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March 2020

Resources to Look at During COVID-19

About a week ago, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bipartisan legislation was designed to make sure that households don’t fall apart in these uncertain times. If you want full details on what the Act means to small and medium-sized businesses, you can see our post from last week.

The government’s response to what’s happening with COVID-19 (a.k.a. novel coronavirus) is constantly changing and so there is a lot to read if you want the latest and most accurate news. If it seems like it’s overwhelming at times, we here at Tax Credit Group understand.

To help, we gathered together some links that you want to keep an eye on. These are links that will be updated by their respective agencies as the situation on Capitol Hill changes. That means you don’t have to worry about seeking out the updates through news feeds because these agencies will be updating directly.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The CDC’s Guidance Business Response link (here) will help businesses understand the best way to plan, prepare and respond to the novel coronavirus. The link includes updated cleaning and disinfection guidelines for businesses as well as the best practices for social distancing in the workplace and strategies and recommendations for how businesses can respond to COVID-19.

The CDC has additional resources for businesses here.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

The IRS recently extended the federal tax filing deadline to July 15 to give businesses and individuals more time to pay and file their taxes.

The IRS Coronavirus page, found here, gives you a general overview of all of the actions taken by the IRS during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For details on what the IRS is doing for businesses as of March 24, 2020, check out the letter that the IRS posted on its website addressing the changes. You can find it here.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA is a federal agency designed to give advice and guidance to small businesses.

The SBA has a page dedicated to guidance on loan resources for businesses that are suffering during the COVID-19 response, here.

America’s Small Business Development Center works in conjunction with the SBA. It has its own list of resources to help small businesses through these tough times here.

Consumer Finance

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has an entire site dedicated to protecting your money during coronavirus. You can find it here.

State and Local Help

When it comes to state and local help, it’s going to vary depending on where you live.

Major cities like New York City and San Francisco are creating specific sites to help small businesses and employees understand what’s happening within their city and how they can get help. Many major cities and counties are creating sites like these to deal with all the issues that small and medium-sized business owners are facing and it’s important to know if your local government has one.

Your state government may have a separate site designed to help as well.

Other Financial Help

If you want to know how the latest changes in the federal government affect your taxes, you can also check out publications like Accounting Today, which just ran an article about the federal government allowing you to use your payroll tax credits to help pay for paid leave during coronavirus (here).

The Tax Foundation also has articles that look at what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and what it means for your taxes both in the U.S. and abroad. You can see a great overview of it all here.

A word of warning…

These articles are very informative, but they are also very dense looks at accounting and taxes. They can be difficult for the average small business owner to understand without a background in accounting. That’s why Tax Credit Group is here to help. If you ever have questions about how the current situation on Capitol Hill or how your state is going to affect you and your business, please reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.

Please stay safe and healthy!

Possible Relief for Employees of Small Businesses Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus

Note: This article was written on Thursday, March 19, 2020, less than 24 hours after President Trump signed the bill into law. It covers what’s happening on Capitol Hill at this time, but does by no means represent what could happen in the future. This is a fluid situation. Information is constantly changing. Because this affects so many of our clients, friends, and family, we here at Tax Credit Group felt like it was something that needed to be addressed.

The coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) is hurting small businesses and families across the United States and now the federal government is stepping in to try and alleviate some of the pain. On Wednesday evening, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It’s an act designed to help small businesses and wage workers deal with the impact of the coronavirus.

Here’s what we know now and what it means to you, your family, and your business.

What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?

The bill was created in the House of Representatives after extensive meetings between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. It is designed to provide paid leave for workers who have been affected by the coronavirus, including those who fall ill themselves and those that have to stay at home to care for a child whose school has closed because of the coronavirus.

Small and medium-sized businesses have approximately 15 days to comply with the act.

There are a couple of important components of this bill that you need to know. First, the relief will not last forever. These are short term solutions aimed at making it possible for America’s workforce to survive a three- or four-week shutdown.

Second, it doesn’t cover ALL wage workers in the United States.

Why the Families First Coronavirus Response Act May Not Help Millions of American Workers

The Washington Post points out that one large group of the American workforce is not mentioned in this bill, employees who work for major corporations with 500 or more employees. Lawmakers are relying on major corporations to “do the right thing” and offer sick leave and paid family leave to their employees during this crisis, but there’s no federal mandate behind it.

Corporations like Walmart, Chipotle, and Starbucks are offering varied leave programs for employees. Because there are no federal standards, these policies are not the same for everyone. While one corporation may offer two weeks of sick pay, another may only offer one week.

The result, while some hourly employees are taken care of, others are left trying to figure out how to earn enough money to care for their families.

Why the Families First Coronavirus Response Act could hurt small businesses

While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act takes great efforts to help the employees of small and midsized companies, it causes problems for those midsized and small businesses. According to The Washington Post, these companies will be required to offer two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees affected by the coronavirus who have worked for the company for at least a month.

The businesses will get the money back eventually, but they’ll have to foot the bill until then.

The idea is that the businesses will pay their employees and then receive the money back in the form of a tax credit. So, if a business pays out $10,000 in employee sick and family leave during this time, it will see a dollar for dollar match the next time it files taxes. That means it could be as much as a year if not more before some of these businesses recoup all of their money.

Small Window of Relief for Small Businesses

The bill does allow for some small businesses to apply to be exempt from this requirement, but those businesses must prove that paying would “jeopardize the viability of the business”.

Since this rule has not been tested, we don’t know how lenient or strict federal officials will be with exemptions.

Other Families First Coronavirus Response Act Highlights

According to Forbes, there is more help within the bill for America’s most vulnerable communities.

  • There are specific funds for Women Infants and Children (WIC) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The bill also allows for state plans to provide food to families with children that would have received free or reduced-price meals if school was in session.
  • It also provides about 25 million more home-delivered and pre-packaged meals to low-income seniors through the Senior Nutrition Program.
  • It will reimburse people without health insurance for COVID-19 testing and services.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will fund COVID-19 testing for veterans.

Small Business Help in Illinois

States are also doing their part to try and alleviate the pain for small businesses. On Tuesday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that he was filing for a federal loan program to help small businesses in Illinois.

According to WGEM, the Governor’s Office has also taken extra steps to try and alleviate the pain for small businesses and wage workers. Among the moves within the office:

  • An executive order to waive the 7-day waiting period that residents normally have to wait to receive unemployment insurance. The office is also working with the federal government to try and extend benefits beyond 26 weeks if the crisis continues.
  • A request to the Illinois Commerce Commission to immediately issue a moratorium on utility shutoffs across the state including energy, telecommunications, and water. As well as a change in the payment process so people are not saddled with debt during this tough time.
  • An effort to expand the services of state food banks. The state has already received a waiver from the federal government to continue handing out meals to children who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
  • A federal waiver has been filed to expand Medicaid coverage.

Preparing Your Business for the Coronavirus

You’re probably sick of hearing about it now. The coronavirus is on the front page of every newspaper around the world and the top story on every website. It’s something that’s affecting both large and small businesses and many local health agencies are struggling to make sure the messages are clear.

Whether you’re in an area that has been affected by the coronavirus or in one that has yet to feel the effects of the virus, it is still a good idea to get your business prepared for the possibility that the coronavirus will affect you, your workforce, and your company’s product.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released several guidelines to make sure that businesses do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus. The suggestions below are based upon recommendations by the CDC.

Review your sick leave policy and re-evaluate it if possible

The CDC suggests that any employees that have a fever of 100.4°F or higher stay home from work until they are fever-free without the help of fever-reducing or symptom altering medicines for at least 24 hours. This means employees could be forced to stay home for days at a time.

If you have a company sick leave policy, make sure that you review it with your employees, so they know what’s expected of them. Who do they notify if they are out sick? Do they have to call in when they are sick, or can it be via text message or email?

If your sick policy requires a doctor’s note for multiple days of missed work, the CDC suggests that you ignore that requirement because medical facilities are extremely busy at this time.

There’s also the issue of pay. Are employees paid when they take a sick day? How many sick days are available to each employee?

Review all of these issues with your employees. Make sure you’re prepared for the possibility that an employee may need to stay home to care for themselves, a sick child or an elderly family member.

Send employees home

You should also be ready to send employees home if they start to show signs of illness during the workday. The CDC recommends “…that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) …be sent home immediately.”

One of the best ways to keep other employees from getting sick is to send home employees who show signs of illness.

Remind employees about good hygiene procedures

Everyone in your business must be on the same page when it comes to hygiene so that you limit the spread of germs.

  • Promote proper cough and sneeze etiquette within the office and hand washing hygiene. If you’re concerned about how to do this, the CDC has some great posters that you can print out and post around the office and in the office bathroom. They’re gentle reminders to keep good hygiene at the forefront of employees’ minds.
  • Remind employees that alcohol-based hand sanitizer should contain 60-95% alcohol and if possible, provide employees with hand sanitizer at various locations in the office.
  • Handwashing should be with soap and water and last for at least 20 seconds. Make sure soap is always available in the bathrooms and restock immediately if it runs out.
  • Offer tissues and no-touch garbage cans for employees. No-touch meaning lidless or a lid that opens with the wave of the hand or the stomp of the foot.

Routine cleaning

Routine cleaning is also very important to stop the spread of the disease. Pay special attention to the frequently touched surfaces in the office including doorknobs, countertops, and workstations. Health agencies say cleaning agents like Clorox or Lysol are good enough to get the job done, so don’t worry about rushing out to buy a special cleaner.

If possible, provide employees with disposable cleaning wipes so they can clean their work surfaces, keyboards, desks, and doorknobs.

Other steps

If you live in an area where there are cases of novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19, then your local health department may have issued other advisories for businesses. Among the most common:

  • Avoid large employee meetings.
  • Allow employees to work from home if possible.

Even those that do not test positive for the coronavirus can be affected by it. Take steps now to make sure that you, your employees, and your business are not caught off guard.

Work Place Advice: What You Should and Should Not Say to Military Veterans

In any workplace environment, it’s important there must be a camaraderie built between the people who work together. They don’t need to go out after work and grab beers together, but they should at least feel comfortable talking to one another and working together.

If you’ve never worked closely with or personally met a military veteran, it can be tough to find a shared interest right off the bat. It’s natural for you to think that talking to the veteran about his or her military service is the best way to build a relationship, but if you’re not careful you can do more harm than good.

Here are some things you should and should not say to military veterans, whether in the workplace or at something as casual as a barbecue.

DO NOT ask about killing someone or someone who died

This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many military veterans say they’ve been asked a question along this line of thinking.

  • Have you ever killed someone?
  • What does it feel like to kill someone?
  • Have you ever seen someone killed?
  • What’s the worst thing that happened to you over there?

Another one along this line of thinking:

  • Do you have any friends that died?

Business Insider talked to several veterans who say this shows that people may not have a full grasp on the personal issues veterans face after returning including PTSD.

Think about it. Would you ask anyone else these questions? No. They sound creepy. Stay away from this line of thinking.

DO ask about travel

There’s nothing wrong with asking a veteran if he or she traveled during their service. The site has some great questions like:

  • Did you visit other countries?
  • Where was your favorite place you lived?

This is a great way to try and find common ground with someone new.

DO NOT speculate about a veteran’s feelings

Phrases like:

  • We all owe you.
  • You must be glad to be back.
  • You must have gone through so much.
  • Do you have PTSD?

These all sound good in theory but can do more harm to a relationship than good.

According to Business Insider’s survey of veterans, there are times that “…well-intentioned adulation can go too far.” Veterans also say that returning home after military service can sometimes be disorienting and tough so phrases like these can sound more patronizing than friendly.

DO ask about the person’s connection to the military

You don’t have to avoid questions about the military altogether, in fact, asking about a person’s connection to the military is a good thing.

  • How long did you serve?
  • What branch of the military did you serve in?
  • Why did you choose that branch?
  • Do you come from a military family?

It’s a great way to get to know someone with questions that aren’t too personal, but still show you’re interested in finding out more about the person.

DO NOT treat a female veteran differently

The military is not just for men, it’s for women too. Diversity Inc. points out that you should not talk to a female veteran as though she were invading a man’s world.

  • Why did you join, isn’t the military is a job for men?
  • You’re a mother/wife, how could you leave your family while you were deployed?
  • How did your husband/boyfriend feel about you being around all those men?

Women are just as capable as men and they should be treated as such.

DO ask about other interests

While being a veteran is a very important status to many former members of the military, it’s only one aspect of their lives. Veterans are people with a variety of interests. Don’t be afraid to ask about hobbies, favorite sports teams or families.

While a person’s military service is a great jumping-off point for a conversation, it doesn’t have to be the only thing you talk about.

Changes Making it Easier for Veterans to Pursue Degrees in STEM Fields

For years now, military veterans studying under the GI Bill have studiously avoided degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) because there’s simply not enough money to make it happen. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers 36 months of tuition, but education to earn a degree in a STEM field typically takes longer than that, especially for veterans who have to worry about their families along with their education.

That’s now changing.

SB 153 Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act Becomes Law

The most recent change is the signing of SB 153. On February 11, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the bill into law. One of the key points of the bill is that it allows veterans to be eligible for some National Science Foundation (NSF) programs. The NSF will in turn “…encourage veterans to study and pursue careers in STEM and computer science in coordination with other federal agencies that serve veterans, and submit a plan to Congress for enhancing veterans outreach.”

The bill will also make certain scholarships, fellowships, masters programs and grants available to veterans pursuing degrees in the STEM field.

The bill is just another way the U.S. government is trying to make degrees in STEM fields more accessible to veterans without the financial burden that often comes with spending extra time in college to pursue those degrees.

Forever GI Bill

The federal government is also doing what it can to make sure that veterans are aware of the programs already in existence. In 2018, the Forever GI Bill was created in part to help extend GI Bill benefits to veterans pursuing degrees in STEM fields.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a full breakdown of all the adjustments under the Forever GI Bill here, but one of the highlights is that qualifying veterans can apply for up to nine months more of tuition coverage.

They can do that through the Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship. Students who have used up most or all of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can apply for up to nine months of additional tuition or $30,000. The scholarship is designed for veterans pursuing an undergraduate STEM degree or graduates with a STEM degree who are now pursuing a teaching degree.

Nonprofit Help

There are also some nonprofits specifically designed to help veterans with the transition from military life back to education. Groups like the Student Veterans of America offer advice for military members continuing education as well as local support groups.

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