What just happened?

On Monday, Congress released the details of the COVID-related Tax Relief Act of 2020. The Act expands and extends many parts of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed last March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does this legislation affect individuals?

As with the last stimulus bill, the most noticeable effect for most Americans will be a rebate on their taxes that will come in the form of a direct payment.

Individuals who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would get direct payments of $600 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $1,200, and an additional $600 per each child younger than 17. The payment would scale down by income, phasing out entirely at $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples without children.

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday those who qualify for direct payments could see that money deposited into their bank accounts in a matter of days.

Individual workers who have been fired or furloughed (i.e., put on temporary leave due to special needs of a company or employer), would qualify enhanced benefits of $300 per week, on top of what state unemployment programs pay, from the end of December through March 14. 

State unemployment programs pay, on average, $385 weekly to unemployed workers. With the added benefits the average unemployed worker would receive about $685 per week for 11 weeks. 

The bill also extends this benefit to qualifying freelancers and gig workers, such as Lyft or Uber drivers, as well people seeking part-time work who have been furloughed. People who quit their job as a “direct result of COVID-19” would also qualify (states typically do not allow workers who quit to receive unemployment benefits). 

Both programs would close to new applicants on March 14. Existing claimants who have not yet reached the maximum of 50 weeks will continue to receive the benefit through April 5.

The bill also extends the eviction protection set to expire at the end of the year to January 31. Funding of $25 billion in rental assistance will also be made available for people who lost their sources of income during the pandemic.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (i.e., food stamps) will also increase by 15 percent for six months. On average, SNAP households received about $246 a month in fiscal year 2020. With the increase, they will receive, on average, $283 per month. Eligibility for the program has not been expanded. 

The Pandemic-EBT program to families with children younger than age 6 who receive food stamps will be expanded. This program provides eligible school children temporary emergency nutrition benefits loaded on EBT cards that are used to purchase food. Children who would have received free or reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Act if their schools were not closed or operating with reduced hours or attendance for at least five consecutive days are eligible to receive P-EBT benefits. 

How does this legislation affect churches and small nonprofits?

The bill revives the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to qualified businesses and nonprofits, including churches. 

Churches, nonprofits, and Christian schools that are 501c3 (as well as most small businesses) with fewer than 300 employees that have seen drops of at least 25 percent of their revenue during the first, second, or third quarter of 2020 will be eligible for a second loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantees program. The maximum amount of the loan is capped at $2 million. (The original PPP had a 500-employee threshold and $10 million maximum loan.)

The allowable uses for such loans still includes employee salaries, insurance premiums, mortgage payments, payroll support (including paid sick or medical leave), and other debt obligations, but also includes a broader range of pandemic-related expenses, such as for cloud computing software and protective equipment for employees.

For almost all churches, the loan amount they can receive will be equal to their total average monthly payroll costs for the preceding 12 months prior to the pandemic (March 2019 to February 2020) multiplied by 2.5. For example, a church that has an average monthly payroll cost of $50,000 would be eligible for a loan of $125,000.

The loan requires a “good faith” certification that the funds will be used to support ongoing operations, retain workers, and/or maintain payroll or make mortgage, lease, and utility payments. The loan is forgivable (i.e., doesn’t require repayment) if the church employed the same number of people (or more) during the loan period as they did in 2019. Funds that are not forgiven have a loan maturity of two years, and loan payments under this program are not due for six months. No fees are included for the loan, and no collateral or personal guarantees will be required.

The bill allows for a simplified forgiveness application for loans of $150,000 or less. The new requirement only requires borrowers to state the number of employees retained and the amount of PPP funds spent on payroll.

Since the loan comes from the SBA, most churches will want to contact the bank they currently use for information on how to apply for this program. 

The bill also includes $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which may be available to churches that operate food banks and food pantries.