Q&A: CARES Act Helps Workers, Seniors, Student Borrowers
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What’s in the CARES Act to help Iowans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic?
A: The sacrifices and efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus have shut down the U.S. economy and life as we know it. As factories and businesses of all sizes adjust operations, many employers have been forced to lay off or furlough workers through no fault of their own. The CARES Act recognizes the financial hardship many Americans are facing to pay their bills. An emergency one-time recovery payment will provide short-term relief to most U.S. households. Every adult earning $75,000 or less, including seniors, who is not the dependent of another taxpayer, will get $1,200. The recovery assistance is reduced by $5 for every $100 above the $75,000 income threshold for individuals and above the $150,000 income threshold for married couples. Parents of dependents age 16 and younger will receive $500 per child. The IRS will start distributing payments in mid-April. No action is required for most people. For seniors, Social Security beneficiaries and railroad retirees, who may not file a tax return, the IRS will use data from these federal benefit programs to issue their $1,200 payments. Keep checking IRS.gov/coronavirus as updates become available, including a web-based portal for individuals to provide banking information for automatic deposits. If deposit information isn’t provided or the IRS doesn’t already have that information from tax statements, payments will be sent by U.S. mail.
The economic shutdown has dramatically increased the number of unemployed workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The CARES Act significantly expands federal unemployment assistance by boosting compensation an additional $600 per week through July 31. This weekly payment is on top of each state’s existing unemployment insurance assistance. The average weekly unemployment insurance benefit in Iowa for 2019 was $395. The CARES Act also expands unemployment insurance benefits for the first time to the self-employed, independent contractors, nonprofit employees and gig economy workers through a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The PUA program will provide payment for a maximum of 39 weeks, ending on or before Dec. 31, 2020. For workers whose state unemployment insurance payments have ended or will end soon, the CARES Act extends federal payments up to 13 additional weeks. Iowans may apply for unemployment insurance assistance through Iowa Workforce Development.
Q: What changes included in the $2.2 trillion law will help seniors and students?
A: In addition to Americans forced out of the workforce, the CARES Act provides relief for seniors and student borrowers. Seniors who are watching their investment portfolios contract as stock markets decline will get a reprieve from the required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020. It suspends withdrawals from an IRA, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA and other retirement plans, like a 401(k), that under current law would have required RMD payments, through the end of the year. For Americans age 59 ½ and younger who have directly been affected by the coronavirus and experiencing financial hardship, the CARES Act waives the 10-percent penalty for withdrawing funds from their IRAs and defined benefit contribution plans, like 401(k) plans. Taxes on these withdrawals may be paid evenly over the next three years. Limits on loans from existing retirement plans, that permit them, are increased to $100,000 and payments can be deferred for a year. All Iowans ought to be extra cautious about fishy scams that prey on seniors with investment schemes. Listen to trusted financial advisors and check with loved ones if it sounds too good to be true.
For those repaying federal student loans held by the government, the CARES Act suspends loan payments, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2020. Borrowers should know the Department of Education automatically will enact the temporary suspension on federal student loans that are owned directly by the Federal Government for the six-month reprieve so there is no need to shut off any automatic debits. Be wary of scams that ask for payments to start the suspension. Borrowers who are able to make payments on the principal during the six-month pause will whittle down the balance that much faster. Those wishing to continue any automatic debit they have set up or who have any questions about how this affects their loans should contact their servicer. The new law also expands a tuition-related employer benefit by allowing employer payments of an employee’s student loans of up to $5,250 on a tax-free basis. Recognizing a big need for social services during the pandemic, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to make an above the line $300 deduction for cash contributions to charitable organizations by individuals who don’t itemize on their 2020 tax returns. The CARES Act also increases the limitation on cash contributions to charities by individuals who itemize.
As the devastating effects of this public health emergency deal a blow to the economy and exhaust health care professionals on the front lines, it’s inspiring to see communities come together to help neighbors in need, in ways big and small. Let’s not forget the workers along our nation’s food supply chain, farmers, laborers, truckers and grocers who are working tirelessly to keep America’s food pantry well-stocked. America’s entrepreneurs, medical scholars, innovators, data scientists, and captains of industry are collaborating throughout our civic organizations, academic institutions, businesses and all levels of government to stop the spread, save lives and solve problems. Pitching in and pulling together, the resilience of the American spirit will guide us to better days ahead.