Category

COVID-19

COVID-19 and UI Benefits

COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Legislation: Update on the Extension (or Expansion) of the CARES Act

As both parties continue negotiations on continued virus relief, Republicans announced their own plan for a new U.S. virus-relief bill broadly endorsing a fresh round of stimulus checks to individuals, extended supplemental unemployment benefits and additional funding for COVID-19 testing while also voicing doubts over President Trump’s desire for a payroll tax cut.

The details remain in flux as GOP senators hashed out their opening bid in negotiations with Democrats on legislation to prop up the slowed U.S. economy. The differences between the GOP and the White House regarding the payroll tax cut threatens to push any action on the stimulus into August.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows started this week by saying their goal was to get a stimulus bill out of Congress by the end of next week (July 31st). But after getting pushback from Senate Republicans on several issues, including the payroll tax cut, both ended the day Tuesday dialing back expectations.

Mnuchin and Meadows met Tuesday (July 21st) over lunch with Republican Senators, but no outline for legislation emerged. Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy said the two Trump advisers discussed a lot of ideas, but “we haven’t reached a conclusion on anything.”

Democrat Senators Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said the lack of consensus among Republicans means real negotiations cannot start yet to bridge the differences between the GOP plan for $1 trillion in stimulus funds and the Democrats’ proposal for a $3.5 trillion package.

All the while, President Trump has expressed confidence that a deal will emerge saying “We’re working very hard on it, we’re making a lot of progress. I know that both sides want to get it done.”

The White House and Congress have only a few weeks to come up with another stimulus package before lawmakers take a scheduled August break and the $2.9 trillion flood of federal money passed by Congress earlier in the year begins to dry up.

The crux for Republicans is the President’s insistence on cutting or suspending the payroll tax paid by employers and employees, which funds Social Security and Medicare.

Mnuchin said it would be included in the Republican proposal, but some GOP senators, such as South Dakota’s John Thune, said they remain skeptical. Thune has stated “I’m not a fan of that. If it’s a choice between doing checks and payroll tax cut, I think it’s pretty clear the checks actually have a more direct benefit to the economy.”

Although Trump has suggested he might not sign a bill without the payroll tax cut, Mnuchin and Meadows indicated some flexibility in talks.

There are signs of a possible compromise on extending the supplemental unemployment insurance that was part of the stimulus measure passed in March and is set to expire on July 31st.

Section 2104 of the CARES Act provided individuals who were unemployed as a result of COVID-19, $600 a week in additional unemployment benefits, completely funded by the federal government. Republicans argued it created a disincentive for returning to work in some areas because unemployed individuals could get more than they earned at their jobs. Thus, some GOP lawmakers have floated the idea of lowering the supplement to $200 or $400 as part of the new package.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany has said that the administration favors some type of additional unemployment aid, along with direct checks to individuals and a payroll-tax holiday for middle and low-income Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the GOP plan will include a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, but it would be targeted to businesses most affected by the pandemic. He said there will be funding to reimburse businesses for the costs of safe workplaces, including personal protective equipment, virus testing, cleaning and remodeling to protect workers and entice customers. Additionally, there also will be money for some child-care assistance and funding for a vaccine. The Republican plan also will have $105 billion to aid schools in safely reopening.

As always, if there are any questions please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website at www.thomas-and-company.com.

COVID-19 and Future Unemployment Tax Rates

As we all experienced in one way or another, many state unemployment agencies had difficulty managing the drastic increases in unemployment compensation claims arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as state agencies are catching up with UI benefit payment issues, many are also having difficulty matching benefit charges with employer’s accounts. The additional $600 payment required under Section 2104 of the CARES Act and the state by state emergency orders issued for “non-charging” of employer accounts have created additional challenges in this regard and provided little time for state agencies to make changes in their systems to accommodate employers.

State unemployment taxes in 2021 and 2022 are likely to increase, whether it be due to individual employer’s experience history or a depletion in state unemployment trust funds. Regardless, employers and state agencies should be careful in reviewing charges to employer accounts to ensure compliance with federal and state laws.

In most states, contribution rates for 2021 are based on unemployment claims filed and benefits payments for the one-year period ending June 30, 2020. State agencies are now faced with the difficult task of reconciling the benefits paid with employer account charges identified for COVID-19-related claim payments. State unemployment compensation charge statements should be closely reviewed with respect to a number of questions related to federal and state laws and special COVID-19 related provisions, including but not limited to:

  1. The extra $600 paid as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) under Section 2104 of the CARES Act should not be charged to employer accounts. This applies not only to the most recent separating employer accounts but also to non-separating base period only chargeable accounts. The $600 charge may not show up as a separate charge but may be included in total charges.
  2. Employer accounts should not be charged for unemployment compensation related to COVID-19 as provided in Executive Orders from Governors and/or state legislative bodies adopted to provide relief from COVID-19 related unemployment claims.

Requests for relief of charges should be submitted in a timely manner to state agencies to enable corrections to be made as early as possible and thereby avoid long-term impacts on future tax rate calculations.

Additionally, contribution rates for 2021 that are typically released between November & February should be reviewed for timely appeal. In the event that any discrepancy is identified, an issue should be raised immediately to avoid erroneous factors used in tax rate assignment.

Unfortunately, the delay in payment of unemployment compensation and the complex programming required for proper charging of employer accounts may take time to sort out by state agencies. Even if there is non-charging of benefits to individual employer accounts due to COVID-19, there may also be increases in 2021 and 2022 due to the impact of lower average payroll used to determine rates. The extent of additional taxes for 2021 may not be determined until the end of 2020. Employers and states should be working through these details to assure that the appropriate charges, payments and contribution rates are determined under the applicable laws.

The last point to consider relates to additional increases in UI taxes specifically relating to federal unemployment taxes (FUTA). Many state UI trust funds have been depleted and this may trigger solvency tax increases and interest on Title XII federal loans in years to come. Our office is monitoring this matter, as we did during The Great Recession, and will continue to provide updates on this as they become available.

As always, if there are any questions please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website at www.thomas-and-company.com.

Wisconsin To Waive Unemployment Benefit Charges

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has announced that it will not include unemployment benefits charged from March 15, 2020 to June 30, 2020 when calculating employer’s unemployment tax rates for 2021.

Under Emergency Rule 2018, published June 29th in the state administrative register, the Department is to assume that all benefits charged from March 15 to June 30 are related to the COVID-19 pandemic for purposes of calculating 2021 tax rates.

The calculation of an employer’s 2021 tax rate generally would include benefits charged up to June 30, 2020, but Wisconsin Act 185 signed in April requires virus-related benefits to be charged to the state unemployment balancing account instead of to individual employers.

The Department has indicated that redirecting the charges from employer’s accounts to the general balancing account will have to be completed manually and is expected to take thousands of hours. The process is not completed by June 30th because of the high volume of benefit claims, so the rule is to allow the Department to avoid charging employers for virus-related benefits in 2021.

As always, if there are any questions please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website at https://thomas-and-company.com/news/.

Washington Unemployment Taxable Wage Base to Rise in 2021

The Washington Department of Employment Security announced today that the unemployment taxable wage base is set to rise to $56,500 in 2021, up from $52,700 in 2020.

The change to the taxable wage base takes effect Jan. 1, 2021.

The Department’s unemployment tax rates for 2021 are expected to be finalized in December.

 

As always, if there are any questions please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website at www.thomas-and-company.com.

COVID-19 & Hawaii Unemployment Tax Payment Extension

Hawaii’s deadline for submitting first-quarter unemployment tax payments will be extended, the Hawaii Department of Labor & Industrial Relations announced today.

Unemployment tax and wage reports will remain due on April 30, 2020 as normal, but the Department is allowing for an extension to submit the tax payment until May 31, 2020.

The Department stated that the deadline for unemployment tax payments was moved to May 31st  to assist employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Our office will be monitoring these situations closely and will send out additional announcements or make postings on our website (https://thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/) as we become aware of new developments.

The CARES Act & the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

Executive Order:

Florida’s governor signed Executive Order 20-104. This order suspends the biweekly “actively seeking work” reporting requirement for those seeking unemployment benefits.

Reemployment Assistance Processed Claims:

From March 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020, the state notes that 141,451 claims went through the initial monetary determination process, which means that a decision has been made on whether individuals are monetarily eligible to receive reemployment assistance.

Reemployment Assistance Claims Paid:

From March 15, 2020 to April 15, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Security issued 121,102 payments to individuals in reemployment assistance, totaling $47,544,993. This includes 33,623 individuals who applied for reemployment assistance benefits after March 15, 2020.

For the week of April 17, 2020, a total of 23,801 checks for $600 were sent to individuals through the CARES Act. These checks were sent via paper to ensure they were distributed as quickly as possible. Please be aware that any individuals who received their $600 check will receive their state benefits for reemployment assistance via direct deposit or prepaid debit card based on the preference selected in the application process.

Reemployment Assistance Initial Claims:

Statistics on initial claims filed for reemployment assistance are below.

  • For the week ending March 21, 2020, the state received 74,313 applications.
  • For the week ending March 28, 2020, the state received 228,484 applications.
  • For the week ending April 4, 2020, the state received 169,885 applications.
  • For the week ending April 11, 2020, the state received approximately 175,306 applications.

CARES Act Update:

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides benefits to those that may not be eligible for regular benefits, including individuals who are self-employed or independent contractors. The state is expected to provide additional information on PUA within the week.

System Enhancements:

The state announced that they will conduct routine maintenance to their CONNECT system to help with processing claims. Therefore, CONNECT will be unavailable from 8pm to 8am, daily. Any individuals who need to certify must log into CONNECT between 8am and 7:59pm, and log into the system during their scheduled reporting time, to have their claims processed in a timely manner. However, this maintenance will not affect anyone that needs to file a new claim. The CONNECT system will be available for new claims 24/7.

For more information about benefits, including how to apply and frequently asked questions, please visit the state’s website at https://www.floridajobs.org/covid-19.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.

The CARES Act & the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development started to issue the new $600 federal pandemic unemployment compensation to individuals impacted by COVID-19. The state notes that their first federal disbursement included $12,853,200 to 16,183 individuals currently covered by their current unemployment program.

Also, the state advised that the federal pandemic unemployment payment will be retroactive to the week ending April 4, 2020 and that the payment will be in addition to regular benefits. Individuals who have received benefits for week ending April 4, 2020, will receive a separate disbursement with the additional $600 payment. The payment will be available for each week of eligibility through July 25, 2020.

Finally, the state will begin to process applications for self-employed, independent contractors and gig economy workers on the week of April 20, 2020, with payment being issued about two weeks later. Individuals who previously filed and received ineligibility notifications will be contacted for income verification to complete their application process. The state notes that payment will be retroactively made to the week ending April 4, 2020.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.

The CARES Act & the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) advised that they have fully implemented Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). PEUC provides a 13-week extension for unemployment benefits for eligible applications.

In Minnesota, approximately 8,000 individuals exhausted, or are expected to soon exhaust, their benefits. Individuals will be eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits, as well as the additional $600 payments, with PEUC fully implemented. Individuals can login to their account at https://www.uimn.org if they exhausted their benefits and believe they are eligible for extended benefits under PEUC.

 The final part of the CARES Act that is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which will provide unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals, independent contractors, gig workers and others who would not normally be eligible for unemployment benefits. The state believes that they will have this program fully operational by the end of April 2020. However, the state encourages those who think they are eligible to apply online.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.

Unemployment Weekly Claims Report for the Week-Ending April 11, 2020

The Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims report for the week ending April 11, 2020 has been released by the Department of Labor.

  • Seasonally adjusted initial claims: 5,245,000
  • 4 week moving average: 5,508,500
  • Seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate: 8.2%
  • Seasonally adjusted insured unemployment number: 11,976,000
  • 4-week moving average: 6,066,250
  • Number of unadjusted claims: 4,971,823
  • Unadjusted insured unemployment rate: 8.6%
  • Unadjusted number claiming UI benefits: 12,526,711

The full news release report can be downloaded here.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.

The CARES Act & the Idaho Department of Labor

State Claims Volume:

The Idaho Department of Labor adjusted their phone schedule. From 8am to 4pm MST, the state will accept incoming calls. From 4pm to 6pm MST, the state will process unemployment claims. Additionally, the state advised that staff will be reassigned to help process claims and will hire 12 or more claims specialists to assist with the claim volume. The schedule and additional claims specialists will help to free up time for staff to return phone calls, resolve issues that might benefit payment, and process claims as quickly as possible.

Over the last 3 weeks, the state issued 77,430 payments for a total of $17.95 million to more than 30,546 individuals whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19 over the last three weeks.

Individuals do not need to call the state in order to file a claim for benefits and can access the claimant portal via cell phones and tablets too. Common questions can be found at the state’s FAQ page at https://idahoatwork.com/2020/03/18/faqs-about-unemployment-insurance-and-covid-19/.

 

The CARES Act:

The Idaho Department of Labor advised that the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUAC) benefit payments should be available to individuals by the end of April 2020. Individuals who are currently filing or receiving benefits under the state’s regular unemployment program already qualify for the additional $600 and do not need to take further action. The benefits will retroactively begin on March 29, 2020 and ends with the week of July 25, 2020.

However, the state also stated that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will take a little more time to implement within their current unemployment insurance program. PUA would grant benefits to those that are self-employed, contract employees, and others not ordinarily eligible for benefits. This new program requires that the state make significant system upgrades to process payments and state officials expect it will be May 2020 before payments occur for these types of individuals. The state also expects more guidance from the Department of Labor before it can fully administer the benefits, which is retroactive to February 2, 2020, and ends December 26, 2020.

More information about the CARES Act can be found on the state’s COVID-19 website: https://idahoatwork.com/2020/03/18/faqs-about-unemployment-insurance-and-covid-19/.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.