COVID-19 relief bill addresses key PPP issues

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Monday night that provides $600 stimulus payments to individuals, adds $300 to extended weekly unemployment benefits, and provides more than $300 billion in aid for small businesses.

The legislation, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, also ensures tax deductibility for business expenses paid with forgiven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, provides fresh PPP funding, makes Sec. 501(c)(6) not-for-profit organizations eligible for loans for the first time, and offers businesses facing severe revenue reductions the opportunity to apply for a second loan.

The Senate approved the bill with a 92-6 vote at about 11:45 p.m. Monday, just a couple of hours after the House approved it 359-53. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

The COVID-19 relief package is tied to a $1.4 trillion resolution to fund the government through September 2021.

Key provisions in the bill include:

The bill also extends the employee retention tax credit and several expiring tax provisions and temporarily allows a 100% business expense deduction for meals (rather than the current 50%) as long as the expense is for food or beverages provided by a restaurant. This provision is effective for expenses incurred after Dec. 31, 2020, and expires at the end of 2022.

Breaking down the PPP provisions

The return of the PPP is of particular interest to accountants, who played a significant role in helping millions of small businesses acquire $525 billion in forgivable loans during the five months the program was accepting applications, according to SBA reporting. The new round of PPP, or PPP2 as some are calling it, contains many similarities to the first round of the PPP but also has several important differences. The following is a high-level view of the PPP provisions.

Who is eligible to apply

PPP2 loans will be available to first-time qualified borrowers and, for the first time, to businesses that previously received a PPP loan. Specifically, previous PPP recipients may apply for another loan of up to $2 million, provided they:

PPP2 also makes the forgivable loans available to Sec. 501(c)(6) business leagues, such as chambers of commerce, visitors’ bureaus, etc., and “destination marketing organizations” (as defined in the act), provided they have 300 or fewer employees and do not receive more than 15% of receipts from lobbying. The lobbying activities must comprise no more than 15% of the organization’s total activities and have cost no more than $1 million during the most recent tax year that ended prior to Feb. 15, 2020.

PPP2 will also permit first-time borrowers from the following groups:

The bill allows borrowers that returned all or part of a previous PPP loan to reapply for the maximum amount available to them.

PPP loan terms

As with PPP1, the costs eligible for loan forgiveness in PPP2 include payroll, rent, covered mortgage interest, and utilities. PPP2 also makes the following potentially forgivable:

To be eligible for full loan forgiveness, PPP borrowers will have to spend no less than 60% of the funds on payroll over a covered period of either eight or 24 weeks — the same parameters PPP1 had when it stopped accepting applications in August.

PPP borrowers may receive a loan amount of up to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll costs in the year prior to the loan or the calendar year, the same as with PPP1, but the maximum loan amount has been cut from $10 million in the first round to the previously mentioned $2 million maximum. PPP borrowers with NAICS codes starting with 72 (hotels and restaurants) can get up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll costs, again subject to a $2 million maximum.

Simplified application and other terms of note

The new COVID-19 relief bill also:

Tax deductibility for PPP expenses

The bill also specifies that business expenses paid with forgiven PPP loans are tax-deductible. This supersedes IRS guidance that such expenses could not be deducted and brings the policy in line with what the AICPA and hundreds of other business associations have argued was Congress’s intent when it created the original PPP as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, P.L. 116-136 (see the Dec. 3 letter from the AICPA and state societies to congressional leaders).

The COVID-19 relief bill clarifies that “no deduction shall be denied, no tax attribute shall be reduced, and no basis increase shall be denied, by reason of the exclusion from gross income provided” by Section 1106 of the CARES Act (which has been redesignated as Section 7A of the Small Business Act). This provision applies to loans under both the original PPP and subsequent PPP loans.

While the CARES Act excluded PPP loan forgiveness from gross income, it did not specifically address whether the expenses used to achieve that loan forgiveness would continue to be deductible, even though they would otherwise be deductible. In April, the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, which stated that no deduction would be allowed under the Internal Revenue Code for an expense that is otherwise deductible if the payment of the expense results in forgiveness of a PPP loan because the income associated with the forgiveness is excluded from gross income for purposes of the Code under CARES Act Section 1106(i).

In November, the IRS then expanded on this position by issuing Rev. Rul. 2020-27, which held that a taxpayer computing taxable income on the basis of a calendar year could not deduct eligible expenses in its 2020 tax year if, at the end of the tax year, the taxpayer had a reasonable expectation of reimbursement in the form of loan forgiveness on the basis of eligible expenses paid or incurred during the covered period. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also argued against businesses being able to deduct business expenses paid with forgiven, tax-free PPP funds, calling it an unwarranted double benefit for businesses.

The AICPA disputed this interpretation of the CARES Act loan forgiveness rules, arguing that it was not Congress’s intent to disallow the deduction of otherwise deductible expenses. Congress has now agreed with that position.