Aug 5, 2020 - Economy & Business

Why the employee retention credit is an overlooked stimulus issue

An illustration of a bag of money
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

D.C. remains deadlocked on the next stimulus package, days after extended unemployment benefits ended and days before PPP is set to expire.

Where it stands: One unresolved issue that hasn't gotten enough attention is a proposed expansion of the employee retention credit, which could have a significant impact for companies that have experienced severe revenue declines.

The backdrop: The CARES Act established the initial version, a refundable payroll tax credit that could cover up to $5,000 per employee, for businesses that had suffered at least 50% revenue loss.

  • Caveat #1: If a company received a PPP loan, it wasn't eligible.
  • Caveat #2: If a company had more than 100 employees who remained working full time, including remotely, it wasn't eligible.
  • Caveat conclusion: For most companies, this credit wasn't too valuable.

What's new: Both new stimulus plans — HEROES Act (D), HEALS Act (R) — are much more generous.

  • HEROES increases the credit to up to $36k per employee (or up to 80% of wages paid per retained employee), with sliding-scale revenue eligibility for companies with revenue drop of between 10% and 50%. It increases the limit on working employees to 1,500.
  • HEALS increases the credit to up to $30k per employee (or up to 65% of wages paid per retained employee), with the revenue decline threshold cut to 25%. It increases the limit on working employees to 500.
  • Neither proposal restricts companies that received PPP loans, although they're silent on companies that participate in a possible PPP extension.

The bottom line: There are still partisan differences, but both sides are moving in the same direction on this, which suggests more flexibility than on thornier issues like school funding and liability protections.

Go deeper