Updated March 17th, 2021 – (Originally Posted March 8th, 2021).

On March 11th, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden signed the COVID-19 relief package known as the American Rescue Plan Act. With the President’s final approval, the $1.9 trillion package has now become law. Congress had been working to adopt a new COVID-19 relief package before certain current benefits expired on March 14th, 2021.

Key Provisions of the Act

There are many provisions within the package that may be of interest to employers:

  • Unemployment Insurance (UI) – The Act extends the federal “add-on” of $300 in extra weekly UI benefits through September 6th, 2021. It also extends UI coverage for gig workers and the self-employed, continuing the expanded UI coverage first provided last year.
    Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Leave – The bill would allow employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide leave for certain COVID-related reasons. The cost of FFCRA leave would be fully offset by refundable federal tax credits available through September 30th, 2021. The package also expands the opportunities for allowing reimbursed leave (such as obtaining a vaccination). Earlier, the Department of Labor clarified FFCRA paid sick leave after the original provisions expired on December 31st, 2020.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) Subsidies – The COVID-19 relief package includes 100% coverage of the cost of continuing health insurance under COBRA. For example, when an employee has lost coverage under their employer’s health plan due to a layoff or involuntary termination.
  • Paycheck Protection Program – The package adds an additional $7.25 billion to last year’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program provides for fully forgivable loans for certain employers, provided they maintained payroll and headcount.
  • Restaurant/Venue Relief – This industry-specific provision sets aside $28.6 billion for the restaurant and food service industry and $1.25 billion for venue operators. Examples of included venues are theatres, live performing arts organizations, and museums.
  • Multi-Employer Pension ReliefFinally, the package includes $86 billion to shore up approximately 185 failing multi-employer pension plans. This would help to ensure that pensioners continue to receive their retirement benefits for the next 30 years. The Act, however, does not include any structural reforms to multi-employer programs.

 Employer Takeaways

Now that the relief package is law, employers should revise workplace policies to comply with any stipulations that affect them. For more information on the Paycheck Protection Program, employees can contact the Small Business Administration for clarification purposes.