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Some CARES Act highlights: Those $1,200 checks and more

MORGANTOWN – U.S. Senate staff this week offered a briefing and handouts on some of the details of the recently passed coronavirus stimulus and relief bill, called the CARES Act.

The information decries the intent of the bill. Federal agencies are now developing guidance on exactly how they will implement the bill’s directives. Agencies are just now getting their guidance in place form the previous package, so it could another week or two to get their CARES provisions into place.

Here are some highlights from the information provided.

Individual payments. Individuals making up to $75,000 and couples making up to $150,000 will receive direct payments of $1,200 each. People who receive IRS tax refunds through direct deposit and who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return should see their deposits in the next few weeks. People on Social Security or who do not file taxes will receive checks; checks may take several months to arrive.

Individuals making more than those thresholds will see $5 deducted for every $100 of income. Individuals making more than $99,000 or couples making more than $198,000 will receive nothing.

CARES also provides $500 per child. The language applies to those 18 and under; it’s unclear if a 20-year-old dependent would be eligible for the $500 or receive their own $1,200 check. That will be made clear in the guidance.

The staffers who wrote the bill say that the checks are not taxable. They do not yet know how the checks will be factored into 2020 taxes, which would be filed next year.

Small business help. The Paycheck Protection Program offers small businesses zero-fee loans up to $10 million. Up to eight weeks of payroll and other costs – such as group health coverage, rent and utilities – are covered and the loans are forgivable if the business retains its employees and their salary levels. Reductions in force or wages reduce forgivable amounts.

Additionally, small businesses and nonprofits can apply for SBA low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million and receive $10,000 advances to cover expenses that could have been covered if the pandemic hadn’t occurred. Businesses should contact the Small Business Administration for guidance on applying.

Unemployment benefits. CARES provides for an additional $600 per week for unemployment and extends eligibility an extra 13 weeks – from 26 weeks to 39 weeks. This applies to workers whose employer is closed; to workers or workers’ household members are diagnosed with or quarantined because of COVID-19; to workers taking care of a diagnosed family or household member or a member unable to attend school; to workers scheduled to start a job that no longer exists because of the virus; the worker is self-employed, is seeking part-time work, does not have sufficient work history or otherise doesn’t qualify for unemployment. All benefits remain taxable.

Hospitals. The bill includes $150 billion: $50 billion for additional Medicare payments to providers and $100 billion for unreimbursed expenses or lost revenues.

Aid to states. $150 billion is devoted to state and local governments. Each state will receive a baseline $1.25 billion, with more based on population. Counties an cities with more than 500,000 residents can receive funds directly. West Virginia will likely get no more than the baseline.

Education. CARES provides $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary schools and $14.25 billion for higher education. Higher-education students will be eligible for emergency financial aid grants to meets virus-related needs, Loan payments on federally held student loans will be deferred through Sept. 30 and not accrue interest Commercially held FFEL loans, Perkins loans and private loans are not eligible. Garnishments and negative credit reporting will be suspended for the period.

Real ID. The Oct. 1 deadline to obtain a Real ID at a DMV office has been extended to Oct. 1, 2021, so a DMV visit is not required now.

Prisons. CARES gives the director of the Bureau of Prisons the authority to release to home confinement those inmates serving their final year.

Testing and vaccines. Testing will not be subject to copays, coinsurance or deductibles. The Affordable Care Act requires coverage of vaccines without cost sharing. Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries are included.

Also, during the emergency, seniors on Medicare can get up to 90 days of a prescription, and they can be refilled early.

The next package. A few very preliminary discussions have begun for a possible fourth package. How the coronavirus situation pans out nationally may determine if the package leans more toward economic stimulus or further damage relief. The CARES Act is just getting underway and the House and Senate are both in recess until April 20, so it is thought that the shape of another bill, if there is one, won’t be known until after that.