COVID-19 Weekly Update – September 16th 2020
As the world becomes more tech-centric, our behaviors have changed in ways that Emily Post could not have envisioned when she first compiled her guidance on etiquette.
Fortunately for my firm we have been using video-chat software for years and have a system in place for two of our staff members NOW THREE to work remotely without skipping a beat. Elizabeth Spradley is now a “southern girl” having relocated to Atlanta last week. Yes she got a few days off for the move, but her home office is set up with the same equipment Myriam (FL) and Monica (NJ) have been using for years.
With our new Voice over IP telephone system, installed two weeks ago, we are no longer forwarding calls to Ramona. We all have access to our office telephones no mater where we are working. How great that we can intercom or transfer calls to each other at the touch of a button again.
You may enjoy reading this recent article by Alex Schmidt at the Wall Street Journal who put together a witty list of 21 tech-related rules for this era. For example, number five states “We’re pretty certain that watching a video on your smartphone, at full volume, without headphones, violates the Geneva Convention. If not, start revising, Geneva.” Number 11 reminds us to “Use video doorbells to ward off porch pirates and document cute animals that wandered into your yard—not to spy on your only mildly sinful neighbors.”
I was able to take a breather this morning for my run on the beach and am happy to share the photo with you. Please remember to do something special for yourself every day, it makes a huge difference in your outlook.
Need more flowers in your day, here’s a farmer in Wisconsin who planted over 2 million sunflowers on his pick-your-own farm to give people respite from the pandemic.
CARES ACT UPDATES
Another stimulus bill?
The continuing impasse between Democrats and Republicans makes it unlikely that we’ll see another stimulus bill of the magnitude of the CARES Act. This summary from CNet lays out the possible elements of a stimulus package and their status in various proposals. For example, the $300 per week authorized by President Trump’s Executive Order was only in place for six weeks and is already ending in some states. Democrats want a return to the generous $600 per week of the CARES Act, but Republicans want to slim the benefit to $300 per week.
New Corona Virus Relief Bill in the Works?
Although lawmakers are working hard to come up with a new “all-inclusive plan” they have not made much progress. They have vowed to stay in session until an agreement is reached, but that may not be the case. Read more in this Washington Post Article: “Frustrated House Democrats Push for Action on New Economic Relief Bill”
Economic Impact Payments (aka Stimulus Checks)
The IRS is in the process of sending letters to approximately nine million people who were entitled to stimulus checks but did not received a payment. These are largely people who did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, but who are otherwise eligible. In an effort to reach them, the IRS is sending letters that encourage them to use their online tool by October 15. Otherwise, their only option will be to wait until 2021 when they file their 2020 tax return.
HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESS
Paycheck Protection Program Forgiveness (PPP)
Yet another week has gone by and though there is talk about another grant program we are still waiting for additional guidance from the initial package enacted back in March. My staff and I continue to attend town hall meetings, seminars and discuss strategies for maximum loan forgiveness. Though we are still frustrated by the lack of answers on some key issues we are keeping track of the expense outlay and headcounts for many of our clients as we wait for additional guidance on the ability to expense costs paid from grant funds, a key element in the original CARES Act wording. And we are still recommending that we prepare and wait for better guidance and specifics as to FINAL agreement as to the deductibility for those expenses paid with forgiveness funds.
Payroll Tax Deferral is a Dead Issue
Presidential Memoranda – Budget & Spending The IRS and Treasury issued initial guidance Notice 2020-25 in order to effectuate the President’s Executive Order permitting a deferral of employee payroll taxes effective September 1. The Treasury Secretary is using his authority under IRC sec 7508A to defer the payment of taxes due when there is a federal declared disaster. The guidance was limited as is the benefit as there has been no further talk about forgiveness of these deferred taxes and postponing payment sets employees up for a double hit come January. I am still recommending that we wait yet again for specifics as to a REAL possibility for forgiveness, if no forgiveness then this is just “kicking the can down the road yet again”.
Main Street Lending Program
Even though $600 billion was allocated to this program, only $1.2 billion in loans had been completed as of September 3. Of the 118 loans closed by the end of August, only 11 were for less than $1 million, and only one was close to the minimum loan amount of $250,000. In response, the president of the Boston Federal Reserve, Eric Rosengren, is urging Congress to relax the rules so that smaller organizations can participate. Small businesses are finding the rules to be too restrictive for their needs.
WORKING FROM HOME
Building relationships in a remote world is more challenging than in person, so this piece in FM Magazine offers ideas for building employee morale. Sending everyone a recipe, then scheduling a zoom meal meeting can help replace the bonding that occurs over food. Adding fun to meetings with contests and including time for talking about personal issues can help keep teams connected. Technology can also be leveraged, by adding a Slack channel or setting up virtual events, such as painting parties or tea tasting, as this article in Fast Company explains.
Face-to-face connection isn’t the only casualty of remote work: chiropractors report an increase in work-related injuries as workers leave behind their ergonomic work stations to improvise with sofas, laptops, and kitchen tables. Even children are impacted, as they spend hours every day crouched over laptops or phones instead of moving around. Some fixes are easy, such as setting a timer to encourage regular stretching and movement, while others may require buying an external keyboard or changing to a better chair.
LIVING WITH AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
Work in the post-pandemic world
Companies that have been remote from the beginning have solved many of the problems we’ve seen in the last few months. Tech company GitLab has 1,300 employees spread across 65 countries and, as this article in Harvard Business Review demonstrates, remote work doesn’t mean spending all day in video calls. Because GitLab employees are scattered across time zones, developing methods to work asynchronously has been key to its success. Projects are broken into small tasks which can be completed by a responsible person, and then reviewed by another person. Communicating internally via Slack means that everyone in the company has access to relevant information.
Prior to the pandemic, approximately 40% of workers in wealthy countries had jobs that could be performed remotely. While the trend for remote work had been on the rise for the last several decades, the pandemic forced a radical shift in work habits that will likely change how we work forever. Early reports suggest higher levels of happiness and productivity, but at a cost of longer workdays. We can expect future changes to workplace cultures and government policies designed around having people work in a central office instead of separately and asynchronously.
Back to school
With many universities and colleges either on lock-down or restricted physical access, many students and their families are questioning exactly what their tuition is paying for. With at best a limited on-campus experience, students are wondering whether the cost of their education is really worth the big price tag. Some are asking for discounts or refunds. However, university budgets are also feeling a pinch from loss of state revenue, and need to keep certain fees in place to ensure that programs will continue once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
- 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
- The Red Cross has pointers to help young adults stay safe
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- Kiplinger has a state-by-state guide to absentee ballot voting.
- 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
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!