COVID-19 Weekly Update – February 17th 2021
Keeping people safe in the pandemic requires a comprehensive approach, as explained by Aaron E. Carroll, a pediatrics professor at Indiana University. By taking the pandemic seriously, “far from posing a risk to its host city or town, a university could become—by supplementing behavioral measures such as masking and social distancing with widespread surveillance testing—a model for detecting and suppressing the virus.” By the time IU’s 87,000 students return to campus later this month, testing capacity will be at 50,000 per week. They developed a contact tracing team that could identify the source of a COVID-19 infection in about an hour. Using these approaches, they kept the infection rate on campus low in the fall semester, even as the pandemic surged throughout the rest of the state.
For the rest of us, creating and following good processes is key as we have seen in successful business models. Setting up routines works well too, but it also nice when you get unexpected surprises during the day. Just the other day we spotted a special guest, a snowy owl, perched on my neighbor’s roof. Here’s a shot of the big guy.
It seems we were not the only ones visited by unexpected guests this week, the Tuesday NYT article “NYC Birders, Twitter Alerts Upset a Pecking Order” noted sightings of several special birds including a snowy owl spotted in Central Park!
Working together will be the key to keeping everyone healthy and whole, and to bringing our economy back!
Economic Impact Payments
Because the second round of payments was pushed out so quickly, some payments went to people who weren’t eligible. This includes people whose income is too high, those claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return, people without valid Social Security numbers, and deceased persons. If this applies to you, this article in CNet explains what to do to return the payment. If you received a paper check, the simplest way to return the money is simply to mail it back to the IRS. Instructions for how to return payments received via direct deposit or debit card are on the IRS website.
By now, most people have received their stimulus payment. However, a few have not. If this is your situation, new FAQs from the IRS explain what to do. First, check with the IRS Get My Payment tool to see how and when your payment was made. If you have received Form 1444 or Form 1444-B from the IRS with your payment amount but the payment has not been received within the timeframes specified by the IRS for receiving it, you may need to request a payment trace.
If you’re eligible for a payment, but don’t receive it by the end of January, you may have to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return.
If you’re eligible for a bigger payment than you received, we can help you claim the difference on your 2020 tax return. We have created a special “Stimulus Funds Received Worksheet” which will enable our clients to accumulate the information we will need to reconcile their stimulus funding. We have added that new worksheet as well as other Covid-19 related checklists and forms to our “Welcome to Tax Season 2021” package which Ramona is busy emailing out.
Progress on Another Plan?
A group of Republican Senators will be meeting with President Biden to discuss a smaller stimulus proposal. Like Biden’s previous $1.9 trillion proposal, this plan extends enhanced unemployment benefits and nutritional assistance and includes funding for vaccines, PPE, and help for schools. However, this plan imposes needs-based limits on stimulus payments. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning on introducing a bill to move the Biden plan through the budget reconciliation process, which would only require a simple majority to pass.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
In the new round of PPP loans, the SBA processed more than 400,000 loans with an average loan amount of $87,000, between January 11 and January 24, according to an SBA report. The new round of funding is not without problems. First, the SBA is asking lenders to resolve data mismatches identified in the first round before recipients can receive a second round of funding. Next, the American Bankers Association has sent a letter to the SBA and the Treasury Department requesting that the SBA fix technical problems with the SBA’s portal. Currently, the portal is not allowing second round applications from borrowers whose forgiveness application is still pending, among other incorrect error messages.
We have been fortunate to have created a better process for this round of first time and second pass funding by subscribing to the AICPA funding portal. The portal’s dashboard allows us to track the application through the entire process. Over the past several weeks, with the assistance of the portal we have been successful in assisting our eligible clients obtain approval and funding.
More details are available at the SBA website.
Grants for Shuttered Venues
A provision of the last stimulus program offers grants for entertainment venues that were shuttered due to the pandemic. The SBA released guidance and a set of FAQs for this program last week, but has not yet established a start date for this program. Grants of 45% of a venue’s 2019 gross earned revenue, up to $10 million, are available to venues that lost significant income. The program will progress in phases in the order of revenue loss, with the earliest two-week window being open to venues that lost 90% or more of their income. The FAQs delve into the details of eligibility, including the interaction of this program with the PPP. Funds will be disbursed through the federal government’s System for Award Management which requires applicants to have a DUNS number, so interested parties are encouraged to register for this number as soon as possible.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)
The most recent stimulus program includes funds for another round of EIDL grants. These new grants will be targeted to reach recipients that really need it, unlike the first round, which was essentially open to anyone who requested one. To be eligible in the initial round of grants, businesses must be located in low-income communities and demonstrate a revenue decrease of at least 30% during an eight-week period after March 2, 2020. The first grants are reserved for businesses that previously received a grant of less than $10,000 or that applied but received nothing because the funds were already exhausted. These recipients do not need to do anything – the SBA will contact them directly. More information is available at the SBA website.
While researching for my recently published article for the Intuit Tax Pro Center “Awareness of ID Theft and Cybersecurity Precautions for Tax Professionals” I found that the IRS had great resources for tax professionals as well as the general public. After posting my concerns on social media along with a link to my article and one by AccountingToday: “The IRS Warns of Identity Thieves Stealing Unemployment Benefits” I was contacted by several other accountants who had heard about this issue as well. During a recent accounting seminar, I shared my concerns with fellow practitioners, as I read from this letter https://republicans-waysandmeansforms.house.gov/uploadedfiles/wenstrup_letter.pdf from congress indicating how ramped this issue is and how it is expected to cost the US over $30 Billion from fraudulent benefits being paid out.
If you believe you have been a victim of unemployment insurance benefits identity theft follow this link for specific guidance by the IRS . In addition individuals who receive a 1099-G for benefits they did not receive must contact their state unemployment office to obtain a corrected 1099-G.
Although many states issue a form 1099-G alerting recipients to the funding (fraudulent or actual) several including New York State do not. As I point out in my article, several victims will not be aware of the fraud until a few years from now when they receive an IRS notice of underreporting of income. Sounds like “the gift that keeps on giving”.
LIVING WITH THE PANDEMIC
With the pandemic, many of us quickly switched to working from home. But now that some workplaces are beginning to slowly open up, this may be the time to ask your boss for more flexibility at work. This article in Fast Company describes several types of flexibility, and five steps to making flexible work a viable option. Flexibility can be in the form of where (in the office or at home), when (start earlier or skip lunch), and how (add a monitor or standing desk) you do your job as well as what you do in your job. A prerequisite to requesting flexibility is stellar performance before you ask for options. Specific requests (I want to come in an hour earlier so I can leave an hour earlier) work better than a vague request for “flexibility.” Considering the needs of the business and your team members is another way to improve your chances of getting more flexibility at work.
Giving constructive feedback can be challenging under the best circumstances, and the remote world makes it even more difficult. This article in Harvard Business Review has strategies to make it easier to give clear feedback to remote employees. Asking questions to get the employee’s point of view regarding the problem at hand is always a good start, as is beginning the conversation with positive feedback or praise for a job well done. Finishing up the conversation by asking for the employee’s top three takeaways ensures that they understand the feedback.
- Our Covid-19 Resource Center with relevant blog posts, videos and prior weekly newsletters
- Payroll, HR and benefits company Gusto has put together An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the Coronavirus
- Accounting Today has a special page for articles on COVID-19
- The best source for up-to-date and accurate health information is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- The CDC also has recommendations for businesses and employers
- Intuit QuickBooks has a dedicated page to help small businesses
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warnings about COVID-related scams
- Fast Company has a listing of the best productivity apps for 2020
- The New York Times has an online newsletter on K-12 and higher education
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on education
- The Atlantic has a state-by-state coronavirus tracker
We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are all in this together!