Weekly Digest – 6 January 2021
Happy New Year!
Without computer, telecommunication, and cloud technologies, working from home during the pandemic would not have been possible. Looking back at 2020, Gene Marks a contributor at Forbes, put together a list of the 13 tech stories from 2020 that stand out for small business. For example, a Microsoft engineer who exploited a loophole to steal more than $10 million from the company’s online store underlines the need for constant vigilance against theft. Another interesting trend is the encroachment of banks into the accounting space. Several banks, including Bank of America and TD Bank, are offering basic bookkeeping options to their banking customers.
As we move forward into the New Year, let’s count our blessings that we have made it this far, and consider how we can make this year better than 2020!
What’s in the new stimulus package?
After a brief delay, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act on December 27, which was attached to a general appropriations bill. Here’s an overview of the stimulus measures:
Direct payment checks of up to $600 per eligible adult and child. Single filers with an AGI under $75,000, head of household filers with incomes up to $112,500, and joint filers up to $150,000 will receive $600 per eligible adult and dependent child. These income levels are based on 2019 tax returns. However, the phase-out levels are lower, so fewer people will receive them. This second round of payments began hitting taxpayers’ accounts via direct deposit on December 29 and will continue to roll out. The first paper checks went out December 30. Payments will be automatic to anyone who received a payment previously or who updated their information using the IRS non-filer tool. Those who received payments previously by direct deposit may see payments pending as of January 4. People who received their payments via debit card or paper check may receive the same or a different form of payment.
Enhanced unemployment of $300 per week. Federal unemployment benefits will be extended for 11 weeks, through March 14. This includes payments to freelancers and other self-employed individuals who were previously eligible under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Paycheck Protection Program loans of $285 billion. This latest round is more restrictive than the first. Loans will be capped at $2 million. Eligible businesses can have only up to 300 employees and must have experienced at least a 25% drop in sales for at least one quarter compared to the same quarter a year before. Publicly traded companies will not be eligible.
Grants to help live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions. Initial grants up to $10 million and a second round up to $5 million are available for eligible businesses that lost at least 25% of their revenues.
Rental assistance and an extended moratorium on evictions. The moratorium on evictions that expired at the end of December has been extended to January 31, and $25 billion is available for renters who lost their source of income.
Funding for schools and childcare. K-12 schools and colleges are eligible for $82 billion in aid. Another $10 billion is available to childcare providers.
Nutrition benefits. Benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be increased by 15% for six months. Parents of children under age six or who were receiving free or reduced-price meals at school will also receive cash benefits to compensate for the loss of meals when schools closed. Food banks, Meals on Wheels, and other programs for older Americans will also receive financial help.
Funding for broadband internet access. Low-income families can receive up to $50 per month to help pay for internet access. Funds are also set aside to increase the range of broadband access in rural areas.
Vaccine distribution, testing and contract tracing funding. Nearly $70 billion will be set aside to purchase and distribute coronavirus vaccines and for states to continue with testing and tracing efforts.
While this new package at $920 billion is less than half the size of last March’s bill, some $500 billion is left from the previous bill and could possibly be applied to new stimulus support.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The new stimulus package also states explicitly that any expenses paid with PPP funds remain deductible, even if the loan is forgiven. This contradicts guidance from the IRS, which stated that such expenses were not deductible. It also requires the SBA to create a simpler one-page forgiveness application for any PPP loans under $150,000.
LIVING WITH THE PANDEMIC
Working from home
- Remote work looks different in different companies. Some companies tried to replicate the in-office environment with Slack and Zoom, while others focus on developing a collaborative and connected culture that empowers workers to be creative.
- Remote teams require a different approach to management. Clearly articulated goals and a focus on deliverables, not on hours clocked, help keep teams focused on their work. Some companies have hired a head of remote work to help create a cohesive work environment for everyone.
- Flexibility alone doesn’t solve all problems. Working parents – and especially working mothers – have been stretched beyond the breaking point when they try to juggle a full-time job, childcare and supervising remote schooling. Without a comprehensive strategy for childcare, working parents will continue to be left out.
Work in the post-pandemic world
What will work look like in 2021 as the coronavirus vaccine rolls out and people begin to return to work? The Washington Post asked human resources advisors and other workplace consultants about their predictions for the coming year. Here’s a summary of their six predictions.
- Location-based salaries may be on the way out. Although some businesses will recruit from their local area so that employees can return to the office at least occasionally, premiums paid for employees living in high-cost areas may not be needed when companies can work with people around the country.
- Video chat may include new features. Zoom plans to roll out a multi-camera feature for conference rooms that will put each person in a separate window. Cisco Systems will be adding an AI-powered gesture recognition feature to make it easier for video participants to register their responses during calls. Teams added a feature last year that uses AI to recognize tasks that participants agree to and sends them reminders of those tasks.
- Hybrid workplaces may be less flexible. To help teams collaborate, team members may be required to work in the office on certain days. Meetings may be kept shorter. Guidelines for expected hours “at work” may be coming.
- Offices will be redesigned. The open office is likely on the way out, giving way to flexible configurations that allow teams to work closely together, yet remain safe.
- Employers will ask employees about their vaccination status. Even employers that do not require their employees to be vaccinated will likely ask employees about their vaccination status, while also avoiding anything that could be construed as discrimination. Some employers may tout the all-vaccinated status of their employees as a reason for customers and prospective employees to feel safe at their location.
- Part-time arrangements will become more popular. Flexible work schedules can only help so much when parents are juggling work, childcare, and online schooling. Part-time schedules can help employers retain valuable employees, particularly women.
Is the vaccine mandatory for employees?
Can employers require employees to obtain a coronavirus vaccine? The EEOC published initial guidelines in December that outline that tricky question. If COVID-19 is a direct threat to a business, vaccines can be required for all employees. However, reasonable accommodations must be made for those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons or who refuse the vaccine for religious or other reasons. Employers can fire employees who refuse the vaccine, but they are cautioned to consult first with an employment attorney.
- The best source for up-to-date and accurate health information is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- The CDC also has recommendations for businesses and employers
- Intuit QuickBooks has a dedicated page to help small businesses
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warnings about COVID-related scams
- Fast Company has a listing of the best productivity apps for 2020
- The New York Times has an online newsletter on K-12 and higher education
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on education
- The Atlantic has a state-by-state coronavirus tracker
We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are all in this together!