Legislative updates

Senate Passes Bill to Extend PPP Small Business Loan Application Deadline

On Tuesday, the United States Senate passed by unanimous consent a bill to extend from June 30, 2020, to August 8, 2020, the deadline for businesses to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan administered by the federal Small Business Administration.

PPP loans were created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, targeted to businesses with no more than 500 employees. The purpose of the program is to assist small employers in retaining employees on their payrolls in a time of financial stress during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More than $130 billion of the $669 billion appropriated for the program had not been applied for as the June 30th deadline approached.

If certain conditions are met, PPP loans can be forgiven and treated as a grant. Among the conditions for full forgiveness is a requirement that 60% of loan proceeds be used for payroll expenses. These expenses can include not only wages and salaries, but also employer contributions to defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans. Expenses can also include providing group health care coverage, including payment of insurance premiums.

As this is reported, the House of Representatives had yet to approve the bill, which is required—in addition to signing by President Trump—for the application deadline to be extended.

 


IRS Issues Tax-Related Deadline Relief for Tornado Victims in Parts of South

The IRS has issued News Release IR-2020-126, announcing an extension of time to complete filing of returns and making tax payments as a result of April tornadoes, severe storms, and flooding that took place in parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Carolina. At this time, areas included are Clarke, Covington, Grenada, Jasper, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lawrence, Panola, and Walthall counties in Mississippi; Bradley and Hamilton counties in Tennessee; and Aiken, Barnwell, Berkeley, Colleton, Hampton, Marlboro, Oconee, Orangeburg, and Pickens counties in South Carolina. Under this guidance, certain tax-related acts with deadlines falling on or after April 12, 2020, have been extended to October 15, 2020. (This guidance is in addition to the nationwide coronavirus-related relief already available to taxpayers for time-sensitive tax act completions that are due on or after April 1, 2020, and before July 15, 2020, which are extended through July 15.

IR-2020-126 specifically notes that this extension applies to IRA contributions. This news release, however, does not specifically appear to address or include other time-sensitive acts described in Treasury Regulation 301.7508A-1(c)(1), such as completion of rollovers, recharacterizations, or correction of excesses., that have been granted in other disaster relief. Additional guidance with respect to these tax-related acts may be forthcoming.

This relief applies to residents of the identified area, to those whose businesses or records necessary to meet a covered deadline are located there, and to certain relief workers providing assistance following the disaster events.

Affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area are required to call the IRS disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 to request relief.


Senate, House Bills Would Allow Additional PPP Loans

Companion bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to provide additional capital to small businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) Act is sponsored in the Senate by Democrats Chris Coons (DE), Ben Cardin (MD), and Jean Shaheen (NH), and in the House by Democrats Angie Craig (MN), and Antonio Delgado (NY).

The P4 Act would authorize additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses with 100 or fewer employees—including sole proprietorships and other self-employed—that have already expended the proceeds of a prior PPP loan or are on-pace to do so, and that can demonstrate a loss of business revenue of 50 percent or more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PPP is a Small Business Administration lending program created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help small employers meet payroll and other expenses as businesses and the nation deal with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Importantly, if certain conditions are met, PPP loans can be forgiven and treated as a grant. Payroll expenses can include employer contributions to defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans, as well as providing group health care coverage, including payment of insurance premiums.


Paycheck Protection Program Revised Interim Final Rule Published in Today’s Federal Register

Today’s Federal Register contains the Small Business Administration (SBA) revised interim final rule (IFR) on the agency’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This initiates a 30-day comment period on the guidance, although—as the agency notes—the guidance is effective without advance notice and public comment, due to its time sensitivity and specific authorization by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March 2020.

This SBA guidance was issued in response to enactment on June 5 of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, legislation that made enhancements to PPP, the SBA loan program intended help small employers meet payroll and other expenses as they deal with the economic effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

PPP changes in the June legislation included the following.

  • Extends from 8 to 24 weeks from a loan’s origination the period in which expenses paid with a PPP loan could be eligible for loan forgiveness (not to extend beyond December 31, 2020)
  • Reduces from 75 percent to 60 percent the portion of a loan that must be used for payroll expenses (vs. overhead, etc.) and remain fully eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Extends from 2 to 5 years the period for loan repayment for borrowed amounts that are not forgiven (applies to loans made on or after June 5, 2020)
  • Allows a borrower who received a PPP loan before enactment of the June 5 legislation to elect that the covered period run for 8 (vs. 24) weeks

 


Paycheck Protection Program Revised Interim Final Rule Issued

Scheduled for publication in next Tuesday’s Federal Register is a Small Business Administration (SBA) interim final rule on the agency’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This guidance is being issued in response to enactment on June 5 of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, legislation that made enhancements to this SBA loan program intended to help small employers meet payroll and other expenses as they deal with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

If certain conditions are met, PPP loans can be forgiven and treated as a grant. Payroll expenses can include not only wages and salary, but also employer contributions to defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans, as well as providing group health care coverage, including payment of insurance premiums.

The SBA issued a previous interim final rule in April 2020 to provide guidance in implementing PPP. But with the program changes made by the June 5 legislation, that April rule no longer reflects certain important features of PPP as it now exists, requiring the issuance of a new interim final rule. These important PPP changes include the following.

  • Extends from 8 to 24 weeks from a loan’s origination the period in which expenses paid with a PPP loan could be eligible for loan forgiveness (not to extend beyond December 31, 2020)
  • Reduces from 75 percent to 60 percent the portion of a loan that must be used for payroll expenses (vs. overhead, etc.) and remain fully eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Extends from 2 to 5 years the period for loan repayment for borrowed amounts that are not forgiven (applies to loans made on or after June 5, 2020)
  • Allows a borrower who received a PPP loan before enactment of the June 5 legislation to elect that the covered period run for 8 (vs. 24) weeks

The SBA notes that this interim final rule is effective without advance notice and public comment because of its time sensitivity and specific authorization by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the legislation that created the PPP lending program. Nonetheless, comments are invited and must be submitted within 30 days of the guidance’s publication in the Federal Register.


President Signs Paycheck Protection Program Extension Legislation

President Trump signed into law Friday, June 5, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, legislation that the Senate approved Wednesday night. The legislation extends elements of and makes certain other adjustments to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This Small Business Administration lending program was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to help small employers meet payroll and other expenses as businesses and the nation deal with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Importantly, if certain conditions are met, PPP loans can be forgiven and treated as a grant. Payroll expenses can include employer contributions to defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans, as well as providing group health care coverage, including payment of insurance premiums.

Among its provisions, this legislation will have the following effects.

  • Extends from 8 to 24 weeks from the time of loan origination the period in which expenses paid with a PPP loan could be eligible for loan forgiveness (not to extend beyond December 31, 2020)
  • Reduces from 75 percent to 60 percent the portion of a loan that must be used for payroll expenses (vs. overhead, etc.) and remain eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Extends from 2 to 5 years the period for loan repayment for borrowed amounts not forgiven
  • Provides no impediment to loan forgiveness for the documented inability to hire similarly qualified placement employees or to rehire former employees
  • Allows a borrower who received a PPP loan before enactment of this legislation to elect that the covered period run for 8 (vs. 24) weeks

Senate Passes Paycheck Protection Program Extension, Legislation Awaits President’s Signature

On Wednesday night, the U.S. Senate approved by voice vote H.R. 7010, the House-passed Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020. The legislation extends elements of and makes certain other adjustments to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This Small Business Administration lending program was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to help small employers meet payroll and other expenses as businesses and the nation deal with the economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Importantly, if certain conditions are met, PPP loans can be forgiven and treated as a grant. Payroll expenses can include employer contributions to defined contribution and defined benefit retirement plans, as well as providing group health care coverage, including payment of insurance premiums.

Among its provisions, the legislation now presented to President Trump—who is expected to sign it into law—would have the following effects.

  • Extend from 8 to 24 weeks from the time of loan origination the period in which expenses paid with a PPP loan could be eligible for loan forgiveness (not to extend beyond December 31, 2020)
  • Reduce from 75% to 60% the portion of a loan that must be used for payroll expenses (vs overhead, etc.) and remain eligible for loan forgiveness
  • Extend from 2 to 5 years the period for loan repayment for borrowed amounts not forgive
  • The documented inability to hire similarly qualified placement employees or to rehire former employees will not be an impediment to loan forgiveness
  • A borrower who received a PPP loan before enactment of this legislation may elect that the covered period run for 8 (vs 24) weeks

 


House Passes Bill to Expand Paycheck Protection Program

The U.S. House of Representatives passed by a 417-1 margin on Thursday, May 28, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020. This legislation would modify certain core terms of this Small Business Administration (SBA) emergency lending program. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020. Under the program, qualifying small businesses may apply for loans from the SBA to retain employees on their payrolls, and—especially attractive to business owners—the loans are forgiven if certain conditions are met.

As provided in the CARES Act, PPP loans taken to cover 8 weeks of program-eligible expenses can be forgiven (no repayment required). Although mortgage, rent, and other business expenses are included, to be eligible for forgiveness, 75 percent of a loan amount must—under current rules—be used for employee payroll expenses. Certain employee benefits, including defined contribution and defined benefit plan employer contributions, health insurance benefits (including premium payments), and certain employee leave benefits can be considered payroll expenses.

Today’s House-passed legislation would extend the 8-week period to 24 weeks, and would change the 75 percent payroll requirement to 60 percent.

The legislation would also relax certain loan forgiveness provisions in recognition that an employer may be unable to rehire some former employees or to find similarly qualified employees. Loan amounts not forgiven could be repaid over a period of 5 years instead of 2 years as under current rules.

Members of the U.S. Senate have been discussing a similar bill, one said to expand the 8-week period to 16, not 24 weeks. If the Senate is unable to pass its version of PPP revisions this week, which seems likely, its bill could be taken up when the Senate returns to Washington, D.C., next week.


Industry Welcomes Final Regulations for Default Electronic Delivery of Retirement Plan Disclosures

Scheduled for publication in the May 27th Federal Register are final regulations on default electronic delivery of retirement plan disclosures. These final regulations, issued by the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), provide an additional safe harbor that may enhance the ability of plan administrators and their service providers to deliver DOL-required disclosures to participants and beneficiaries of ERISA plans by electronic means.

An accompanying news release and EBSA fact sheet cite the presidential Executive Order of August, 2018, which directed the agency—in part—“to focus on reducing the costs and burdens that retirement plan disclosures impose on employers and others.” Proposed regulations were issued in October 2019, and public comments solicited at that time contributed to shaping these final regulations.

This guidance officially becomes effective 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. But the EBSA Fact Sheet notes that retirement plans may rely on these regulations immediately; no enforcement action will be taken against a plan for such premature reliance due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. (The regulations’ preamble notes that the agency has chosen not to extend the guidance to welfare benefit plans at this time.)

Following are selected observations from an initial review of the final regulations and EBSA fact sheet.

The new safe harbor

The electronic delivery safe harbor can be satisfied by either of two means.

  • Website posting: A plan administrator is allowed to post covered documents (documents required to be furnished by ERISA Title 1 plans) on a website if appropriate notification of Internet availability is furnished to the electronic addresses of covered individuals.
  • Email delivery: A plan administrator may send covered documents directly to the electronic addresses of covered individuals, with the covered documents either in the body of the email or as an attachment to the email.

First step to e-delivery is on paper

As in the proposed regulations, a plan administrator intending to deliver some, or all, covered documents electronically must first notify participants—in a paper communication—of this intention.

Paper option remains

Not unexpected, recipients can opt out of receiving covered documents electronically and receive them in paper form, without charge. However, plan administrators need not (but may) offer recipients a “pick and choose” option to receive some documents in paper form and some electronically; the plan can require that an opt-out be “global;” (all or nothing). Conversely, a plan that uses electronic means to deliver some covered documents need not use electronic means for all.

Combining notices of Internet document postings

Certain notices of Internet postings can be combined in a single annual notice of Internet availability (NOIA), including the following.

  • Summary Plan Description (SPD)
  • Documents that must be provided annually; (e.g., Summary Annual Report (SAR))
  • Other documents authorized by the Secretary of Labor
  • Notices required by the Internal Revenue Code if authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury; (e.g., automatic contribution arrangement (ACA) notice)

Flexibility in definition of “website

The final regulations acknowledge the importance of including new and developing technologies in applying the guidance, as long as the safe harbor requirements can be met. Mobile applications qualify.

Informing participants of document posting

If covered documents are to be posted to a website, recipients must be able to receive a plan’s NOIA. An electronic address to which a NOIA is sent may be an email address. If it is a phone number, it must be capable of receiving written/text messages (plan administrators must confirm this). Delivery of a NOIA by voice message does not meet this requirement.

Availability of web-posted documents

A covered document posted to a plan’s website must remain there at least one year, or—if longer—until superseded (replaced by) an updated version of the same document.

Document description accompanying a NOIA
A NOIA alerting a participant to an Internet document posting need not include a separate description of the document, if the document’s name—included in the NOIA—would reasonably convey the nature of the document. If not (e.g., a blackout notice), a description of the document being posted to the Internet is required.

Readability

Detailed guidelines for readability in the proposed regulations (using the Flesch reading ease score) were removed, and are not included in the final regulations. The final regulations more simply require that communications under this guidance be “written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant.”

Accessing and Understanding

The plan administrator has no affirmative obligation under the final regulations to monitor whether covered individuals have visited a website to view posted information. Unaddressed—but noted, in reference to a recent ERISA court case—is the issue of whether a recipient has read, understood, and has “actual knowledge” of the information posted.

Special rule for severance from employment from plan sponsor

Procedures should be in place to ensure that a plan administrator will continue to have a valid electronic address to which notices can be provided after severance from employment.

Transition relief, prior guidance superseded

For an 18-month period following the effective date of these final regulations, retirement plans can also rely on prior guidance for the delivery of certain covered disclosures. This guidance includes Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2006-003, FAB 2008-003 (Q&A 7), and Technical Release 2011-03R. Thereafter, the relevant portions of the prior guidance are superseded by the final regulations.

Reasonable procedures for compliance

These final regulations add “technical maintenance” of websites as a circumstance that warrants consideration of facts and circumstances, when—for a reasonable amount of time—disclosure documents may be unavailable to a recipient.

We’re currently preparing a Washington Pulse article to provide further analysis of the final e-delivery regulations, and it will be posted to the the ascensus.com newsroom once available.

 


House Passes More Pandemic Aid; Quick Senate Action Not Expected

The House of Representatives late Friday passed H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, providing additional aid to many who are adversely affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The bill also contained non-COVID-19-related provisions considered likely to prove controversial in the Senate.

Unlike the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—both of which moved fairly rapidly through Congress—the HEROES Act has been called “dead on arrival” by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who—with Republican colleagues—envisions a much less comprehensive bill. Sen. McConnell has also expressed a desire to move slowly and gauge the effectiveness of earlier relief. Most expect no additional COVID-19-related legislation to be enacted before sometime in June.

As announced last week, the House bill contains provisions for the following.

  • Continued financial assistance to unemployed workers
  • Financial assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial government entities
  • Waiver of 2019 required minimum distributions (RMDs)
  • Waiver of the 60-day and one-rollover-per-12-month rules for otherwise-required RMDs waived for 2019 and 2020
  • Amendments to the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
  • Relief for participants in health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs)
  • Codifying the ability of employers to deduct certain expenses covered by loans that are forgiven under the SBA Paycheck Protection Program
  • Providing money purchase pension plans the early distribution and loan relief that the CARES Act provided to other qualified retirement plans
  • A new retirement “composite plan,” with features that include those of 401(k) and defined benefit (DB) pension plan
  • Relief for multiemployer (collectively-bargained) DB pension plans
  • Amortization relief for single employer DB pension plans
  • Further funding relief (beyond that provided by the SECURE Act) to certain community newspaper DB plans
  • Aid to certain federal agencies affected by the pandemic, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Interior, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Education
  • Enhanced Medicare and Medicaid benefits
  • Medical supply chain enhancement
  • Testing and reporting enhancement
  • National strategic stockpile for pandemic response
  • Bankruptcy protections for homeowners
  • Certain student loan relief and protections
  • Additional aid to veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Federal election early and by-mail voting procedure