Benefits Café COVID-19 Crisis Update

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Benefits Café wants to keep our clients informed and updated on developments related to employer-sponsored medical insurance during the COVID-19 crisis.  Below we have hyperlinks to useful websites from government agencies and medical insurance companies. We’re here to help our clients.  Give us a call if you feel that we can be of assistance, 800-746-0045.

We will update this page as more information becomes available.

Breaking News

Update on the SBA Paycheck Protection Program Applications

April 6, 2020

Note: We know that most of our clients are experiencing significant disruption due to the government COVID-19 stay-at-home orders (see California stay-at-home order) (see stay-at-home orders for all states.)  Our hope is that the information we report on this page may help you during this difficult time.  Please send us an email or call us (800)746-0045 if you have any information that you feel would help other small businesses, or, if we’ve reported something inaccurately.  We’re all in this together and I appreciate the information that others have already shared.

Update on SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) –  Many banks now have online application forms for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP gives businesses with fewer than 500 employees forgivable loans when used to pay employees wages and employee benefits during the COVID-19 crisis.

Below are links to the PPP webpages of the largest bank.  It seems that many of the banks have included limitations that the SBA did not include, such as:

  • Some banks will only lend to clients with previously established business checking accounts (Bank of the West);
  • Some banks require that a small business have an existing line of credit or business credit card (Bank of America);
  • The strangest seems to be Wells Fargo which did not have an online application, yet informed customers that “Given the exceptionally high volume of requests we have already received, we will not be able to accept any additional requests for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program.”  It’s unclear how Wells Fargo could have maxed out their $10 billion lending threshold (as described in this press release) without having an online application for clients, but that’s what they say.

See more detail below.

Bank information Below is a list of links to bank Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) webpages.  Many links include the online PPP application.

  • Bank of the West: this Bank of the West COVID-19 page has a PPP application which is limited to current business checking account customers.
  • Wells Fargo: this is the Wells Fargo SBA PPP page. This Wells Fargo PPP Press release says that they will limit their loans to “nonprofits and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees” They also say that “fees generated through the program will be distributed (by Wells Fargo) as charitable grants to nonprofits that support small businesses.”
  • Chase: this Chase Bank COVID-19 PPP page includes a link to begin the PPP application – which is a login to the Chase Banking app.  The PPP page states that to apply for their PPP loan that one must have an existing Chase Business account.  It also says that you can’t have applied for a PPP loan through a different financial institution and that “if your Paycheck Protection Program loan is approved, Chase will deposit your funds into your oldest Chase Business Banking checking account.”
  • Bank of America: this is the B of A COVID-19 Small Business page. It says “to be eligible, you must have a Small Business lending and Small Business checking relationship with Bank of America as of February 15, 2020 or a Small Business checking account opened no later than February 15, 2020 and do not have a business credit or borrowing relationship with another bank.”  This is the B of A PPP application page which instructs applications to log into their B of A small business account to begin the application process.
  • Union Bank: this is the Union Bank COVID-19 page that doesn’t have info on the PPP loans.  On 4/3/2020 we reported that this Union Bank PPP webpage had information on the PPP.  As of 4:30PM PST, 4/6/2020, that page doesn’t load…
  • Citi Bank: this Citi Bank COVID-19 PPP page says “While we are working as quickly as we can, Citi is not yet able to accept the loan applications for the new Paycheck Protection Program. We appreciate your patience.”
  • U.S. Bank: this is the U.S. Bank statement on PPP loans.  At this time it says that bank customers should complete the U.S. Bank PPP Inquiry form and wait for additional information

Another resource is the U.S. Treasury Assistance for Small Business webpage.

Reminder – remember that this website has HR resource information for COVID-19 issues. It is part of the HR 360 program that we provide for our clients.  No login is necessary to view the in on the COVID-19 resource page.

NY Gov. Cuomo’s April 6, 2020 press conference reports that New York may be at they may be at the peak period, which is hopeful.  I find his explanations to be very informative and helpful and you may also.

We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Info on DOL order for Paid Leave;  Update on the SBA Paycheck Protection Program Applications; and a Chance for EEs who Waived Medical Insurance Coverage to Enroll Now

April 3, 2020

US DOL Requires Paid Leave under the Families First Corona Virus Response Act – On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new action that requires employers to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees who need to take leave from work for certain specified reasons related to COVID-19. The temporary rule is effective from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. This DOL webpage has information about the new rule, including posters which employers must display.

Also, remember that this website has HR resource information for COVID-19 issues. It is part of the HR 360 program that we provide for our clients.  The COVID-19 resource page does not require one to login.

Forgivable SBA Loans Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)-  The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has provided more information on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

Today’s sample SBA PPP application gives an indication of the questions you’ll need to answer, which include two requirements that weren’t in the previous sample application:

  • (The applicant) understands that loan forgiveness will be provided for the sum of documented payroll costs, covered mortgage interest payments, covered rent payments, and covered utilities, and not more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs.
  • During the period beginning on February 15, 2020 and ending on December 31, 2020, the Applicant has not and will not receive another loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

So, while the assistance can pay for payroll, rent, employee medical insurance premium and other expenses – you must use 75% of the loan amount for payroll.  Also, it seems that a small business won’t be able to apply for another loan after this one.

Our April 1, 2020 post below has hyperlinks to many banks and you should check your bank’s website (note that we’ve updated a few links to include pages that banks have recently created for PPP loans.)  It seems that all banks require that a small business have an existing banking relationship with it to process PPP loan applications.  As of 2:00PM PST, the only bank that I found which had a PPP loan application available was Bank of America .

Also, a client who applied for a PPP loan through Bank of America shared this information:

“…if a business does not have a line of credit with Bank of America they cannot apply for the PPP loan through them. It’s not enough to have a business checking and or savings account. You must have a credit card or a line of credit in order to apply through Bank of America.”

Another resource is the U.S. Treasury Assistance for Small Business webpage.

Special enrollment for employees and dependents who previously waived group medical insurance coverage- Many of the medical insurance companies will allow employees (EEs) who previously waived medical insurance coverage to enroll now.  Some insurance companies will allow dependents who previously waived coverage to also enroll now.  The criteria vary by insurance company.  If you have an employee or dependent who wants to get coverage now, please contact our office (800)746-0045 and we will help.  You should act quickly (today) if you want to take advantage of this limited opportunity.

NY Gov. Cuomo’s April 3, 2020 press conference gives helpful info on the progression of COVID-19 pandemic.  He describes his new order taking ventilators and PPE from upstate hospitals to sending them to New York City hospitals that have immediate need.  I find his explanations to be very helpful and you may also.

We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Advice on April Medical Insurance Premium and More info on the SBA Paycheck Protection Program – Documents You Should Gather

April 1, 2020 [with 3/3/2020 updates to new bank websites]

Advice on paying group medical insurance premiumMany small businesses have stopped operations while employees follow stay-at-home orders.  Paying medical insurance premiums for employees may be difficult.  Our advice is to pay your April premium now, then your coverage will continue throughout the month and financial relief may be available in a few weeks (see info on the PPP below.)  Insurance companies must pay doctors and hospitals, so they can’t enable small businesses to postpone, or skip a payment.  Still, with that said, under normal circumstances, you have a grace period through the last business day of the month for your medical premium to post to your account. So, if you pay your April premium now, your coverage will continue through May 31st as long as you pay the May premium by 5PM Friday, May 29th.

Employees don’t need to be actively at workMost small businesses have sent their employees home and many are not actively working at home.  During these highly unusual times, the insurance companies are not enforcing the “actively at work” provisions of their contracts.  This means that you can keep your employees on the group medical insurance plan – during a time when they need it the most – and you can pay for their coverage.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to obtain financial assistance through the SBA Paycheck Protection Program.  Info below.

Forgivable SBA Loans – Documents to Gather: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will provide forgivable loans to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.  The assistance can pay for payroll, rent, employee medical insurance premium and other expenses.  According to the SBA, small businesses will apply for the loan through their local bank, possibly as soon as this Friday, April 3rd.  The SBA has a sample PPP application that gives you an indication of the questions you’ll need to answer.

Some banks have information on the PPP loans and you should check your bank’s website (see links below.)  The best information I found was on Bank of the West’s page, which says:

We are waiting for the SBA to provide program guidelines…In the meantime, below is a list of documents we recommend you gather in preparation to apply for the program:

  • Monthly Payroll records from February 2019 through 2020 that might be required, such as:
    • Payroll tax filings reported to IRS
    • Payroll Summary Report
    • Breakdown of payroll benefits (vacation, allowance for dismissal, group healthcare benefits, retirement benefits, etc.)
    • 1099 MISC
  • Either: 2019 tax return or year-end financials.

Bank information – Below is a list of banks and their pages either on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or their COVID-19 info.  Each bank has different levels of detail related to interruptions from the stay-at-home orders and the SBA PPP.

If you feel that you’ll need an SBA PPP loan and you have a relationship with a banker, you should probably reach out to that person now and ask for assistance and guidance on how to obtain a PPP loan.

In the April 1, 2020 press briefing NY Gov. Cuomo (which starts around minute 35 of the video) gives helpful info on the progression of COVID-19 pandemic.  As he says, “facts are empowering” and he gived the facts, rather than opinion. I find his explanations to be very helpful and you may also.

We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

CORRECTION: U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Has Not Yet Launched the Application for Paycheck Protection Program

March 31, 2020

CORRECTION: We previously stated that the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications were available.  This is not correct.  Currently the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Application  available – this is a different program from the PPP.  The Economic Injury Disaster Loan has a maximum loan of $2 million and an immediate advance of $10,000.  We are very sorry for this error.  We will continue to update this page when information is available.

In this interview, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin says that the PPP funds will become available by this Friday, April, 3, 2020.

Local banks will issue the loans.  You should go to the SBA website (link above) and complete the form if your company needs financial assistance.

In today’s press briefing NY Gov. Cuomo explains the progress of the disease in the state at the epicenter.  His explanations describe why we’re physically distancing and shutting down the U.S. economy.  I find his explanations to be very helpful and you may also.

Also, today UnitedHealth Care (UHC), the largest medical insurance company in the United States, announced a toll free help line that is available to members and non-members.  People can call 866-342-6892 and speak with a specially trained mental health specialist and also obtain referrals to community resources for financial and legal matters.

We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Federal Government to give Forgivable Loans to Pay Employees and Group Medical Insurance

March 30, 2020

Last Friday afternoon President Trump Signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which will provide immediate assistance to businesses and employees impacted by COVID-19.  The Paycheck Protection Program portion of CARES gives forgivable loans to employers with fewer than 500 employees to pay employee wages and employee benefits while unable to work due to the pandemic physical distancing period. Here is helpful info:

Local banks will issue the loans.  You should contact your bank for assistance.  We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

NY Gov. Cuomo provides Insight and Inspiration in the Battle against COVID-19

March 29, 2020

New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis and Governor’s press conferences are helpful.  View Gov. Cuomo’s March 29th update for insight and inspiration.

Update from the front lines of fighting COVID-19 from NY Gov. Cuomo

March 25, 2020

New York has 15 times the number of COVID-19 cases as California and is at the forefront of the battle against this disease.  Governor Cuomo’s press conference March 25, 2020 press conference on Corona Virus has useful information.

Guidance on when to get a test for COVID-19

March 24, 2020

Many people wonder whether they should get tested for the COVID-19 virus.  You may find this guidance from the City of Los Angeles about who can get tested to be helpful:

Individuals eligible for testing at this time include:

  • Those with symptoms who are 65 and older
  • Those with symptoms who have underlying chronic health conditions
  • Those who are subject to a mandatory 14 day quarantine period due to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure (with more than 7 days of quarantine remaining)

Media has reported a shortage of test kits, so it may be helpful to consider this advice before seeking a test.  At the same time, the City of Los Angeles also advises: If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as severe shortness of breath, contact your physician. If it is an emergency, dial 911.

Medical Insurance Companies to Offer Special Enrollment Period for EEs who Waived Coverage

March 23, 2020

Medical insurance companies have issued guidance for coverage during these unusual times, including:

  • allowing coverage for employees who aren’t actively at work;
  • allowing employees who previously waived coverage to enroll now through next week;
  • allowing flexibility for late premium payment on a case-by-case basis.

See updates for each insurance company below, or contact our office and we’ll get you the info.

U.S. Senate considers granting 250% of payroll to small employers

March 22, 2020

See the first part of this interview with Sen. Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, who describes a proposal to enable small businesses (500 and fewer employees) to obtain forgivable loans (grants) of 250% of payroll to continue paying employees and to pay for employee benefits such as medical insurance. While the Senate didn’t pass the legislation Sunday night (March 22nd); they continue to work.  Many small employers are making critical decisions about employees during this highly unusual time.  Know that help may be on the way.

VIDEO: Senator Rubio discusses small-business bailout »

Employer Guidance – General

COVID-19 Resource Center – This site has compliance, HR and employee information. The site includes downloadable documents that may assist you with establishing and communicating policies with your employees. The site is developed and maintained by the company that owns HR360, the HR library which we provide to our clients as an extra value. You don’t need to log in to access the material on the COVID-19 Resource Center.

Insurance Company Information on COVID-19 Matters

Covered California For Small Business Announces Expanded Choices ...

Covered California for Small Business

Government Resources