables.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

How the 2020 Election Could Affect Health Care

The 2020 presidential election could bring significant changes to the U.S. health care system. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump hold varying views on topics such as the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the U.S. Supreme Court will consider in November 2020.

The chart below provides a brief overview of each candidate’s health care platform, planned COVID-19 response and stance on the open U.S Supreme Court seat, so that you can better understand how this election may affect the employee benefits landscape.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Preparing for Flu Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Each year, the seasonal flu has a marked impact on businesses and employers, causing increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and higher health care costs. The past few flu seasons have seen high hospitalization and mortality rates, which has public health experts fearing another deadly flu season.

Unfortunately, the 2020-21 flu season isn’t the only health crisis employers and employees have to address this year. The COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting the workforce, and the combination of another potentially bad flu season and the pandemic has public health experts worried.

As an employer, you are well-positioned to help keep your employees healthy and minimize the impact that influenza has on your business. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends strategies to help employers fight the flu and talk to employees about what a flu season during the pandemic looks like.

Educate Employees on the Flu vs. COVID-19

Unfortunately, because the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, some of the symptoms are similar. For example, common flu symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, cough and sore throat. All of those are currently considered symptoms of COVID-19.

One of the difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the symptoms are wide-ranging and vary in severity. Some with COVID-19 may experience little to no symptoms, while others may be severely ill and require hospitalization.

Due to the similarity in symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu, it may be difficult to determine whether an employee has the flu or COVID-19 without being tested. As such, it’s important to encourage employees to stay home if they are sick.

Consider allowing employees to work from home, if they’re healthy enough to complete their work or while they wait for test results, and encouraging employees to take paid time off if they need to. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to take time off to recover, they may be eligible for leave under a multitude of federal and state laws.

Preparing Your Workplace for Flu Season During the Pandemic

There are a variety of steps employers can take to protect employees and prepare for flu season—which may include steps you’ve taken in response to COVID-19—regardless of whether employees are in the office or working remotely.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Host an on-site, socially distanced vaccination clinic—One of the most important steps for preventing the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination. The CDC
  • recommends that all people over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine each year. Hosting an on-site flu vaccination clinic can help educate employees about the importance of vaccination and make it easier for them to get vaccinated.
  • Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine—If you choose not to or are unable to provide an on-site flu vaccination clinic, you can still emphasize the importance of vaccination to your employees and educate them about local opportunities to get vaccinated.
  • Disinfect and clean the office—Because the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 can remain on surfaces long after they’ve been touched, it’s important that your business frequently cleans and disinfects the facility. Some best practices include:
  • Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails and doorknobs.
  • Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other tools and equipment, when possible. If necessary, clean and disinfect them before and after use.
  • Providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Implement and enforce social distancing protocols—Social distancing is the practice of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Social distancing best practices for businesses can include:
    • Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people
    • Instructing workers to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people
    • Hosting meetings virtually when possible
    • Limiting the number of people on the job site to essential personnel only
    • Leveraging work-from-home arrangements and staggered shifts when possible
    • Discouraging people from shaking hands
  • Employee safety training—Ensure that all employees understand how they can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the flu, taking into account:
    • Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene—Businesses should encourage good hygiene to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19. This can involve:
      • Providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles
      • Providing soap and water in the workplace
      • Placing hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene
      • Reminding employees to not touch their eyes, nose or mouth
      • Asking employees to wear a mask or face covering when social distancing is not possible
    • Staying home when sick—Encourage employees to err on the side of caution if they’re not feeling well, and stay home when they’re sick or are exhibiting common symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu.

These strategies may not be right for every organization. Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to implement additional prevention strategies. Contact Morris & Reynolds Insurance to discuss your organization’s situation.

For More Information

The combination of COVID-19 and flu season could have a significant impact on your business this fall and winter. Contact Morris & Reynolds Insurance and request employee educational materials regarding flu prevention, vaccination promotion and good hygiene to start protecting your business and employees today.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.

Flu Season and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The arrival of the fall and winter months signals many things, including the beginning of flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu activity peaks between December and February. This means that the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only public health concern as we approach the winter months.

This combination has public health experts fearing a potential “twindemic” in surges of COVID-19 cases and another deadly flu season. As such, the CDC is urging the public to take action to avoid another deadly flu season and prevent further spread of COVID-19 cases.

Flu vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

Because both the flu and COVID-19 affect the respiratory system, it can be difficult to determine whether you have the flu or COVID-19.

The flu is most often associated with the sudden onset of fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, cough and sore throat. Most people recover within a few days to less than two weeks. Occasionally, complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis or other infections can occur. Seasonal influenza can cause serious complications for people of any age, but children and the elderly are more vulnerable.

The list of COVID-19 symptoms is vast, and the disease affects people differently, with some experiencing little to no symptoms and others experiencing severe illness. Generally, symptoms can appear two to 14 days following exposure to COVID-19. According to the CDC, the most common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Because there is some overlap between the symptoms, it may be difficult to determine whether you have the flu or COVID-19 without being tested. As such, if you believe you have the flu or COVID-19, please call your doctor and explain your symptoms before going to a facility to seek care. Doing so will ensure that you receive the care you need without risking the spread of COVID-19.

Prevention

In preparation for a potential twindemic this fall and winter, take these steps to protect yourself and loved ones:

  • Get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is your best chance of preventing the illness. Currently, the CDC recommends that anyone over 6 months of age receive an annual flu vaccine by the end of October. Talk to your doctor to learn more.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay away from others when you feel under the weather.
  • Practice social distancing, which means staying at least 6 feet away from others, when out in public.
  • Wear a protective face covering or cloth mask when out in public.
  • Avoid large gatherings, especially those that aren’t socially distanced and don’t require masks or face coverings.
  • Wash your hands often using soap and warm water to protect against germs. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that’s been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Get plenty of sleep, stay physically active and drink plenty of water to keep your immune system strong.
  • Manage your stress and eat a nutritious diet rich in healthy grains, fruits, vegetables and fiber.

Click here to learn more about the CDC’s prevention recommendations for both the flu and COVID-19.

Take Action Today Do your part to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season. By taking action, you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and another deadly flu season.

As has been the case since 1950, the professional agents and underwriters at Morris & Reynolds Insurance are happy to help you. Whether you have a question about this topic or need help with any form of insurance, please contact us at any time at 305.238.1000.