Everything Chattanoogans need to know about COVID-19 relief legislation

Small business owners and employees may benefit from federal legislation designed to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Pexels

The COVID-19 pandemic has put many people out of work, but there are resources available to employers + their employees that may help as we move through this public health crisis.

There are two sets of federal legislation relevant to employers and their employees. 

We talked with local employment attorney Dan Gilmore, founder of Chattanooga’s Squire Strategies, for insight into the legislation that might help. 

Gilmore told us that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the more recent Coronavirus Aid, Response and Economic Security (CARES) Act are most pertinent. 

Tell us about FFCRA?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act:

○ affects employee paid leave rights 

○ applies to private employers with less than 500 employees

○ allows employers to claim a tax credit for any amounts that are paid as required by the act (through Dec. 31, 2020)  

○ provides two new forms of paid leave for certain employees who are unable to work or telework due to qualifying reasons related to COVID-19 

Tell us about CARES?

The Coronavirus Aid, Response and Economic Security Act:

○ affects workers + small businesses

○ addresses health care, retirement, education assistance, employee benefits + unemployment insurance for employees

○ provides additional unemployment benefits to some out-of-work Tennesseans through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides enhanced unemployment insurance benefits 

○ includes a variety of business relief provisions designed to help employers of different sizes and certain independent contractors survive the economic impact of the pandemic

DYK: CARES included initial funding for business loan programs, but those funds were exhausted last week. Congress may pass additional funding, but the timing is unclear. 

Quoteworthy “These loan programs are currently on hold with the hope of additional funding to come, as early as this week. – Dan Gilmore  

Who should care about this? And why? 

Gilmore: Any employer, independent contractor or employee that has been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic should explore the ways in which the recent federal legislation, including the FFCRA and CARES Act, might provide available assistance for the weeks and months ahead.   

What are 2-3 high-level facts that employers need to know?

Gilmore: 

1) Although the FFCRA includes a limited exemption for employers with less than 50 employees and possible exclusions for health care providers and emergency responders, private employers with less than 500 employees should be familiar with the FFCRA. 

2) Dollar for dollar tax credits are available for any amount an employer is required to pay. 

What are 2-3 high-level facts that employees need to know? 

Gilmore: 

1) The FFCRA only applies to certain current employees of covered employers. 

2) The two forms of paid leave only apply if there is available work that cannot be performed due to a qualifying reason. 

3) The CARES Act has eliminated the waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits, added an additional $600/week to what an individual would otherwise be entitled to per week and extended the number of weeks for which benefits are available.  

Take action 

Still not sure what to do? Here’s what Gilmore said:

○ If you’re a person who needs to apply for unemployment benefits, start by contacting the state’s unemployment office.

○ If you’re an employee, you should ask your employer about FFCRA benefits. 

Employers should become familiar with FFCRA through the U.S. Department of Labor resources so they can help employees who come with questions. 

○ Employers can also discuss the loans in the CARES Act with their local banker asap. 

More information

The FFCRA from the U.S. Department of Labor

Coronavirus Tax Relief from the Internal Revenue Service

Unemployment for Employees from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development

CARES ACT Business Loans from the Small Business Administration

Information from the state of Tennessee is here