The Trump administration continued its rapid response to the coronavirus crisis by announcing this week that small businesses and individuals can delay federal tax payments for 90 days. This move will significantly increase the cash flow for small firms, which are struggling to generate revenue as customers stay home and supply chains are disrupted.
Late Wednesday night, President Trump signed into law the “Phase 2” coronavirus legislation that Congress passed this week. This legislation requires small businesses to temporarily provide paid medical leave for affected employees, the costs of which will be reimbursed by the federal government through tax credits. The Treasury Department will help small businesses that may not have the cash flow to make it to tax time by offering advanced tax credit refunds. And the Labor Department will issue exemptions for small businesses facing dire hardship from this mandate.
The biggest government response to the coronavirus crisis is still to come. Sen. McConnell unveiled a roughly $1 trillion stimulus package on Thursday to help mitigate the economic pain that tens of millions of Americans are already feeling. The Senate plans to pass this legislation soon.
The North Star of this “Phase 3” response legislation is ensuring that the country’s 30 million small businesses, which employ 60 million Americans, maintain the cash flow they need to stay operational — not just pay sick leave — during this turmoil. Small companies are on the front lines of this war, and they will be the springboard that propels the American economy out of this downturn.
The Phase 3 plan presented by Sens. Marco Rubio (FL) and Susan Collins (ME) has a lot for small businesses to like. Under their proposal, which is part of the broader Phase 3 legislation, the federal government would provide loans to employers to cover payroll and other operational expenses. To the extent that the companies’ employees are still employed at the end of the loan period, which runs from March 1st to June 30th, the loan would turn into a grant and be forgiven. This approach could provide small businesses with the cash flow they need to pay their employees and stay open.
This plan is especially attractive for small businesses because the loans would be provided at local banks — backed by the Treasury — so employers could access the liquidity they need immediately without having to appeal to the Small Business Administration.
The measure would incentivize employment, keeping ordinary Americans in the workforce long enough to ride out the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Its costs would be partially offset by a reduced burden on unemployment insurance. It makes more sense for the government to pay for people to be employed rather than unemployed. The plan has appropriate restrictions to cap salaries and pay raises. The Job Creators Network sent a letter, co-signed by 28 other small business groups, to Sens. Rubio and Collins supporting their approach.
Another complementary solution that the Job Creators Network is exploring is an employer payroll tax holiday. Temporarily eliminating this tax would allow small businesses to avoid a major operational cost — 7.65 percent of each employee’s pay set aside every two weeks — to cover coronavirus-induced expenses. A 2010 study conducted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that an employer payroll tax cut significantly boosts employment and economic growth.
A payroll tax holiday combined with a 90-day deferment of other taxes would boost the cash flow for small businesses, enabling some to cover their coronavirus-induced costs without resorting to the Rubio and Collins loan/grant program.
These small business assistance measures are just the most pressing. Congress can pass a broader “Main Street Recovery Act” legislation later this year with additional provisions after the disease threat has abated.
The Trump administration, Congress, and even the Federal Reserve are working in unison to help small businesses get through this crisis. They get it. They understand that small business is too big to fail.
Alfredo Ortiz is the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network.