Treasury Requests Cessation of Several Fed Emergency Lending Programs and Return of Unused Funds; Senate Republicans Want Funds Repurposed for Pandemic Relief
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell yesterday requesting that five emergency lending facilities, including the Main Street Lending Program (MSLP), should not be extended past their scheduled expiration on December 31, 2020. Mnuchin also requested the Fed to return unused Treasury loan funds from the programs for Congress to re-appropriate. (Treasury letter and The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19)
- The MSLP has the capacity to issue up to $600 billion in loans, yet has only completed approximately 400 loans totaling $3.7 billion. (Washington Post, Oct, 30)
- The programs were created as part of the CARES Act coronavirus aid package passed in March, which included funding for all the Fed’s emergency lending facilities. (The Hill, Nov. 19)
- Mnuchin’s Nov. 19 letter stated, “I am requesting that the Federal Reserve return the unused funds to the Treasury. This will allow Congress to re-appropriate $455 billion, consisting of $429 billion in excess Treasury funds for the Federal Reserve facilities and $26 billion in unused Treasury direct loan funds.”
- The decision to end the lending facilities operations cannot be done unilaterally by Treasury; it would require cooperation by the Fed.
- Chairman Powell issued a statement after markets closed yesterday that signaled disagreement. “The Federal Reserve would prefer that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.” (Wall Street Journal, and CNBC interview with Mnuchin, Nov. 20)
- Powell also said on Nov. 17 that “I don’t think it is time yet, or very soon” to close down the programs and that the Fed was “using all of our tools to support the recovery for as long as it takes until the job is well and truly done.” (Reuters, Nov. 17)
- If the Trump administration decides not to extend the Fed programs, the new administration’s Treasury Department could reestablish them after Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10)
Pandemic Relief Package
The request for the Fed to return unused funds from the lending programs comes as Congress remains at an impasse over costs for a pandemic relief package – the Trump administration offered a ceiling of $1.8 trillion, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion bill, and Senate Republicans favored a $500 billion measure. (Roundtable Weekly, Nov. 6)
- Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) today discussed a strategy for reviving talks between Republicans and Democrats over the stalled pandemic stimulus package. McConnell commented after the meeting about utilizing the unused Fed funds for a relief package, stating, “Congress should repurpose this money toward the kinds of urgent, important, and targeted relief measures that Republicans have been trying to pass for months, but which Democrats have repeatedly blocked with all-or-nothing demands.” (AP, Nov. 20)
- President-elect Joe Biden on Monday urged Congress to advance the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act (H.R. 925) passed by the House. "Right now, Congress should come together and pass a COVID relief package like the HEROES Act that the House passed six months ago. Once we shut down the virus and deliver economic relief to workers and businesses, then we can start to build back better than before,” Biden said. (BGov, Nov. 16)
- A report issued Wednesday by The Century Foundation shows that approximately 12 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance by the end of the year due to deadlines set by Congress early in the pandemic. (Washington Post and GlobeSt, "12M Workers Set to Lose Unemployment Benefits," Nov. 19)
Lawmakers also face the added pressure of passing a government funding bill to avoid a Dec. 11 partial shutdown. Congress may choose to merge some COVID-19 aid measures into a sweeping multi-trillion-dollar omnibus funding bill during the lame-duck session to address both issues – or attempt to pass separate bills.
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Federal Pandemic Risk / Business Continuity Insurance Program Focus of House Hearing
House lawmakers heard testimony about a possible federal pandemic risk / business continuity insurance program during a hearing yesterday entitled, Insuring against a Pandemic: Challenges and Solutions for Policyholders and Insurers. (Webcast of hearing and witness statements)
- The Business Continuity Coalition (BCC), which includes The Real Estate Roundtable, submitted a hearing statement for the record to The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance. The subcommittee played a key role in last year’s seven-year extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). (List of BCC members)
- The BCC announced on Oct. 28 that it aims to develop a public/private business continuity insurance program with policymakers and other stakeholders. Such a program would enable employers, in the event of a government-ordered shutdown, to keep payrolls and supply chains intact; help limit job losses and furloughs; reduce stress on the financial system; and speed economic recovery when government-imposed limitations on operations are lifted. (BCC launch news release)
- The BCC has emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis has shown the current lack of insurance availability for business continuity coverage for catastrophic pandemic events. This coverage gap raises concerns for policyholders and shows the need to enact an effective federal program.
- The BCC hearing statement submitted this week notes, “… if not remedied, these insurance gaps will hinder any recovery, especially impacting business lending, new leasing activity, retail and hospitality, housing construction and development, as well as media production. Private insurance alone cannot and will not remedy the gaps – at least not in the short-term – but private insurers need to be part of the solution. What is urgently needed is a federally-backstopped availability mechanism similar to the highly successful one which Congress put in place for terrorism following 9/11– in short, a TRIA-style program for pandemic risk."
- A number of legislative proposals have been introduced to address the need for business continuity coverage – including the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020 (H.R. 6983).
- Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer on Sept. 25 discussed prospects for developing and enacting a federal pandemic risk-business continuity insurance program with Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), the Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee. (Video of the discussion)
- “We’ve seen business interruption insurance not being willing to cover any pandemics. I think you’re going to start to see lenders … requiring some type of pandemic coverage in their loan covenants in the coming years,” Stivers said.
- He added, "I think we need to make sure that if this ever happens again and the government shuts down the economy, [Congress] holds people harmless and businesses harmless in the future.” (Video of the discussion)
DeBoer commented, “The pandemic crisis has exposed gaps in business continuity insurance coverage that can only be filled by a national program that will provide the American economy with the coverage it needs to minimize the economic impact of pandemic-related shutdowns and aid economic recovery.”
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Treasury Department Clarifies that Partnership-level State and Local Income Taxes are Deductible
The Treasury Department and IRS in a recent notice indicated their intent to issue proposed regulations clarifying that state and local income taxes imposed on, and paid by, a partnership or an S corporation are deductible in computing the partnership or S corporation’s taxable income. (IRS Notice 2020-75)
- The announcement has important implications for real estate and other businesses operating in States with high state and local income tax burdens. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 limits taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes (SALT) paid at the level of the individual taxpayer to no more than $10,000.
- The SALT limitation in TCJA applies to state and local taxes owed on individual wages, as well as state and local taxes paid on business income distributed to partners or S corporation shareholders. In contrast, state taxes on corporate income remained deductible under the 2017 legislation. However, prior to Notice 2020-75, it was unclear whether the SALT limitation applied to entity-level income taxes imposed on, and paid directly by, a partnership or S corporation.
- The Treasury announcement is an important step towards creating a more level playing field between publicly held C corporations and privately held pass-through businesses.
- Over the last three years, several States have modified their tax laws to allow partnerships, S corporations, and LLC’s to pay tax on their business income at the entity level. States adopting an entity-level tax on pass-throughs include Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. In most cases, the regimes are elective. (CNBC, Nov. 18)
- Uncertainty about the federal tax treatment of these regimes has limited their effectiveness. That could change quickly with the new Treasury guidance. Similar legislative proposals are pending in Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, and Minnesota and more may follow in light of Treasury’s clarification. Entity-level regimes that comply with the Treasury regulations could help restore SALT deductions for a significant share of pass-through business income.
Other tax and economic policy issues affecting real estate were addressed this week in a CBRE panel discussion that featured Roundtable Senior Vice President and Counsel Ryan McCormick and other industry experts. (video)
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