The Washington Report
March 03, 2021
Note to subscribers: Due to the current environment, information is changing at a rapid rate. While we do our best to provide timely updates, it is possible that the information shared in the newsletter may change or be revised after our publication deadline. Stay healthy and safe! ~The Washington Report team
House Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill; Moves to Senate
On February 27, 2021, the House passed with a 219–212 vote the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319). The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill now moves to the Senate for consideration, as early as this week. This bill provides additional relief to address the continued impact of COVID-19 on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.
Specifically, (at this time) the bill provides funding for:
- Agriculture and nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program;
- Schools and institutions of higher education;
- Child care and programs for older Americans and their families;
- COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, treatment, and prevention;
- Mental health and substance-use disorder services;
- Emergency rental assistance, homeowner assistance, and other housing programs;
- Payments to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments for economic relief;
- Multiemployer pension plans;
- Small business assistance, including specific programs for restaurants and live venues; and
- Programs for health care workers, transportation workers, federal employees, veterans, and other targeted populations.
The bill also includes provisions that:
- Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025;
- Extend unemployment benefits and related services;
- Provide a maximum recovery rebate of $1,400 per eligible individual;
- Expand and otherwise modify certain tax credits, including the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit;
- Provide premium assistance for certain health insurance coverage; and
- Require coverage, without cost-sharing, of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Because provisions in a bill may be removed or revised during the consideration process, the above information is subject to change at any time. Please refer to legislative text for specific provisions.
The full text of H.R. 1319 is available here.
House Passes Equality Act
On February 25, 2021, the House passed with a 224–206 vote the Equality Act (H.R. 5). The bill prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system. The bill moves to the Senate, where passage is uncertain. Among other provisions:
- The bill expands the definition of public accommodations to include places or establishments that provide: 1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; 2) goods, services, or programs; and 3) transportation services.
- The bill allows the Department of Justice to intervene in equal protection actions in federal court on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- The bill prohibits an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, a locker room, and a dressing room, that is in accordance with the individual's gender identity.
Please refer to legislative text for specific provisions.
The full text of H.R. 5 is available here.
PBGC 2021 Premium Filing Instructions Now Available
On February 25, 2021, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced that the Comprehensive Premium Filing Instructions for 2021 Plan Years have been approved by the Office of Management and Budget and are now available on the PBGC’s website. A new and improved version of My Plan Administration Account (My PAA) will be released for 2021 premiums. According to the PBGC, My PAA will be ready to accept 2021 filings on Monday, April 26, 2021. Additional information about the new version of My PAA is available on the “Overview of Upcoming Changes” web page.
The Comprehensive Premium Filing Instructions for 2021 Plan Years is available here.
The “Overview of Upcoming Changes” web page is available here.
IRS Publishes Guidance on the Employee Retention Credit Under Section 2301 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act
On March 1, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2021-20, which provides guidance on the employee retention credit provided under Section 2301 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, as amended by Section 206 of the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, for qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. This notice is to provide employers with information about how to determine their eligibility to receive the employee retention credit, largely incorporating the concepts set forth in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) posted on the IRS website and answering additional questions related to changes made by the Relief Act not addressed in the FAQs.
IRS Notice 2021-20 is available here.
EEOC Releases FY 2020 Enforcement and Litigation Data
On February 26, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released detailed breakdowns for the 67,448 charges of workplace discrimination the agency received in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The agency secured $439.2 million for victims of discrimination in the private sector and state and local government workplaces through voluntary resolutions and litigation. The comprehensive enforcement and litigation statistics for FY 2020, which ended on September 30, 2020, are posted on the agency’s website, which also includes detailed breakdowns of charges by state.
The EEOC Enforcement and Litigation Statistics website is available here.
DOL Issues Guidance to State Unemployment Insurance Program; Expands Eligibility for Employees Who Declined Work Due to COVID-19 Safety Concerns
On February 25, 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance to state unemployment insurance agencies that expands the number of instances in which workers may be eligible for COVID-19 Unemployment Assistance. The new guidance expands eligibility to three categories of workers:
- Workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with COVID-19 health and safety standards.
- Workers laid off or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic.
- School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to COVID-19.
Please refer to the guidance for specific details.
The DOL news release is available here.
The guidance is available here.
With Hours to Spare, DOL Extends COBRA, HIPAA, ERISA Deadlines
With just hours to go before its 2020 guidance tolling certain COBRA, HIPAA, and ERISA deadlines expired, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance extending the deadlines. The newly extended deadlines in Employment Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 provide relief for health and welfare plans, plan sponsors, and many participants and beneficiaries. The original relief tolled the counting of days within the Outbreak Period for purposes of meeting the deadlines. Notice 2021-01 extends the applicable deadlines until the earlier of: (a) one year from the first date of eligibility for relief; or (b) if earlier, the end of the Outbreak Period (60 days after the end of the national emergency).
Because this new guidance affects important deadlines such as COBRA elections and COBRA premium payments, employers and plan sponsors should communicate how deadlines will be calculated to participants and COBRA-qualified beneficiaries as soon as practicable.
The Aon bulletin on EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 is available here.
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