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March 16, 2020

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and Impact on Employers

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As tax attorneys and business professionals in Columbus, Ohio, we assist business owners in many aspects of their business, including business and tax planning, as well as the impact of legislation on business income and cash flow. This blog will briefly discuss the recently passed (by the House) Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Families First Bill”). A later blog will discuss in more detail, and discuss the actual impact on business owners, while we wait for the Senate’s response.

Background

As mentioned above, the House recently passed the Families First Bill, and it is expected to be signed by the Senate and President early this week. The Families First Bill responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. Here is a summary of the Families First Bill provided by Congress.

Specifically, the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nutrition and food assistance programs, including:

  1. the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children;
  2. the Emergency Food Assistance Program; and
  3. the nutrition assistance grants for U.S. territories.

The bill also provides FY2020 appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services for nutrition programs that assist the elderly. The supplemental appropriations provided by the bill are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits. The bill then modifies USDA food assistance and nutrition programs to:

  1. allow certain waivers to requirements for the school meal programs;
  2. suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program); and
  3. allow states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.

In addition, the bill requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue a temporary emergency standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers.

Finally, and most importantly for our business owners, the Families First Bill includes provisions that:

  1. establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak;
  2. expand unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims;
  3. require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees;
  4. establish requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers;
  5. treat personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protections; and
  6. temporarily increase the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).

In the coming days, we will have more information on the potential impact on employers. To be clear, the employers will bear the brunt of this legislation, especially when it comes to paid sick leave. But, there are mechanisms available to work within this framework, and some relief provided by the federal government.   

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March 16, 2020

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