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The following is a summary of recently released COVID-19 information as of January 6, 2021

GENERAL COVID Updates 2021 01New Simplified Forgiveness Process Approved For PPP Loans Under $150,000
The United States Congress has approved a new law that will simplify the forgiveness process for businesses with PPP loans under $150,000. While these smaller PPP loans will not be automatically forgiven as many had hoped, the process of getting the loan forgiven has been made a lot easier.

The new forgiveness process for loans under $150,000 will be a one-page application where you list your loan amount, the number of employees your business was able to retain because of the loan, and the estimated amount of the PPP loan that your business spent on payroll costs. No further documentation will be required, but it is recommended that businesses retain supporting documentation for 3 years.

Update On Deductibility Of Business Expenses And PPP Loans
While PPP loan forgiveness is not taxable income for federal income tax, the IRS had taken the position that expenses paid for with a forgiven PPP loan would not be deductible as a business expense. Normally, a business can deduct amounts it spends on business expenses (like payroll) from its taxable income. Under the IRS ruling, businesses would not be able to take a deduction for business expenses paid for with their PPP loan, which meant that businesses would pay more in federal tax for 2020.

Thankfully, the new law that Congress passed at the end of 2020 overturns this IRS ruling and fixes this situation. Under the new law, regular business expenses paid for with PPP loans will be deductible for tax purposes.

Employee Paid Leave For COVID Has Ended
Early in the pandemic, the United States Congress passed a law that required employers to provide two weeks (up to 10 weeks in certain circumstances) of paid leave from work for employees dealing with COVID. This law, called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), expired at the end of 2020. Congress did not choose to renew the paid leave law at the end of the year, so employers are no longer required to provide paid COVID-related leave under the FFCRA to their employees.

While this COVID-related paid leave is no longer required, employers may voluntarily choose to offer their employees paid COVID-related time off from work and receive tax credits for any paid leave they provide. Employees are still entitled to only 80 hours of leave, so employers cannot take tax credits for leave provided to employees who have already taken their 80 hours of paid leave.

Second Round Of PPP Loans Will Be Available For Businesses
A second round of PPP loans will be available soon for businesses that have spent their first PPP loan. To qualify, businesses must demonstrate that they had a 25% reduction in gross revenues in the first, second, or third quarter of 2020 as compared to the same quarter of 2019. These businesses will be eligible for a second PPP loan, even if they already received a PPP loan in 2020.

The maximum loan amount of the second PPP loan is 2.5 times your average monthly payroll costs in the year prior to the loan. Businesses in the food service and hotel/motel industries can receive up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll costs.

Like the first round of PPP loans, these new PPP loans are entirely forgivable (you do not have to pay them back) if you spend at least 60% of the loan on payroll costs. And the list of allowable payroll expenses has been expanded to include group health payments made by employers for vision, dental, disability, and life insurance for their employees. Other new allowable expenses are:

  • Operations expenses like software, cloud computing, and other human resources and accounting costs
  • Personal protective equipment provided to employees
  • Technology expenses
  • Supplier costs for goods that are essential to your operations
  • Property damage

Like the original PPP loans, the amount of your second PPP loan that can be forgiven will be reduced if you reduce the number of your employees or their salaries.

If you are interested in applying for a second PPP loan, you should contact your bank to ask if they are going to participate in the second round of PPP loans.

Reminder: Florida Minimum Wage Increased
The Florida minimum wage increased on January 1, 2021 from $8.56 an hour to $8.65 an hour. The minimum cash wage for tipped employees also went up, from $5.54 an hour to $5.63 an hour. Florida law requires employers to post a Florida-specific minimum wage poster at their place of business.

State Sales Tax Rate On Commercial Rent Will Not Change In 2021
In Florida, businesses that rent their offices/locations (including retail space) are required to pay sales tax on the amount of their lease. After decreasing each of the last several years, the tax rate charged on business rent for 2021 will stay at the 2020 rate, which is 5.5% (plus additional local sales tax).

We will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available. If you have any questions, please reach out to your account manager.

Gulfshore Insurance is a Naples, Florida based insurance agency specializing in employee benefits insurance including group medical, dental, vision, life insurance, short and long term disability, voluntary life, employee assistance programs, wellness programs, individual life insurance, and more. Our insurance and risk management advisors are experts can provide valuable services including benefits plan design and administration, human resources support, funding options, compliance assistance, benefit administration, and enrollment services. Gulfshore Insurance services Naples, North Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, and Southwest Florida. We have office locations in Naples, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Sarasota.

Understanding the Stimulus PackageOn Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law an emergency stimulus package designed to deliver approximately $900 billion in COVID-19-related aid. This bill was passed by Congress after months of negotiation, and was attached to a $1.4 trillion spending package that will keep the government open for the fiscal year. Notably, this bill provides funding for unemployment benefits, small businesses, direct economic payments to individuals, vaccine distribution and rental assistance.

Unemployment Benefits Funding and Extension
The bill includes funding for unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. Specifically, this bill allows unemployed Americans to receive $300 per week in federal funding in addition to the existing unemployment aid they may be collecting from their state, if those state-level benefits have not already run out. The additional unemployment benefits and extensions included within this bill would provide aid for 11 weeks from their expiration at the end of December 2020 through at least March 14, 2021.

Initial COVID-19 relief for unemployment benefits was introduced by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act provided funding for states to waive any waiting week requirements for unemployment income (UI) benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic and to provide an additional $600 per week to all individuals receiving UI benefits for weeks of unemployment ending before July 31, 2020. President Trump signed a memorandum to extend a portion of unemployment wages after the initial $600 per week expired.

Additionally, the bill includes an extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is a program that allows workers who are not traditionally eligible to receive unemployment benefits, including self-employed and gig workers, to do so. An 11-week extension in base benefits through this program is also included within the bill. 

Aid for Businesses
The bill includes approximately $325 billion in funding to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to assist U.S. businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically, the bill allocates $284 billion in funding to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable small business loans to eligible applicants. Under the bill, certain firms that had already applied for, received and exhausted PPP funds will be eligible to apply for another PPP loan. To be eligible for a second PPP loan, a small business must have less than 300 employees and have sustained at least a 25% loss in revenue during any quarter of 2020 when compared to the same quarter in 2019. Additionally, small 501(c)(6) organizations with 150 or fewer employees that are not lobbying organizations would be eligible for a PPP loan with this round of funding.

The bill also provides the following with regard to the PPP:

  • Expansion of expenses eligible for loan forgiveness to include supplier costs and investment costs related to modifying facilities and obtaining personal protective equipment for safety
  • Simplified loan forgiveness process for businesses that have borrowed $150,000 or less in PPP loans
  • Confirmation that business expenses paid for with PPP loan funds are tax deductible

Businesses interested in applying for a PPP loan should contact their lender for more information.
The bill also directs $15 billion in funding for independent live-venue operators affected by COVID-19 and another $20 billion for small business grants.

Direct Economic Impact Payments
The bill includes another round of economic impact payments—commonly referred to as stimulus checks. The CARES Act provided the first round of stimulus checks for eligible Americans. Under the CARES Act, tax filers with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns were eligible to receive the full payment of $1,200 per individual or $2,400 per married couple. Parents were also eligible to receive $500 for each qualifying child.

The bill follows the same eligibility guidelines as the CARES Act, but the amount of the stimulus check is less this time around. Instead of being eligible for a $1,200 payment, qualifying taxpayers are eligible for a payment of $600 per individual or $1,200 per married couple. Parents will also be eligible to receive $600 for each qualifying child.

Other Provisions Included in the Bill
The bipartisan bill provides funding for a variety of other issues, including:

  • U.S. Postal Service—$10 billion
  • Health Care Provider Relief Fund—$35 billion
  • COVID-19 Testing and Tracing and Vaccine Distribution—$69 billion
  • Transportation Industry Relief (Airlines, Airports, Buses, Transit and Amtrak)—$45 billion
  • Education—$82 billion
  • Housing Assistance (Rental)—$25 billion
    • Additionally, the bill extends the federal moratorium on evictions until the end of January 2021.

Another provision included in the bill is a ban on surprise medical bills—to help protect insured patients from large medical bills when they unknowingly receive out-of-network care. The bill also includes enhanced tax credits, including the employee retention tax credit for employers that keep employees on payroll and provide paid sick leave. Under the bill, the earned income tax credit and child tax credit would become available to those who lost wages or their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and expand the low-income housing tax credit.

Click here to download the full bulletin 

We will continue to share information as it becomes available and keep you informed.

Gulfshore Insurance is a Naples, Florida based insurance agency specializing in employee benefits insurance including group medical, dental, vision, life insurance, short and long term disability, voluntary life, employee assistance programs, wellness programs, individual life insurance, and more. Our insurance and risk management advisors are experts can provide valuable services including benefits plan design and administration, human resources support, funding options, compliance assistance, benefit administration, and enrollment services. Gulfshore Insurance services Naples, North Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, and Southwest Florida. We have office locations in Naples, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Sarasota.

Emplyee Benefits Updated Guidance Regarding the COVID 19 VaccinesOn December 16, 2020, just days after the first doses of COVID-19 were administered in the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued updated guidance providing employers with critical information regarding the intersections of mandated employee COVID vaccinations and federal employment laws. This guidance confirms the EEOC’s position that employers must first seek an accommodation for employees who refuse to be vaccinated for COVID-19 for disability or religious-related reasons before taking any action against them.

Employers cannot automatically terminate workers who refuse the vaccine because of a disability or religious beliefs before first conducting an individualized assessment that considers whether the workers pose a direct threat, said the agency in its update of COVID-19 related guidance.

In focusing on disability-related issues, the factors to be considered in determining whether there is a direct threat are: the severity of the potential harm; the likelihood the potential harm will occur; and the potential harm’s imminence. Employers cannot exclude the employee from the workplace “unless there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship) that would eliminate or reduce this risk, so the unvaccinated employee does not pose a direct threat,” the guidance said.

Before terminating an employee, employers must also determine if any other rights apply under equal employment opportunity laws or other federal, state or local authorities. Similarly, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation if a worker refuses to be vaccinated because of “sincerely held” religious beliefs, unless it poses an undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Among the other vaccine-related questions addressed by the new guidance, it states the vaccination itself is not a medical exam, although pre-screening vaccination questions may implicate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s provision on disability-related inquiries, and the employer must show that these questions are “‘job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

The guidance also states that requiring an employee to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination is not considered a disability-related inquiry. The guidance does not address issues including whether an employees’ anxiety about receiving a vaccination can be considered in deciding whether a reasonable accommodation should be considered.

Click here to read the updated guidance

We will continue to share information as it becomes available and keep you informed.

Gulfshore Insurance is a Naples, Florida based insurance agency specializing in employee benefits insurance including group medical, dental, vision, life insurance, short and long term disability, voluntary life, employee assistance programs, wellness programs, individual life insurance, and more. Our insurance and risk management advisors are experts can provide valuable services including benefits plan design and administration, human resources support, funding options, compliance assistance, benefit administration, and enrollment services. Gulfshore Insurance services Naples, North Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, and Southwest Florida. We have office locations in Naples, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Sarasota.

Personal Lines CDC Guidelines for Holiday CelebrationsThe COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people. Gatherings during the upcoming holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. This holiday season, consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families, and communities healthy and safe.

Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread. Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit (such as your house or apartment). This can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you. People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose varying levels of risk.

Below are some general considerations for hosting a gathering that brings together people from different households. Guests should be aware of these considerations and ask their host what mitigation measures will be in place during the gathering. Hosts should consider the following:

  • Check the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees live on state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites or on CDC’s COVID Data Tracker County View. Based on the current status of the pandemic, consider if it is safe to hold or attend the gathering on the proposed date.
  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
  • Host outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible. Even outdoors, require guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
  • Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
  • If setting up outdoor seating under a pop-up open air tent, ensure guests are still seated with physical distancing in mind. Enclosed 4-wall tents will have less air circulation than open air tents. If outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put up the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12 inches of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a wind break.
  • Require guests to wear masks. At gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should always wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking. It is also important to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in your household at all times.
  • Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
  • Encourage attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Provide guests information about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps that will be in place at the gathering to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Provide and/or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help everyone to stay healthy. These include extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items, such as serving utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
  • Use touchless garbage cans if available. Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.

 

Click here to continue reading CDC Considerations for Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings

Please note that these considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which all gatherings must comply.

 

Gulfshore Insurance is a Naples, Florida based insurance agency specializing in home and homeowners insurance, car and auto insurance, boat and yacht insurance, property insurance, umbrella insurance, valuables insurance for fine art, jewelry, wine, and more. Navigating insurance requires an experienced and trusted insurance agent who understands your high net worth risks and exposures. Gulfshore Insurance services Naples, North Naples, Port Royal, Park Shore, Pelican Bay, The Moorings, Naples Beach, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Sanibel Island, Captiva, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Southwest Florida. We have office locations in Naples, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Sarasota.

Undertanding COVID 19 VaccineFrom the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cigna has focused on delivering peace of mind and made health care easier for the people and businesses they serve.

With headlines indicating that some vaccines are seemingly nearing the final stages of testing, they recognize that many clients will begin looking for guidance to help support and respond to their employees. Some of the areas that are top of mind include:

  • Availability of vaccine
  • How those in your workforce fit into the phased vaccine rollout
  • Vaccine costs for you and your employees
  • Understanding what you can do now to prepare

 

With the support and expertise of Cigna’s clinical team, they created a Understanding COVID-19 Vaccines FAQ to provide some grounding in what we know today. The FAQ also includes links to valuable resources and tips at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and other sources.

Click here to download the Understanding COVID-19 Vaccines FAQ

We will continue to share information as it becomes available and keep you informed.

Gulfshore Insurance is a Naples, Florida based insurance agency specializing in employee benefits insurance including group medical, dental, vision, life insurance, short and long term disability, voluntary life, employee assistance programs, wellness programs, individual life insurance, and more. Our insurance and risk management advisors are experts can provide valuable services including benefits plan design and administration, human resources support, funding options, compliance assistance, benefit administration, and enrollment services. Gulfshore Insurance services Naples, North Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, and Southwest Florida. We have office locations in Naples, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, and Sarasota.