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CARES Helps Keep Americans Employed

 

By JENNIFER PITTS

It’s been three weeks since NBA basketball player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus just before tipoff in Oklahoma City – essentially bringing the NBA’s season, and the rest of the sports world, to a screeching halt.

Like dominoes, businesses and government offices have continued to close their doors across the country, prompting Congress to step up with historic measures. The U.S. government is now primed to start handing out $1,200 checks to most citizens and up to $10 million in unprecedented forgivable loans to small businesses.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford held several town hall meetings and press conferences by phone in the past week to help keep Oklahomans informed and answer questions on the now approved third phase of federal relief efforts.

On Friday, just prior to the coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act being signed into law, Lankford discussed how different parts of the act will help small businesses, families and workers maintain stability throughout the world-wide coronavirus outbreak - which has now spread to 48 Oklahoma counties with 719 positive cases and 30 deaths as of Wednesday, according to state health officials.

National disbursement of funds to families and individuals is expected in the coming weeks, Lankford said, with small business loans-to-grants becoming available this week.

“This is not a stimulus package,” he explained. “It’s more like an economic relief package — due to a world-wide pandemic. If you go back to February our economy was going gangbusters.

“And in the past three weeks the economy has absolutely collapsed due to this pandemic and mostly because government and all of us around the country are now suddenly not working next to each other. Now we’re working from home and there’s less travel.”

The extreme decrease in mobility has also led to a huge gasoline surplus, he said, driving down prices dramatically. Gas prices around Shawnee and Tecumseh were $0.99 per gallon Wednesday morning.

SMALL BUSINESSES RELIEF FUNDS:

The first measure of the CARES Act to become available is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans, grants essentially, for any business or non-profit with less than 500 employees, Lankford said.

“We know a lot of small businesses around the country (are) in the process of laying people off or their company is closed down,” he explained.

“Instead of pushing all those individuals into the unemployment insurance system, which our system cannot handle that many people that quickly, we’re providing a loan to every small business to be able to cover their payroll, but that loan will be forgiven if they don’t lay people off.

“This is the important difference,” he noted. “This is actually a grant that’s being done through the loan system because the loan system already exists.”

The loans-to-grants will be set up as 7(a) small business loans with the U.S. Treasury ready to distribute funds, the legislator said. Beginning this week, businesses can go into any bank set up for small business loans, most of which already are, and fill out the 7(a) loan material with basic information. The standard SB revenue-basked standards do not apply, making loans available to businesses that have not qualified for SBA loans in the past. Any business with less than 500 employees is eligible.

“There’s no collateral needed because the collateral is the tax payer at this point,” Lankford added. “There is also no verification on this other than payroll verification.

“They have to show Feb. 15th what their payroll was and that their business was in business Feb. 15th, and if they have that they’re able to get the loan.”

The funds may be used to cover payroll, utilities, mortgage interest and rent through June 30.

“And all of that (will) be forgiven June 30 if the same number of employees are in place,” Lankford said.

Due to how the bill was structured, even businesses that have already laid off employees can participate be rehiring them. The goal, he said, is to keep people employed, despite no work occurring at some locations.

“This keeps small businesses in business for the next several months and keeps everyone on the payroll at their current pay,” he said, regardless of current operating status.

There is no limitation.

“It can be a business that’s open right now and functioning, like grocery store, or it can be a business like a coffee shop that’s closed down.

“It doesn’t matter. We assume any business is affected by COVID-19 in some way. The goal is to keep people employed during the next couple of months.”

The complete CARES Act is available at http://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/3548.

WHO QUALIFIES FOR A $1,200 RELIEF CHECK

Lankford said for every person who makes $75,000 or less, “$1,200 is going to every adult that has a Social Security number.”

“So if you’re a retiree, if you’re on Social Security disability or are working, that individual will receive $1,200 unless you’re a dependent on someone else’s taxes. Then that person will receive $500 per dependent.”

For those who make more than $75,000, the check amount starts being reduced with complete phase out at $99,000 for individuals.

It is a “benefit targeted for those with the greatest need,” the senator added.

Lankford said he expects checks are to be delivered within the next three weeks. The IRS will send funds directly to the banks of those already set up with direct deposit, such as for Social Security or disability recipients, or if you have previously set up direct deposit for income tax refunds. Otherwise, checks will be physically mailed.

“For the vast majority of Americans, no action on their part will be required to receive a rebate check since the IRS will use a taxpayer’s 2019 tax return if filed or their 2018 return if they haven’t filed their 2019 return,” Lankford’s website states.

“This includes many individuals with very low income who file a tax return despite not owing to any tax in order to take advantage of the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.”

Eligible recipients did not have to file taxes the previous year to receive a check, he said.

However, “The best way to ensure you receive a recovery rebate is to file a 2019 tax return if you have not already done so,” his site states, which can be done free online at http://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free.

Additionally, checks will still be issued to individuals owing back taxes or who are behind on student loans, or have other federal debts.

“Those who have past due child support payments that the states have reported to the Treasury Department,” is the only exception where an administrative offset will be enforced.

For low-income seniors, Lankford’s site states the bill, “also provides IRS with additional tools to locate and provide rebates to low-income seniors who normally do not file a tax return by allowing them to base a rebate on Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement or Form RRB-1099, which is the equivalent of the Social Security statement for Railroad Employees. However, seniors are still encouraged to file their 2019 tax returns to ensure they receive their recovery rebates as quickly as possible.”

For more information, including filing unemployment benefits and more, visit http://www.lankford.senate.gov.

Additionally, the IRS is working to set up an online portal for individuals to submit direct deposit information. Visit irs.gov/coronavirus for information from the IRS.

 

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