Executive Orders Extend Some Pandemic Relief

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President Donald Trump has issued four executive actions for pandemic relief, including jobless aid, eviction prevention, a temporary payroll tax deferral and a payment freeze on student loans.

The executive actions, which were signed on Aug. 8, temporarily extend two relief programs created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and they add a payroll tax initiative. The action came after White House representatives and congressional leaders reached an impasse in negotiations for a second federal coronavirus relief package. If talks resume and Congress approves an aid package, the new legislation would take precedence.

Here’s what the actions say and what they could mean for you if your finances have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal unemployment extended at a lesser amount

The CARES Act allowed states to provide unemployment benefits to most people out of work because of the pandemic, even if they had already used up their benefits or wouldn’t normally have qualified for benefits. It also created an additional $600-per-week federal unemployment payment on top of the benefits that states paid. Those extra payments expired July 31.

Trump’s executive order extends additional federal payments, but at $300 — with states encouraged to provide an additional $100.  

The extension is good until Dec. 6, 2020, or until the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund, which will finance the payments, dwindles to $25 billion.

If you qualified for the $600 pandemic unemployment insurance payment, you’ll likely qualify for this version of federal unemployment as well.

What’s different and important to know

Under the CARES Act, the federal government funded the entire $600 additional pandemic unemployment payment, and every state opted into the program.

Under Trump’s measure, states must ask to participate in the program. His executive action doesn’t provide guidance on the logistics of how and when states will distribute these payments.

Payroll taxes for some taxpayers deferred until next year

Trump’s executive action on payroll taxes directs the Treasury Department to defer withholding, depositing and payment of Social Security and Medicare taxes for some taxpayers through Dec. 31, 2020.

If you meet the income qualifications for the deferral, your take-home pay through the end of the year could increase by the amount your employer would normally withhold to cover your share of payroll taxes.

What’s important to know

The executive action doesn’t waive payroll tax obligations — although it does direct the Secretary of the Treasury to investigate how to provide tax forgiveness for the deferred taxes.

Unless something changes before Jan. 1, 2021, you’ll be required to pay the deferred payroll taxes eventually. The order doesn’t speak to how that will work, but it could mean you end up with a big tax bill early next year.

What’s more, you’ll only qualify for this relief if your gross wages and compensation are less than $4,000 per paycheck, based on a bi-weekly pay period. Typically, people paid bi-weekly get 26 paychecks per year, so you would qualify for the deferral only if you make $103,974 or less per year.

And, of course, if you’re unemployed, this deferral wouldn’t help you at all.

Some foreclosures still suspended, but no specific eviction protections

The CARES Act temporarily barred landlords from evicting tenants if the landlord had a federally backed mortgage on the property or participated in certain types of housing programs. The moratorium expired on July 24, 2020, and didn’t protect all renters.  

Trump’s executive order doesn’t extend the eviction moratorium.

  • It directs the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate whether temporarily halting residential evictions could prevent further spread of the virus.
  • It orders the Treasury and HUD to look for federal funds and other ways to provide help for renters and homeowners struggling to meet their monthly mortgage or rent bills because of COVID-19.

Some states have implemented their own measures to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic.

Federal student loan deferrals extended to end of year

The CARES Act suspended federal student loan payments, interest free, through Sept. 30, 2020. Trump’s executive actions extend that time frame to Dec. 31, 2020.

What’s next?

The four executive actions appear to be a mixed bag.

Although one order opens the door to additional unemployment benefits through the end of the year, there’s no guarantee that all states will participate in the program. And it’s not clear how well the already stressed state unemployment benefits systems will be able to implement the new program.

Payroll tax deferral may offer some taxpayers a temporary boost in their take-home pay, but they’ll still have to pay those deferred taxes in 2021. Depending on how the government decides to structure that repayment, those taxpayers could be looking at a significant tax bill right after the holidays.

And while the orders do extend payment deferrals for people repaying federally backed student loans, they don’t really provide immediate relief to renters who may be facing eviction now that the CARES Act moratorium has expired.

Of course, all of this could be moot if White House negotiators and Congress can come to an agreement on a new relief bill. Any new legislation passed would supersede the provisions of the executive actions.


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