New Covid-19 Relief Bill Provides Important Benefits to Small Employers

After months of negotiations, discussions, and hiccups, Congress finally passed and President Trump signed into law a new Covid-19 relief bill. Ongoing debates about additional required actions notwithstanding, the law as it now exists provides important new benefits to small businesses and their employees. Included among them are the following:

  • A new fund of $284 billion for the payroll protection program (PPP). The widely used pool of money was originally created when the coronavirus pandemic began last Spring but long ago ran dry. Restrictions on accessing the funds may be a bit more stringent, but small businesses who require money to pay employees and cover operating expenses should apply through local lenders promptly. There’s no telling how long the funds will last this time or whether additional money will be appropriated if needed in the future.
  • $10 billion to help child care facilities open safely. The money should be helpful to area employers who will benefit if their employees have appropriate care for young children.
  • An extension of enhanced unemployment benefits that should be available to help laid off or furloughed employees and, indirectly, the companies that employ them. Subsidies from the federal government will be $300 weekly through some time in March 2021. They should become available as early as next week.

The new law may also be important to some companies for what it does not do: extend the pay requirement for employees who cannot work for certain reasons related to the coronavirus. Congress passed the Families First law early in 2020; it required that wages be continued at specified levels for up to 12 weeks when employees were either at risk of contracting Covid-19 or could not work due to school or child care closings. The law is set to expire December 31, 2020 and was not extended by the new relief bill.

Massachusetts employers should, however, be mindful that paid leave and job protection under the state’s Family and Medical Leave Act become available in 2021. Employees who are ill or meet other family qualifications specified by the law can apply to the Department of Family and Medical Leave for benefits. Pay is capped at $850 weekly and comes from a fund administered by the Department, not directly from employers.