More Flexibility for Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness and Payroll Tax Deferral

June 2020

The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 (H.R. 7010) (PPP Flexibility Act), enacted on June 5, 2020, makes welcome changes to the forgiveness rules for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans made to small businesses in response to the novel coronavirus global pandemic (COVID-19). The PPP Flexibility Act greatly increases the likelihood that a large percentage of a borrower’s PPP loan will be forgiven. PPP loans (and related forgiveness) were created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (Public Law 116-136), which was enacted on March 27, 2020. The PPP Flexibility Act also eliminates a provision that made recipients of PPP loan forgiveness ineligible to defer certain payroll tax deposits.

PPP Loan Forgiveness Expanded

The PPP Flexibility Act makes the following changes:

1. Extends the “covered period” for PPP loan forgiveness from eight weeks after loan origination to the earlier of (i) 24 weeks after loan origination or (ii) December 31, 2020. Borrowers who received their loans before this change can elect to use their original or alternative payroll eight-week covered period
. 2. Replaces the June 30, 2020, date for the rehire safe harbor with December 31, 2020. 

3. Expands the rehire exception based on the non-availability of former employees and applies that exception when the need for workers is reduced to comply with COVID-19 standards. Specifically, PPP loan forgiveness would not be reduced due to a lower number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees if:
  • The employer is unable to rehire individuals who were employed by the employer on February 15, 2020, and the employer shows the inability to hire similarly qualified employees for unfilled positions on or before December 31, 2020, or
  • The employer documents its inability to return to the same level of business activity as it had before February 15, 2020, due to having to comply new COVID-19 standards for sanitation, social distancing or other safety requirements during the period of March 1 through December 31, 2020.

4. Allows up to 40% of the loan proceeds to be used on mortgage interest, rent or utilities (previously such expenses were capped at 25% of the loan proceeds), while at least 60% of the PPP funds must be used for payroll costs (down from the 75% that was noted in SBA guidance). This applies even if the borrower elects to use the eight-week covered or alternative payroll covered period. If the borrower does not use at least 60% of the loan on payroll costs, then it appears that no forgiveness would be available (i.e., the 60% would be a “cliff,” even though it was previously unclear whether the 75% limit would allow for partial loan forgiveness for payroll costs of less than 75% of loan proceeds).

5. Provides a five-year term for all new PPP loans disbursed after June 5, 2020. Loans disbursed before that date would retain their original two-year term unless the lender and borrower renegotiate the loan into a five-year term.

6. Changes the six-month deferral period for loan repayments and interest accrual so that payments on any unforgiven amounts will begin on either (i) the date on which loan forgiveness is determined or (ii) 10 months after the end of the borrower’s covered period if forgiveness is not requested.

These changes garnered nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate because the CARES Act assumed that most businesses would be up and running in a matter of weeks. But more time is needed to incur forgivable costs, because many businesses are at or near the end of their initial eight-week loan forgiveness period, yet they remain partially or fully suspended by governmental orders.
 

Payroll Tax Deferral Expanded

In addition to PPP loan changes, the bill allows all employers, even those with forgiven PPP loans, to defer the payment of 2020 employer’s Social Security taxes, with 50% of the deferred amount being payable by December 31, 2021, and the balance due by December 31, 2022. Previously, the CARES Act prohibited such payroll tax deferral after a borrower’s PPP loan was forgiven. 



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