With recent updates to federal COVID-19 relief programs for employers, many small business owners may benefit from these changes. The Biden administration has expanded its tax credit for employers offering paid time off for vaccinations, which now extends to employees who need time off to facilitate vaccination of family members. Additionally, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has created an online portal to streamline the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness process.

These and other COVID-19 relief updates were discussed at the latest CO— Small Business Update event, hosted by CO— editor-in-chief Jeanette Mulvey. Tom West, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy, and Neil Bradley, U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and chief policy officer, joined Mulvey to help small business owners understand these program changes. Read on for key takeaways from the event.

Employer vaccine tax credit now extends to employees’ families

Earlier this year, the Biden administration signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law. Through the ARP, small and medium-sized employers who offered employees time off for vaccinations could qualify for a tax credit. Recently, the Biden administration extended this vaccine tax credit to include family members of employees, West explained. In other words, employees can take time off to help members of their household receive and recover from the vaccine, and employers can receive a tax credit for offering that time.

“This is all about incentivizing employers to give time off to employees to handle the COVID situation,” said West. “Employers are also benefiting because … their employees aren’t infecting other people. … and a vaccinated workforce is a safer workforce.” [Read more: What You Should Know about the Small Business Vaccine Employer Tax Credit]

SBA streamlines PPP loan forgiveness process

Many small businesses applied for PPP loans to continue paying their employees amid the pandemic. As the program has ended, business owners have had to gather all the necessary paperwork to get their loans forgiven, while the SBA has had to process millions of applications.To that end, the SBA has launched an online portal to simplify and streamline the forgiveness process for loans of $150,000 or less. However, not all loans under this amount will be eligible to use the online portal, noted Bradley. [You can see if your lender is participating here.]

“The lender who originated your loan has to agree to participate in that program,” he clarified. “If your lender is listed [in the portal], you can apply through that portal on the SBA website — you no longer have to go through your lender." [Read more: How to Get Your PPP Loan Forgiven]

The second way the SBA has streamlined the loan forgiveness process is through the implementation of the Revenue Reduction Score for businesses with loans of $150,000 or less. Previously, recipients of second-draw PPP loans needed to provide documentation of a 25% or greater reduction in revenue compared to a previous quarter. Now, applicants can enter information about their business to receive an automated Revenue Reduction Score.

“It’s kind of like [going] to the EZ Pass lane,” Bradley said. “If it says you’re approved, you don’t have to go back and get all of this extra paperwork.”

Employee vaccination can facilitate a safe and healthy return to the workplace

Many small business owners are facing the difficult decision of whether to require their employees to get vaccinated. Bradley recommended that employers first try to get a pulse on their teams’ current status and views, including any barriers to vaccination.

He added that this practice “can help employers make a more informed decision about what’s likely to be received well by their employee base, but also help achieve the goal, which is a safe and healthy workplace.”

Leaders can still encourage their employees to get vaccinated, even if it is not a requirement. Providing PTO for workers and their families to recover from the vaccine, as well as offering additional days off or other incentives, can help increase overall workplace vaccination rates.

“Getting more [people] vaccinated is the way to defeat the Delta variant and ensure that we can fully reopen all operations as close to normal as humanly possible,” Bradley stressed. [Read more: Mandating Employee Vaccinations? What You Need to Know]

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