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The Sikh Coalition News
December 31, 2020
  • Details on New COVID Stimulus Relief

    To read this email in Punjabi, click here.

    December 31, 2020 (Washington, D.C.) -- Over the weekend, President Trump signed a bipartisan $900 billion stimulus package. This latest agreement extends several parts of the CARES Act--the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March--and is the second major stimulus package in 2020 aimed at addressing the needs of millions of Americans affected by COVID-19.  

    The 5,600 page piece of legislation provides stimulus checks, COVID-19 vaccines, unemployment benefits, and some additional assistance in several key areas for low income Americans. Some small businesses will also get additional assistance through forgivable loans and tax credits.

    Below is a high level summary of what the new stimulus bill means for you and your family here in the United States.

    Impact on Citizenship

    Immigrants should be aware that obtaining federally funded benefits, apart from those provided under the CARES Act or previously passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, could impact future visa and citizenship applications. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have previously released a factsheet on the Public Charge Rule and issued this statement. We encourage any non-U.S. citizen seeking government assistance to speak with an attorney specializing in immigration law and/or public assistance programs who can advise you about what programs you may be eligible for and to what extent receiving these benefits may impact your immigration status.

    Unemployment Benefits

    There will be an extra $300 in unemployment aid per week until March 14, 2021. This is half the amount provided by the original stimulus bill, but does include unemployment benefits for self-employed individuals, gig workers, and those who have exhausted their state benefits at $100 a week. Additionally, all other CARES Act unemployment programs are extended through March 14, 2021. These programs include:

    • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which is an unemployment benefit for people who would not otherwise qualify for state unemployment insurance (UI) and who lost work due to one of several COVID-19 related causes.
    • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which originally provided 13 additional weeks of benefits to regular UI but now extends to 24 weeks.
    • After March 14, 2021, workers already approved for PEUC or PUA who have not exhausted all the weeks to which they are entitled, can continue to collect them for four more weeks. This applies to benefit weeks up to and including the week of April 5, 2021.

    Contact your state’s unemployment office for additional information about eligibility and filing requirements should you need it.

    Unemployment insurance payments are not generally taken into consideration by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for purposes of making a public charge determination for those looking to complete visa and citizenship applications.

    New Round of Stimulus Payments

    Under the current legislation, there will be a new round of stimulus payments with a maximum of $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 a year. Heads of households who earn up to $112,500 or a married couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) who makes up to $150,000 a year will get $1,200 in stimulus payments. Eligible families with dependent children will receive an additional $600 per child. In a significant change from the first stimulus check, payments will not be denied to citizens married to someone without a social security number. Individuals making up to $99,000 and married couples making up to $198,000 will receive a smaller sliding payment.

    As of this writing, Congress is currently still debating proposals to increase the $600 individual stimulus payments to $2,000. However, lawmakers have not yet been able to reach an agreement. Please stay tuned for updates in the event that the individual payments are increased come January 2021.

    Similar to the last round of stimulus checks, most individuals will not need to apply to receive their checks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will determine most people’s income eligibility based on the tax returns filed earlier this year. If the IRS has your direct deposit information, you will receive a payment that way. If it does not, you will receive your payment as a check or debit card in the mail. The Treasury Department has reportedly started mailing stimulus checks to households. The IRS will soon have an online tool that will let you track your payment. The tool is called the "Get My Payment" portal.

    If you are eligible but don’t receive your check for any reason, you can claim the payment when you file your 2020 taxes in the spring of 2021. Rebate checks do not need to be repaid. If an individual experienced an income loss in 2020 or if they have an increase in family size, they may be able to claim an additional credit of the difference when the individual files their 2020 federal income tax return in the spring of 2021.

    If you believe you are eligible for an economic impact payment but did not receive a round 1 or round 2 payment, you will have the opportunity to claim the payment on your 2020 tax return. This year’s tax forms will provide a place for individuals to claim the payments. If you don’t normally file taxes and are eligible for a payment, make sure to file a return this spring to claim the payments.

    Evictions and Housing Assistance

    A federal eviction ban has been extended through the end of January. The Department of Housing and Urban Development separately issued a similar moratorium that protects homeowners against foreclosures on mortgages backed by the Federal Home Administration that runs through February 28, 2021. There now is also $25 billion for a rental assistance fund, which state and local governments can give to people to use for overdue and future rent or utilities payments. To qualify, renters will likely need to be low-income. The funds can be used for payment of rent, rent arrears, utilities, and home energy costs. For more information on how to obtain state and local assistance, visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

    Small Business Assistance

    The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that was created by the federal government in March is being restarted with new funding of $284 billion and comes with new rules and guidelines. The new PPP is now designed to help preserve jobs and keep businesses open by giving companies with up to 300 workers a loan to cover up to eight weeks of payroll and a handful of other expenses, for up to a maximum of $2 million. Small businesses, nonprofits (including gurdwaras), independent contractors, LLCs and sole proprietors that were open before February 15, 2020 are eligible for PPP. To qualify, your income--gross receipts--must have declined by 25% or more in any quarter of 2020 compared to 2019. It appears that this loss will need to be measured by quarters, not just a three-month period. Gross receipts are likely to exclude funds from PPP loans or other loans or grants.  

    The loans, which are guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, are once again made by banks and other lenders, and designed to be forgiven if businesses and nonprofits meet the program’s rules. The new legislation also expands the list of expenses that a loan could be used to pay. Previous PPP was limited mostly to payroll, rent, and utilities, but now, businesses who receive this new PPP could use a percentage of the loan to buy supplies or protective equipment, fix property damage, etc.

    It is not yet clear when the Small Business Administration will begin accepting applications from lenders but the agency said it is working to relaunch the program as quickly as possible. We recommend that business owners contact their banks as soon as possible to get additional information as loans are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. To see what the last PPP loans required, read our previous April 2020 CARES Act analysis for more information.

    The law also now lets businesses deduct more expenses associated with their forgiven PPP loans, in addition to expanding the employee retention credit intended to prevent layoffs. It includes a two-year tax break for business meals, extending a payroll tax subsidy for employers offering paid sick leave, and boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    If you need additional information about financial assistance available to your business or nonprofit, you can search for a local assistance partner through the Small Business Administration. These partners can help guide you through federal, state, and local assistance programs.

    Contractor Assistance

    The law allows federal contractors to keep employees on the payroll even if federal facilities close.

    Food Assistance

    There will be $13 billion for additional food assistance, expanding monthly food stamp benefits--known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)--by 15 percent. $400 million of this funding will support food banks and pantries and $175 million is earmarked for programs assisting older Americans. However, it does not expand who is eligible for SNAP.

    Vaccines, Testing, and Tracing

    Once readily available in 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are intended to be free to all Americans, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. There is also funding in this stimulus package to further help states with testing and tracing of COVID-19.

    The Department of Health and Human Services has stated that it would not require anyone to provide personal information such as a driver’s license, passports, or other documentation to prove citizenship in order to obtain a vaccine. For purposes of making a public charge determination for those looking to complete visa and citizenship applications, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency will not consider “testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines) related to COVID-19” as part of a public-charge determination. USCIS is encouraging anyone with symptoms that resemble COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath) to get the necessary medical treatment and preventive services. However, if you or somebody you know is a non-U.S. citizen and you have concerns about the vaccination process, we encourage you to speak with an attorney specializing in immigration law and/or public assistance programs who can advise you.

    Student Loans

    There is no student loan forgiveness and no extension of the payment pause and interest waiver. Those with student loans will be required to resume making payments in February 2021.

    Child Care and Education

    The legislation provides $82 billion for education, including more than $54 billion for public K-12 schools and $23 billion for colleges and universities. This funding will be used for preparing schools to reopen with personal protective equipment and fixing ventilation systems, as well as providing computers and internet connections, teacher training, and summer school. There is also $3.2 billion for emergency home broadband, which would help low-income students by giving those households $50 per month for Internet costs.

    There will also be $10 billion for the child care industry, with these funds intended to help providers stay open and continue to pay staff. Additionally, these funds are supposed to help families struggling with tuition payments.

    Medical Billing

    The latest law also protects patients from receiving “surprise” medical bills. This would permanently put an end to insured patients receiving large medical bills for unexpected out-of-network and emergency care. Starting in 2022, consumers will not get balance bills when they get emergency care when they are transported by an air ambulance, or when they receive non-emergency care at an in-network hospital but are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network physician or laboratory. Patients will only pay the deductibles and copayment amounts that they would under the in-network terms of their insurance plans.

    The Sikh Coalition will continue to provide additional information and resources as the federal government enacts additional assistance that can help individuals, businesses, and gurdwaras impacted by COVID-19.

    As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.
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