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 individual provisions include:
- Expanded unemployment insurance (UI) for workers, including a $600 per week increase in benefits for up to four months and federal funding of UI benefits provided to those not usually eligible for UI, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. The federal government is incentivizing states to repeal any “waiting week” provisions that prevent unemployed workers from getting benefits as soon as they are laid off by fully funding the first week of UI for states that suspend such waiting periods. Additionally, the federal government will fund an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020, after workers have run out of state unemployment benefits.
- Recovery Rebate for individual taxpayers. The bill would provide a $1,200 refundable tax credit for individuals ($2,400 for joint taxpayers). Additionally, taxpayers with children will receive a flat $500 for each child. The rebates would not be counted as taxable income for recipients, as the rebate is a credit against tax liability and is refundable for taxpayers with no tax liability to offset. The rebate phases out at $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for heads of household, and $150,000 for joint taxpayers at 5 percent per dollar of qualified income, or $50 per $1,000 earned. It phases out entirely at $99,000 for single taxpayers with no children and $198,000 for joint taxpayers with no children (see Chart 1). 2019 or 2018 tax returns will be used to calculate the rebate advanced to taxpayers, but taxpayers eligible for a larger rebate based on 2020 income will receive it in the 2020 tax season. Taxpayers with higher incomes in 2020 will see the overpayment associated with their rebate forgiven. For example, a single taxpayer with $100,000 in 2019 income would not receive an advance rebate but would receive the $1,200 credit on their 2020 return if their income for the year fell below the phaseout. On the other hand, a single taxpayer with $35,000 in income receives a $1,200 advance rebate but would not have to pay the rebate back on the 2020 return if they make $100,000 this year. This is structurally similar to the 2008 rebate design. We estimate the rebate will decrease federal revenue by about $301 billion in 2020, according to the Tax Foundation General Equilibrium Model. This credit is one-time, but policymakers may consider additional rebates if the downturn is prolonged.
- Expanded Charitable Contribution. The bill creates a $300 partial above-the-line charitable contribution for filers taking the standard deduction and expands the limit on charitable contributions for itemizers.
- Early Withdrawal from Retirement Accounts. Waives the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on retirement account distributions for taxpayers facing virus-related challenges. Withdrawn amounts are taxable over three years, but taxpayers can recontribute the withdrawn funds into their retirement accounts for three years without affecting retirement account caps. Eligible retirement accounts include individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401Ks and other qualified trusts, certain deferred compensation plans, and qualified annuities. The bill also waives required minimum distribution rules for certain retirement plans in the calendar year 2020.