government building ceilings

Authored by Paul Dillon, Christine Faris, Michelle Hobbs and Michael Wronsky

By the end of February, the House of Representatives is expected to pass the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the Act), a combination of several bills making up the fifth stimulus legislation package designed to provide further economic relief from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate is expected to begin discussions the first week of March when it is likely the legislation will be modified and sent back to the House. While the Act contains an increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, this provision was deemed to violate the Senate reconciliation rules. Additionally, other elements of the Act may not have unanimous support of all Democratic senators.

Both chambers of Congress are using budget reconciliation to pass the Act. In the Senate, this means the Act is not subject to filibuster and only a simple majority is needed to pass it. Therefore, ratification can occur without any Republican votes if no Democratic senator dissents. The final bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden shortly after passage by both chambers.

From a tax perspective, what is not included in the Act is perhaps as important as what is included. The Act contains no tax increases, including those that had been outlined in President Biden’s campaign proposals. At this time, individual, corporate and capital gains rates are unchanged, and no adjustments were made to the estate and gift tax regime. During a CNBC interview earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said any tax increases sought by the Biden administration would be introduced gradually, suggesting these would come later in 2021 as part of a larger legislative package and be phased in slowly.

Meanwhile, the Act does include several tax provisions such as an extension of the employee retention credit, another round of individual tax rebates and enhancements to the child tax credit.

Notable nontax provisions include modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), an increase to and continuation of the federal unemployment subsidy as well as funding for primary school and higher education institutions, and vaccine distribution.

Key provisions

Employee retention credit

The refundable quarterly payroll tax credit, designed to assist employers experiencing full or partial suspensions or significant declines in gross receipts in keeping employees on their payroll, was extended to apply to qualified wages paid through Dec. 31, 2021. Beginning after June 30, 2021, the credit will become a refundable payroll tax credit against the Medicare tax, otherwise known as the hospital insurance tax.

Paycheck Protection Program

The Act further expands the PPP to include certain internet publishing organizations (NAICS code 519130) and increases program funding another $7.25 billion. The Act also creates new eligibility for certain not-for-profit organizations with not more than 300 employees and spend less than $1 million or 15% of receipts and expenses on lobbying activities. In addition, charitable organizations can be eligible for PPP loans if they employ 500 or fewer employees per physical location. Finally, the SBA affiliation rules will no longer apply to not-for-profit organizations.

Individual tax rebates

The Act provides rebate checks of $1,400 per individual (including dependents) based on their adjusted gross income (AGI) reported on their 2019 tax return (or 2020 return, if filed). Payment amounts will begin to phase out for single filers with AGI of $75,000 or higher ($150,000 for joint, $112,500 for head-of-household filers).

EIDL grants and other loan proceeds

Under the Act, Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grants as well as restaurant revitalization grants would be exempt from federal income tax. Further, similar to forgiven PPP loans, these exclusions from taxable income would not result in a loss of tax deductions for expenses funded by those grants.

Child tax credit and dependent care benefits enhancements

The Act increases the child tax credit to $3,000 per qualifying child ($3,600 in the case of children under age 6 as of the close of the tax year) and makes it refundable for 2021. The increased credit over the $2,000 available under prior law would phase out at AGI levels of $150,000 for joint filers, $112,500 for head of household, and $75,000 for all other taxpayers. The AGI phase out levels for the $2,000 previously available credit remain the same ($400,000 for joint filers, $200,000 for all others). The Act additionally instructs the Treasury Department to establish a program under which taxpayers will receive monthly advance payments of the credit they are due, from July through December 2021.

Paid leave payroll tax credits extensions

Originally provided for by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the payroll tax credits for providing paid sick and family leave are extended through Sept. 30, 2021. Additionally, effective for calendar quarters beginning after March 31, 2021, the limit on wages that can be taken into account for computing the family leave credit with respect to all calendar quarters in total increases to $12,000 from $10,000, and the 10-day limit on the emergency paid sick leave credit has been reset. In other words, if, as of the end of the first calendar quarter of 2021, an employer reached both of these respective limits for a given employee, they would be able to claim the family leave credit on up to an additional $2,000 of qualified family leave wages and another 10 days of the emergency paid sick leave credit for qualified sick leave wages paid to that same employee during the second and third quarters of 2021.

Unemployment benefits

The federal unemployment subsidy increases to $400 per week from $300 and is further extended through Aug. 29, 2021.

Election to allocate interest expense worldwide repealed

The Act repeals a provision allowing U.S. affiliated groups to elect to allocate and apportion interest expense on a worldwide basis to determine taxable income applied to foreign tax credit limitations. Section 864(f) was enacted as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, but its implementation has been deferred several times. This section is relevant in computing the foreign tax credit limitation, which is based on the amount of taxable income from foreign sources and the allocation and apportionment of deductions between U.S.- and foreign-source gross income from different limitation categories. Allocating and apportioning interest expense on a worldwide basis would generally result in increasing the ability to use foreign tax credits.

Pension plan relief

The Act contains provisions to assist troubled multiemployer pension plans as well as single-employer pension plans.

  • Multiemployer plans – The Act creates a special program to allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) upon application by plan sponsors to make direct cash payments to financially troubled pension plans to ensure they remain solvent. Applications must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2025.
  • Single-employer plans – The Act provides that shortfall amortization bases for plan years beginning in 2019 and 2020 would be reduced to zero. For plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2019, all shortfalls would be amortized over 15 years rather than seven years under current law.
Cost-of-living adjustment freeze for qualified retirement plans

The Act contains provisions to freeze cost-of-living adjustments for certain annual limitations beginning after Dec. 31, 2030. The 2030 dollar amount would remain in effect until further notice.

  • Defined benefit plans – The limitation on annual benefits
  • Defined contribution plans – The limitation on contributions and other additions
  • Compensation – The limitation on the annual compensation taken into account under the plan  

The freeze on the cost-of-living adjustments described above would not apply in the case of a plan maintained by one or more collective bargaining agreements.

 For more information about how these issues may affect you, connect with your Baker Tilly tax professional.

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The information provided here is of a general nature and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any individual or entity. In specific circumstances, the services of a professional should be sought. Tax information, if any, contained in this communication was not intended or written to be used by any person for the purpose of avoiding penalties, nor should such information be construed as an opinion upon which any person may rely. The intended recipients of this communication and any attachments are not subject to any limitation on the disclosure of the tax treatment or tax structure of any transaction or matter that is the subject of this communication and any attachments.

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