Weekly Digest – February 24 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the first to sweep the globe, nor is it likely to be the last one. Through history, pandemics have shaped our world, as this historic lookback in the Washington Post explains. One such plague likely contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, when disease –likely measles and smallpox – swept through the ancient world and killed 5 million people over 15 years. The Black Death of the Middle Ages, which killed an estimated 75-200 million, was caused by rats and fleas carrying the contagious plague bacterium.
Fortunately for us, researchers in the UK have found that coronavirus vaccines can slow down the transmission of the virus. Even though the U.S. rollout hasn’t been as smooth and as speedy as hoped, 64.2 million doses of the vaccine have been given out in just over two months.
At this rate, it may take 10 months for 75% of the population to receive two doses, so we are still in this strange, isolated world for a few more months. Together, we can get through this!
Progress on Another Plan?
With the expanded unemployment benefits set to expire mid-March, Democrats are working hard to get another stimulus plan in place soon. Here’s what’s in the most recent version of legislation:
- A third stimulus payment of up to $1,400, which could go out as soon as March.
- Expanded federal unemployment benefits of up to $400 per week through August with options for extension for health and economic reasons.
- Expanded child tax credit of up to $3,600 per child.
- Expansion of childcare tax credit to a maximum of $4,000 for one child, $8,000 for two or more children.
- Additional $160 billion for coronavirus vaccine programs for state and local governments.
- An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 (this may be proposed as separate legislation).
- Funds to help schools reopen safely.
- Funding to help state, local, and tribal governments.
Lawmakers are still making changes and are confident that a plan will be in place before the provisions of the law passed in December expire.
Economic Impact Payments (aka Stimulus Checks)
Did your work or life situation change in 2020? Did you have a child or did your income decline compared to 2019? If so, you may want to file your 2020 tax return as soon as possible. If the Biden administration’s proposed $1,400 stimulus payment program is passed into law, those payments will be based on your most recently filed tax return. Depending on your situation, this could mean you would be entitled to a bigger check when those payments go out if the IRS can calculate your eligibility based on your lower 2020 numbers. With the next round of payments targeted for March, the sooner you file your tax return, the better. If you miss the cutoff, you can still receive the additional stimulus payment as a Rebate Recovery Credit on your 2020 tax return. In any case, contact our office so we can help you decide which option will be best for you.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
On Monday, February 22, 2021, the White House released a statement outlining changes to the PPP program to help small businesses:
- A two-week window where PPP applications will be restricted to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. This window starts Wednesday, February 24.
- A revised loan calculation method to increase the size of loans that sole proprietors, independent contractors, and the self-employed are eligible for.
- Establish a $1 billion set-aside of PPP funds for low- and moderate-income areas that have been traditionally underserved.
- Support for a bipartisan bill loosening the restrictions on felons applying for PPP loans.
- Allow business owners who are delinquent on federal student loans to apply for loans.
- Making green-card holders and other legal residents of the US eligible for PPP loans.
In addition to these changes, the Biden administration will continue to support the SBA’s fraud prevention efforts, improve the usability of the SBA website, and make the loan process easier and more accessible for small businesses.
The IRS is warning people to beware of ghost preparers who prepare tax returns but do not sign them. Many of these unscrupulous tax preparers bend or break the law by including fictitious income or expenses so that people get bigger refunds than they’re entitled to. Shortly after tax season ends, these people vanish into thin air, leaving victimized taxpayers with little recourse. By law, paid preparers must have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) which must be on any tax return they prepare as a paid service, along with their name and signature. Guidance for choosing a tax preparer can be found at the IRS website.
If you filed a return last spring, but have not yet received a refund, you may be in the same boat as an estimated 11 million people whose tax returns and other IRS correspondence have not yet been processed. Pandemic-related restrictions and chronic understaffing make it difficult to reach anyone at the IRS by phone or in person. Normally, the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service can help taxpayers resolve issues, but even they are having difficulties dealing with the IRS.
LIVING WITH THE PANDEMIC
Millions of Americans are unemployed, yet many employers are struggling to find people to fill the job openings they have. In the wake of the pandemic, remote jobs are the most coveted. Parents can be home with children, and workers don’t need to worry about getting infected on the job. However, the majority of current job openings require employees to be on-premises and have no remote options.
We can learn a lot about optimizing tech for working at home from professional YouTubers and video game streamers, who make their living by being online for hours every day, according to this article in Wired. Here are four suggestions gleaned from that community.
- Pay attention to your stamina. Avoid endless meetings, and set out clear objectives to be accomplished. Some tasks may be best handled without a meeting.
- Ergonomics matter. Invest in a quality desk, chair, and possibly even a better mouse. Your body will thank you for it.
- Invest in upgrades for your video presence: headphones, a USB microphone, lighting, webcam, and pay attention to the background that shows up in video calls.
- Practice with screensharing options in video software so you don’t inadvertently share something you’d rather keep private, and to streamline transitions.
Working and living in the same place can be a challenge, as many of us have found. A few simple ideas in this article in Fast Company can point you in a better direction. The first step to making improvements is to discern whether you want a better work-life balance or a better work-life integration. Next, clarify expectations on times you’re expected to be available. This may be a challenge if your workplace is populated with workaholics who always seem to be “on.” Focus on deliverables and outcomes rather than the time commitment. Planning your days by blocking out time in your schedule for specific tasks can help with project overwhelm.
- 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!