On Wednesday evening March 25, 2020, the Senate passed an updated version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The bill builds upon earlier versions of the CARES Act and is intended to be the third round of federal government support in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis and associated economic fallout, succeeding the $8.3 billion in public health support passed two weeks ago and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It is the product of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans for a bipartisan response to the crisis.
The CARES Act builds on the two former pieces of legislation by providing more robust support to both individuals and businesses, including changes to tax policy.
The business provisions include:
- $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.
- Employers are eligible for a 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid up to $10,000 during the crisis. It would be available to employers whose businesses were disrupted due to virus-related shutdowns and firms experiencing a decrease in gross receipts of 50 percent or more when compared to the same quarter last year. The credit is available for employees 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.
- Employer-side Social Security payroll tax payments may be delayed until January 1, 2021, with 50 percent owed on December 31, 2021, and the other half owed on December 31, 2022. The Social Security Trust Fund will be backfilled by general revenue in the interim period.
- Firms may take net operating losses (NOLs) earned in 2018, 2019, or 2020 and carry back those losses five years. The NOL limit of 80 percent of taxable income is also suspended, so firms may use NOLs they have to fully offset their taxable income. The bill also modifies loss limitations for non-corporate taxpayers, including rules governing excess farm losses, and makes a technical correction to the treatment of NOLs for the 2017 and 2018 tax years.
- The net interest deduction limitation, which currently limits businesses’ ability to deduct interest paid on their tax returns to 30 percent of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), has been expanded to 50 percent of EBITDA for 2019 and 2020. This will help businesses increase liquidity if they have debt or must take on more debt during the crisis.