Coronavirus: Handle with CARES

March 27, 2020

A lot of Americans heard what Democrats tried to put in the coronavirus relief bill. What they don't know is: what's in it for them? Now that the aid package is headed to the president's desk, the question on a lot of people's minds is -- can it help me? And how soon?

Thursday, on "Washington Watch," FRC vice president Travis Weber helped break down the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and what most families and churches can expect. "We're talking about a massive amount of money, a massive amount of legislation," he pointed out. At almost 900 pages, trying to keep up with a bill moving at warp speed (by Washington standards) has been a challenge. But fortunately, it's a challenge our government affairs team was ready for.

The most straightforward part of this relief plan is the direct payments to families. Anyone earning under $75,000 as an individual or $150,000 as a married couple will get a check in the amount of $1,200 or $2,400. "This obviously helps folks [survive] the disruption," Travis explains, especially as so many people have been either laid off or kept home from their jobs. "Some have been hit much harder than others, but the goal here is to make sure that those who've suffered through this [crisis] -- through no fault of their own -- have money in their pocket as soon as possible to meet their immediate needs." Couples with children will be impacted differently, since the government is providing an additional $500 for each child.

Of course, another way the bill helps families is through their businesses, which Congress is desperately trying to keep afloat. As part of the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress is setting aside $350 billion dollars in new loans for employers -- including nonprofits with less than 500 employees -- to help them cover health care and salaries during this time. It's all designed to stop the hemorrhaging in the job market and encourage these small businesses -- who've had to close unexpectedly -- to bring people back on the payroll.

One very important aspect of that program is that it covers churches too, who are classified as nonprofits under the IRS guidelines. That's incredibly significant right now, as most congregations have seen a huge decline in giving after they were required to stop meeting in person. This bill, which is headed to the president's desk after this afternoon's vote, would help them cover those expenses.

There are also, FRC's Connor Semelsberger, points out, some changes to how the IRS would handle charitable deductions. "To encourage Americans to donate throughout this crisis, the Phase 3 Coronavirus relief package creates additional tax incentives for charitable contributions. Under this bill," he writes, "charitable contributions up to $300 can be deducted on a person's annual tax return in addition to the standard deduction." That's an important change from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, since churches are spending a lot of resources on outreach during the crisis. After the law three years, ago, a lot of filers decided to take the deduction instead of itemizing. Now, in the CARES Act, the $300 bump helps incentivize more giving on top of that. And hopefully, that will carry into 2021 and beyond.

For more on the timeline of this relief and what you can expect to see, check out Connor's blog analysis here.