Tracking federal COVID-19 laws affecting employee benefits, jobs 

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March 30, 2021

Like previously enacted COVID-19 aid bills, new relief legislation enacted March 11 — the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) (Pub. L. No. 117-2) — contains a broad array of employee benefit and workplace provisions, along with many other provisions to help Americans through the pandemic. Healthcare and leave items include fully subsidized COBRA coverage, more generous tax benefits for employer-provided dependent care assistance, enhanced tax credits for employers providing emergency paid sick and family leave, and increased Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies. The law also encourages Medicaid expansion in states that have not already done so by increasing the base federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) by five percentage points for two years and dramatically improves the child tax credit. Other provisions include substantial pension funding relief for single-employer plans and extensive multiemployer pension plan reforms, as well as an extension of the expanded employee retention tax credit.

Multiple rounds of COVID-19 relief enacted

ARPA is one of the major COVID-19 relief measures with provisions directly affecting employers and employee benefit plans. Earlier legislation included the roughly $900 billion government spending package enacted in December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021 (Pub. L. No. 116-260), as well as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) (Pub. L. No. 116-127) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Pub. L. No. 116-136). Additional pandemic-related measures enacted last year (Pub. L. Nos. 116-142 and 116-139) provided more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and healthcare providers’ COVID-19 response and testing, but those measures did not contain provisions directly affecting employer plans. Another bill (HR 1799) signed into law on March 30 extends the PPP through May 31.

Although all relief legislation enacted in 2020 passed with bipartisan support, Republicans didn’t support the latest aid package, preferring a smaller bill. Democrats used their new control of the Senate and White House this year to muscle the latest aid package through under budget reconciliation rules. Those rules allow legislation to pass with a simple majority in the Senate rather than the usual 60 votes. Democrats will likely mount a push later this year for a second reconciliation bill containing additional benefits and workplace reforms.

Download the full print-friendly PDF to view the full 19-page article with a table summarizing significant employment-related provisions in COVID-19 relief legislation, including measures affecting:

  • Retirement plans
  • Health benefits
  • Paid leave benefits
  • Other health, welfare and retirement benefit requirements
  • Other tax credits, deductions and financial aid for employers and individuals

The article also supplies an extensive list of links to relevant federal and Law & Policy Group resources.

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