Pennsylvania Unemployment Assistance Programs & COVID-19. What you need to know!

If you are confused about the various Pennsylvania unemployment programs, which include several unemployment assistance programs that were part of the federal CARES pandemic relief legislation enacted back in March, you are not alone.

The federal CARES pandemic relief legislation created three unemployment benefits programs (administered through state unemployment offices): (1) the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) program, providing unemployment benefits for certain individuals who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19 and who traditionally were ineligible for unemployment, such as gig-economy workers, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals otherwise ineligible for regular or traditional state unemployment benefits; (2) the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”) program, providing 13 additional weeks of regular or traditional state unemployment benefits for individuals whose state unemployment benefits would otherwise expire; and (3) the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (“FPUC”) program, providing $600/week of additional unemployment benefits (if the individual received other unemployment benefits in that week.

Congress provided funding for the PUA and PEUC programs through the end of the year. Unfortunately for those receiving unemployment benefits, Congress and the President failed to agree on a replacement or extension of the $600/week FPUC program, and that program expired at the end of July. In response, on August 8, 2020, the President issued an executive memo establishing a new Lost Wages Assistance (“LWA”) program.

What is the LWA program? It is a program administered federally through the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Disaster Relief Fund as a grant program to the states, with the funds to be paid to eligible individuals through their state unemployment programs. The LWA program was designed to provide a $400/week “lost wages” benefit, $300/week of which is to come from the federal government, with the remaining $100/week to come as a match from the states (at least, those states that elect to participate). Unlike the FPUC, it is only available to eligible individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic who are already receiving more than $100/week of unemployment benefits. Further guidance from the federal government appears to allow states to meet the state’s match with that state’s underlying spending on traditional unemployment programs. This LWA benefit is available for weeks of unemployment ending on or after August 1, 2020 and ending on or before December 27, 2020, although as it is a FEMA grant program, it could end earlier if FEMA exhausts the funds allocated to this program or if Congress enacts new unemployment relief legislation.

FEMA appears to have begun approving states for the LWA program to provide the $300/week federal benefit, including Pennsylvania according to a press release from FEMA issued on Monday 8/24/20. However, it is not clear how long it will take for this LWA Program to be implemented in Pennsylvania, with FEMA announcing in its press release that it “…will work with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to implement a system to make this funding available to Pennsylvania residents.”

            If you are an unemployed Pennsylvania resident, regular or traditional state unemployment benefits, benefits from the PUA program, and extended benefits from the PEUC program may be available to you. In addition, the $300/week LWA benefit should become available to Pennsylvania residents when implemented. See the Pennsylvania state unemployment program website, www.uc.pa.gov for more information. We continue to monitor developments in this area and will post updates as they become available.

Payment Protection Program (PPP) & The Continued Debate Over The Deductibility of Qualified Expenses

While the IRS has taken the position (IRS Notice 2020-32) that qualified expenses paid using PPP loan proceeds are not deductible for federal income tax purposes, the issue is far from resolved and the subject of continued debate. Click here for more information.

While the IRS has taken the position (IRS Notice 2020-32) that qualified expenses paid using PPP loan proceeds are not deductible for federal income tax purposes, the issue is far from resolved and the subject of continued debate.

In a letter to Congress on August 4, 2020, copy available here, https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Advocacy/Files/200804_Main_Street_Loan_Forgiveness.pdf?la=en, a consortium of some 170 business interests and lobbying groups (ranging from the Air Conditioner Contractors of America to the American Dental Association, and including the American Institute of CPAs) demanded that any new COVID-19 relief legislation affirm the deductibility of these qualified expenses (i.e. wages and rents paid using PPP loan proceeds).

Why is this issue crucial to small business PPP borrowers? Because any PPP loan forgiveness may be effectively negated if qualified expenses paid with forgiven PPP loan proceeds are not tax deductible. As their letter notes as an example, “If a business has $100,000 of PPP loans forgiven and excluded from its income, but then is required to add back $100,000 of denied business expenses, the result is the same as if the loan forgiveness was fully taxable.”  Proposals have been introduced in Congress to “reverse” the IRS position. However, currently all COVID-19 relief efforts are stalled. A real practical concern raised by those concerned with this issue is that with the extension of the time to use PPP loan proceeds to 24 weeks, a small business using PPP loan proceeds for qualified expenses in 2020 may not obtain forgiveness until sometime well into 2021. Without that forgiveness in hand, can that business deduct the qualified expenses paid using loan proceeds in 2020?

In the absence of further relief or guidance on this issue, small business taxpayers and their tax advisors will have to decide whether to take an aggressive approach, in light of IRS Notice 2020-32, or comply with the IRS’s position and face losing most or all of the benefits of PPP loan forgiveness. We continue to monitor developments in this area, and will provide updates on these critical issues as they become available.

Business Interruption Coverage Federal Court Order due to COVID-19

The US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, in a much anticipated Order issued yesterday, rejected attempts by two groups of policyowners, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Illinois, to centralize hundreds of federal cases filed by business owners seeking insurance coverage for business interruption losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panel sided with insurance companies, and even some policyowners, who objected to consolidating these lawsuits into a single venue. While finding that consolidation may still be appropriate for cases against specific insurers, the Panel found that, generally, nationwide consolidation of cases involving many insurers (more than 100), who may have differing policy provisions, lack common elements that could complicate discovery efforts and slow down proceedings. The Panel, did, however, signal that it would consider “targeted” consolidation involving cases against a single insurer or group of affiliated insurers where common elements among policy provisions might be found. As there can be substantial variation in policy provisions for pandemic related business interruption coverage, it is important if you are a business owner to review your policy. If you have questions about your business insurance coverage, contact one of our experienced attorneys at Stern & Eisenberg, PC, Thomas E. Shea and Zachary Champion.

PA Liquor Control Board Clarification Regarding Food Requirement During Targeted Mitigation

On 7/22/2020, the PA Department of Health along with the PA Liquor Control Board have provided clarification regarding its requirement that all on-site consumption alcoholic beverages must be accompanied by the purchase of food. Going forward, patrons must  purchase a meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), not a snack. (It is unclear where Lunchables fall in this requirement due to its tiny serving size even though it has lunch right there in the name!) The guidance further provides that customers may purchase additional alcoholic beverages while they are consuming the meal, but that once they have finished the meal, they cannot purchase any additional beverages. This clarification would also seemingly eliminate the possibility of serving a moldy, Raines Law-style, ham sandwich.

Food trucks, or other food service providers, can fulfill the meal requirement, although compliance with the food requirement seemingly falls to the licensee. It will be important to work out a system to ensure that customers cannot purchase additional beverages unless they still eating their meal.

Additional clarification of note, bar service remains prohibited, indoor occupancy is limited to 25% capacity, indoor events/gatherings are limited to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 250 people (each capacity requirement includes staff).

If you have any questions/concerns or are cited for this, or any other violation, please contact Daniel Jones at djones@sterneisenberg.com or call 215-572-8111.

Pennsylvania Annual Real Estate Tax Assessment Appeal Deadline Is August 1

The August 1 deadline is fast approaching if you want to appeal your annual Pennsylvania real estate tax bill. Your real estate tax bill is determined by multiplying the county assessed value of your property by the common level ratio factor, a number determined annually by the state. For the upcoming fiscal year, the average common level ratio factor in Southeastern Pennsylvania Counties (Phila, Bucks, Montco, Chester and Delco) increased anywhere from 5% to almost 13%, meaning that for real estate tax purposes the value of almost all properties in these counties increased by 5% to 13%, depending on the county where your property is located. Are you paying too much in real estate property tax? To learn how appeal your real estate tax bill, contact us today.

Estate Planning, Retirement Plans & The CARES Act (Part 2): COVID-19 Related Planning Opportunities

In addition to the suspension of required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020 available to retirement account owners as a result of the federal CARES Act that we discussed in our last post, this COVID-19 relief legislation also provided some additional relief efforts to help retirement account owners. First, retirement plan owners who were directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may take an IRA distribution this year of up to $100,000 and spread the income tax on that distribution out over 3 years (2020, 2021 and 2022). Also, if you are under 59.5 years of age and impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can avoid the 10% penalty on early withdrawals. These relief provisions have created some interesting, albeit aggressive tax planning opportunities with IRAs. One possible, but aggressive strategy, is for an IRA owner to do a Roth IRA conversion and spread the income tax cost of the converted amount (up to $100,000) over 3 years. Another aggressive strategy is for an IRA owner directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to make a deductible IRA contribution in 2020, then take a taxable distribution from the IRA this year. The deduction for the contribution is taken in 2020, but the taxes on the distribution can be spread out over 3 years. Although these strategies appear to comply with the CARES Act provisions, whether or not Congress intended to allow such strategies as part of this COVID-19 relief legislation has been a matter of some debate, and future IRS guidance on these strategies may be forthcoming. To learn more on how the CARES Act may impact your estate and retirement plan planning, please contact us today.

ESTATE PLANNING IN THE AGE OF COVID-19: An Introduction To Estate Planning

Join our Director of Estate Planning, Thomas E. Shea, Esquire, and Delaware Attorney, Darlene Blythe, Esquire, for an introduction to Estate Planning, and why COVID-19 has brought the importance of estate planning to the forefront.

  • What is an Estate Plan, what is the purpose, and who needs one?
  • The basic elements of an Estate Plan
  • What you need to do to get the process started
  • Advanced Estate Planning

Darlene Blythe & Thomas Shea - Webinar on ESTATE PLANNING IN THE AGE OF COVID-19: An Introduction To Estate Planning

Estate Planning, Retirement Plans & The CARES Act (Part 1): Elimination of RMDs

Did you know that the federal CARES Act that became law earlier this year as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief efforts included a number of short-term changes designed to enhance the durability of retirement plan savings as well as emergency provisions to ease COVID-19 related hardships. Specifically, the CARES Act suspended all required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020 (you can still take them if you want to or need to but are not required to take your RMD in 2020). As RMDs are based on retirement account values as of the end of the prior year, this relief provision may be helpful to those with retirement plans who have other sufficient sources of income and do not need to take RMDs and who may want to give their retirement plan funds time to recover from the current market volatility. This suspension of RMDs for 2020 may also create opportunities for those considering converting their traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. If you already took out an RMD for 2020, you may be able to return the RMD to your plan or other retirement plan, but under current IRS guidance you must act by August 31, 2020. We will cover additional CARES Act provisions impacting retirement plans in future posts. To learn more on how the CARES ACT may impact your estate and retirement plan planning, please contact us today.

Stern & Eisenberg Webinar: CEMA – A Cost Effective Refinance Option in New York & Real Estate Market post COVID-19

Margaret Cascino, Esquire, our Managing Attorney in New York, and Zachary Champion, Esquire, our Regional Managing Attorney for REO/Retail Closings

Margaret Cascino, Esquire, our Managing Attorney in New York, and Zachary Champion, Esquire, our Regional Managing Attorney for REO/Retail Closings hosted this in-depth webinar on June 17th, 2020 discussing how homeowners with equity in their property are taking advantage of today’s low interest rates. What is a CEMA? Why use one? What is the process? What are the possible issues/delays? What are our COVID-19 Precautions?