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Businesses: How Can You Benefit from the Consolidated Appropriations Act?

1/7/21 – Victor Evans

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In Late December the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA) was signed into law. The legislation contains billions of dollars in additional stimulus funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as numerous unrelated provisions. In this article we’ll take a closer look at the provisions that are most likely to affect your company’s bottom line.

Employee Retention Credit

To encourage businesses to maintain their workforces, the CARES Act created the Employee Retention Credit, a refundable credit against payroll tax for employers whose:

  • Operations were fully or partially suspended due to a COVID-19-related governmental shutdown order, or
  • Gross receipts dropped more than 50% compared to the same quarter in the previous year (until gross receipts exceed 80% of gross receipts in the earlier quarter).

Employers with more than 100 employees could receive the credit if they closed due to COVID-19. Those with 100 or fewer employees received the credit regardless of whether they were open for business.

The credit equaled 50% of up to $10,000 in compensation — including health care benefits — paid to an eligible employee from March 13, 2020, through December 31, 2020. The CAA extends the credit for eligible employers that continue to pay wages during COVID-19 closures or reduced revenue through June 30, 2021.

Notably, as of January 1, 2021, the CAA hikes the credit from 50% of qualified wages to 70%. It also expands eligibility by reducing the requisite year-over-year gross receipt reduction from 50% to only 20% and raises the limit on per-employee creditable wages from $10,000 for the year to $10,000 per quarter.

In addition, the threshold for a business to be deemed a “large employer” — and thus subject to a tighter standard when determining the qualified wage base — is lifted from 100 to 500 employees.

The CAA includes some retroactive clarifications and technical improvements regarding the original credit, as well. For example, it provides that employers that receive PPP loans still qualify for the credit for wages not paid with forgiven PPP funds.

Financial assistance

The CAA provides $20 billion for new EIDL grants for businesses in low-income communities and $15 billion for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

On the tax front, it states that a borrower’s gross income doesn’t include forgiveness of certain loans, emergency EIDL grants and certain loan repayment assistance provided by the CARES Act. As with PPP loans, you can deduct your otherwise deductible expenses paid with such forgiven amounts, and forgiveness won’t reduce your tax basis and other attributes (special rules apply to partnerships and S corporations). Similar treatment applies to targeted EIDL advances and Grants for Shuttered Venues.

Deferred payroll taxes

Businesses were given the option to withhold their employees’ share of Social Security taxes from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. Those that did were originally directed to increase the withholding and pay the deferred amounts on a prorated basis from wages and compensation paid between January 1, 2021, and April 30, 2021.

Under the CAA, such employers now have all of 2021 to withhold and pay the deferred taxes.

Non-COVID-19 disaster relief

The CAA also acknowledges the recent disasters not related to the pandemic (for example, wildfires). Among other things, it provides a tax credit of up to $2,400 (40% of up to $6,000 of wages) per employee, to employers in qualified disaster zones.

The credit applies to wages paid, regardless of whether services were actually performed in exchange for those wages. The CAA also modifies the CARES Act to allow corporations to make qualified disaster relief contributions of up to 100% of their 2020 taxable income.

Business meals deduction

For 2021 and 2022, you can deduct 100% (up from 50%) for food and beverages as long as they’re “provided by a restaurant.” The IRS will likely issue guidance on the deduction, particularly the meaning of the term “provided by a restaurant.”

Retirement plans

The tax code allows “qualified future transfers” of up to 10 years of retiree health and life costs from a company’s pension plan to a retiree’s health benefits or life insurance account within the plan. These transfers must meet certain requirements (for example, the plan must be 120% funded) that pandemic-related market volatility has made too difficult to meet in some cases.

In response, the CAA allows employers to make a one-time election on or before December 31, 2021, to end any existing transfer period for any taxable year beginning after the election in certain circumstances.

The law also includes a partial termination safe harbor for retirement plans in light of 2020’s pandemic-related workforce fluctuations. Plans won’t be treated as having a partial termination (which would trigger 100% vesting for affected participants) if the number of active participants on March 31, 2021, is at least 80% of the number covered by the plan on March 13, 2020. The safe harbor applies to plan years that include the period beginning on March 13, 2020, and ending on March 31, 2021.

Charitable deductions

The CAA extends, through 2021, the CARES Act provision that increases the limitation on corporations’ cash charitable contributions from 10% of taxable income to 25%. Any excess corporate cash contributions will be carried forward to subsequent tax years. The limitation on deductions for donations of food inventory, which the CARES Act increased to 25% for 2020, is similarly extended through 2021.

Tax extenders

The CAA incorporates several “extenders” of tax breaks. For example, it extends both the New Markets Tax Credit and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit through 2025. The employer credit for paid family and medical leave is extended through 2025 for wages paid in tax years after 2020.

The law extends through 2025 the period for which an empowerment zone designation is in effect. But the enhanced expensing rules and nonrecognition of gain on rollover of empowerment zone investments are terminated for property placed in service in tax years beginning after December 31, 2020. Empowerment zone tax-exempt bonds and employment credits also weren’t extended beyond December 31, 2020.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

In late December we shared the most recent changes to PPP titled, “PPP Update: COVID Relief Bill Key Provisions”.

A loaded law

At almost 5,600 pages, the CAA contains more components that could impact your business and personal taxes. Please contact Victor Evans or one of our tax experts at 800.887.0437 if you have any questions about these or other provisions.