|COVID-19 Legislative Relief Update
The artificial deadline of August 7 that Congressional negotiators had set for reaching a deal on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation has come and gone. Unfortunately, with key sticking points, like funding for state and local governments and liability shields, still unresolved, the prospects of a comprehensive package coming together in the next few weeks are looking increasingly dim. Ongoing negotiations may be further complicated and polarized by the executive actions that the President took over the weekend which have already been the subject of significant criticisms and threats of legal actions, particularly from Democrats. Through PMAA’s participation with the Small Business Legislative Council (SBLC), we are able to share the following summaries of the orders.
On Saturday, the White House announced four executive actions on payroll taxes, unemployment benefits, student loans and evictions. In particular, the actions on payroll taxes and unemployment are likely to raise some significant questions and issues for small businesses and their employees in the coming weeks.
In a Memorandum to the Secretary of the Treasury, the President directed the Secretary to defer the “withholding, deposit, and payment” of the payroll taxes that would otherwise be owed by certain employees between September 1 through December 31, 2020. As you may recall, pursuant to the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act that were passed earlier this year, businesses have already had the option to defer (50% to Dec. 31, 2021, and 50% to Dec. 31, 2022). Specifically, the Memorandum would apply to payroll taxes owed by employees whose pre-tax bi-weekly pay is less than $4,000. While the Memorandum specifies that the taxes be deferred “without any penalties, interest, additional amount, or addition to the tax,” unless Congress takes further action on this point, these employee payroll taxes will ultimately still be due. The prospect of having to collect and remit these payroll taxes in the future, coupled with the concern about communicating to employees the distinction between a tax deferral and forgiveness, have many employers understandably very nervous. This is before even considering the logistics that would be involved in changing the way payroll is run for some but not necessarily for all employees.
The Department of Treasury is expected to be releasing further guidelines soon about how it will be implementing the Memorandum which will hopefully provide more direction.
Many businesses will be eagerly awaiting further clarifications on several key issues including:
Whether they will be required to implement the deferral or whether they will be permitted to either collect and hold or collect and remit the payroll taxes for their employees if they (or possibly their employees) elect to do so (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview that the IRS cannot force employers to stop withholding payroll taxes).
How the deferred taxes will ultimately be collected (lump sum or over time), what employers’ role and liability will be if they are unable to collect and remit the taxes, for example if the employee is no longer employed and whether, if it is determined that the employer is ultimately liable for taxes they are unable to collect from an employee, the payment by the employer of such taxes will be deemed additional income to the employee that the employer will owe even more payroll taxes on.
How compensation will be calculated for the purposes of the $4,000 bi-weekly threshold.
Urge Congress to Include Reasonable Liability Protections in Next COVID-19 Relief Package
On July 31, 2020, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program expired. The FPUC program was created under the CARES Act and provided an additional $600 per week benefit for individuals claiming unemployment (which in most states included individuals who had been furloughed). The continuation of enhanced unemployment benefits has been a key area of discussion as lawmakers have tried to negotiate the latest COVID-19 relief package. While the packages being promoted by both parties’ leadership include some form of extension of enhanced benefits, the details are very different. The HEROS Act, which was passed by the House in May, would simply extend the $600 per week benefit through January 31, 2021. The HEALS Act, which was introduced by Senate Republicans in late July, would provide an additional $200 per week through the end of September. Starting in October, states would be directed to provide benefits equal to 70% of an employee’s prior wages with the federal government providing a supplement of up to $500 per person per week to help the states hit that number. This effort to tie the benefits to prior wages is intended to address concerns that enhanced unemployment benefits have deterred employees from returning to work as businesses reopen.
In his Saturday Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Administrator of FEMA, President Trump directed the allocation of disaster relief funds to provide for additional unemployment benefits of $400 per week. Initially it appeared that to qualify for the additional federal funding, states would have to cover 25% ($100 per week) of the enhanced benefits, with the remaining $300 per week coming from federal disaster relief funds. After a number of states publicly indicated that they simply do not have the funds to satisfy such a match or would only be able to do so for a few weeks, the White House clarified that funds will be made available for a $300 per week enhanced benefit whether or not the states are able to chip in the additional $100. Click here for the latest federal guidance.
PMAA urges you to reach out to Senators in support of important legislation to expand liability protections for businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic known as the “Safe to Work Act” (S. 4317). The bill is retroactive to December 2019 and provides reasonable liability protection against COVID-19 lawsuits through October 2024 for businesses who have made good faith efforts to comply with government guidance. The legislation does not protect bad actors in cases where there is willful misconduct or gross negligence to the safety of an individual. The legislation provides preemption from state laws unless state laws provide greater liability protection. Click here for the full summary.
Reminder! 2020-2021 Federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax Payment Due August 31 for Vehicles on Road During July 2020
It is important for everyone to reach out to their lawmakers in support of the bill. Click here to do so.
The 2020 Heavy Highway Vehicle Use (HHVU) tax reporting period runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. The HHVU tax is paid on each commercial motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 55,000 pounds or greater that travels 5,000 miles or more per year. The HHVU applies to most petroleum cargo tank vehicles and transports. Once the HHVU tax is filed and paid, the IRS will send back to filers a stamped IRS Form 2290 Schedule 1, proof of payment within 6 weeks.
The filing deadline for Form 2290 is based on the month the taxpayer first uses the taxable vehicle on public highways during the reporting period.
For vehicles first used on a public highway in July, file Form 2290 between July 1 and August 31.
For vehicles first used on a public highway after July, file Form 2290 by the last day of the month following the month in which you first used the vehicle on a public highway. The tax for the current filing season is prorated for vehicles first used on a public highway after July.
Click here for the full PMAA Compliance Bulletin.
Reminder! EPA General Enforcement Discretion Policy Ends on August 31, 2020
The EPA will not extend its current enforcement discretion waiver beyond August 31, 2020, the agency announced this week. The EPA issued the open-ended general enforcement discretion policy on March 26, 2020 due to movement and work limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The enforcement discretion policy was open ended with no termination date when first issued. The EPA set the August 31 deadline this week due to the loosening of stay at home orders in many states nationwide. The enforcement discretion was designed to address difficulties regulated parties may have maintaining certain routine compliance requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic including routine monitoring and reporting; integrity testing; sampling; lab analysis; training; and certification.
Former Republican and Democratic EPA Administrators Support Agency Reset
The EPA enforcement discretion policy is beneficial to fuel marketers because it provided compliance relief and flexibility from UST regulations, SPCC regulations, fuel quality attest engagements sampling and testing, among many other EPA program requirements except spill and release cleanup related activities. The EPA said that as state and local restrictions are relaxed or lifted, the need for regulatory compliance flexibility has been significantly reduced. However, the EPA said it would continue to monitor COVID-19 developments and provide enforcement discretion on a case by case basis if necessary.
The PMAA Regulatory Alert explaining the EPA policy can be found here: Regulatory Alert.
On Wednesday, former EPA Administrators backed a plan written by senior level EPA alumni who are part of the bipartisan Environmental Protection Network (EPN).
The Administrators who signed a letter of support for the