(Update: A compromise bill passed the Senate on 3/25/2020. You can read more here.)

Last week, Senate Republican leaders released their version of a stimulus package, dubbed the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act.” This week, House Democratic leaders proposed an alternative, “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.”

Clearly, there is still work to be done. As of today (March 24), Congressional leaders say they’re working on a compromise. While they hash out those details, here’s a quick look at ten similarities between the two most talked about proposals:

1. Stimulus Checks. Both the House and Senate bills would provide immediate stimulus checks to taxpayers. Both versions would treat checks as variations on refundable tax credits. In both versions, checks would not be subject to reduction or offset.

  • The Senate bill would allow for checks of up to $1,200 per adult – or $2,400 for married couples filing jointly – as well as $500 per child. To qualify, taxpayers must typically be working or receiving Social Security or pension income since the amounts are tied to tax returns. Checks would begin to phaseout for those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns) and would disappear entirely for those earning more than $99,000. Those families at the bottom would receive no less than $600. 
  • Under the House proposal, checks would be up to $1,500 per adult, or $3,000 for married couples filing jointly, as well as $1,500 per child (up to three kids). Checks would also start to phaseout for those earning more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint returns and surviving spouses), but there’s also an amount for a head of household: $112,500. 

2. Filing Deadlines For Individuals. Both the House and Senate bills would push off the federal income tax deadline for individual 2019 tax returns to July 15, 2020 – but that is moot since the filing deadline was officially extended on March 20, 2020. They would also extend the due date for estimated payments for 2020 to October 15, 2020.

3. Net Operating Losses. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions limiting net operating losses would be modified to allow for carry-backs. The years and amounts in play vary, but the ideas in both versions are similar.

4. COVID-19 Testing and Treatment. Both bills would require group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance – including government plans – to cover preventive services for COVID-19, including no-cost testing. 

  • The House bill would also allow uninsured folks to get coverage through the exchanges and would provide subsidies for those eligible for COBRA.

5. Bailouts/Assistance. I know that it’s sort of cheating to include bailouts as a similarity since the specifics differ dramatically in the Senate and House bills. What they have in common: assistance to businesses, including the airline industry. Both versions also include some restrictions on companies who receive aid, including limiting payments to highly-compensated employees. 

  • The House version adds additional layers of restrictions, including limits on executive bonuses, bans on golden parachutes (excess compensation for executives with separation packages), stock buybacks (yes, again), dividend payments, and spending money on lobbyists.

6. Small Business Assistance. Both versions of the bill would expand the eligibility for small businesses to receive assistance, including loans. 

  • In the Senate version, loans could be used for payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, healthcare benefits, employee salaries, mortgage payments, rents, utilities, and other debts. Loans used to cover payroll could be forgiven if businesses retain employees through June 30, 2020. Funds used to pay tipped employees, such as bars and restaurants, may be eligible for loan forgiveness if they are used to provide additional wages.
  • In the House version, the bill would provide loans to qualifying small businesses, including independent contractors, at zero percent interest if the small business doesn’t terminate employees during the pandemic; forgiveness would be available for companies that meet specific hiring criteria. The bill would also extend protections for small businesses who owe debts.

7. Special Rules for Retirement Accounts. Both versions of the bill would allow for tax-favored “coronavirus-related” distributions/loans from individual retirement plans. 

  • The House proposal would also waive RMDs for 2020.

8. Paid Family and Sick Leave. Both versions would modify and expand existing paid leave bills, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and the spanking new Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In both cases, costs to employers would be offset by tax credits.

  • The House proposal is more comprehensive and would apply no matter the size of the employer. Employees who have been on the job for at least 30 calendar days would be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to respond to the coronavirus. This would include self-quarantines and care for family members. Specifically, employees would be entitled to two full weeks of unpaid leave and then receive a reduced benefit. 

9. Student & Student Loans. Both versions would provide relief for student borrowers and those engaged in work-study programs. Both proposals would allow more flexibility for students who were unable to remain enrolled in school as a result of a qualifying emergency, including waivers and continuation of pay options for work-study.

  • The Senate bill provides that payments due for student loans shall be suspended – without interest – for three months.
  • The House bill would provide additional protections for those with private loans for a period of up to six months after the crisis ends. There is a cap ($10,000).

10. Support for Health Care Providers. The mechanics may differ, but both proposals would provide additional assistance, including increased funding for health care providers. Both plans would also create incentives and cut through red tape for telehealth services.

Whew. So not so different, right?

Of course, there are provisions that were included in one proposal and not the other. Some of those I find most interesting include:

1. Charitable Contribution Provisions. The Senate bill would provide that some individual charitable contributions be treated as above-the-line. That means that you would not have to itemize to claim those deductions – something that many taxpayers have grappled with because of the increased standard deduction under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that took effect in 2018. Additionally, the bill would also temporarily suspend the limits under section 170(b) and (d) on cash donations for individuals and modifies limits for charitable contributions from corporations. Restrictions apply (of course).

  • The House bill does not address those provisions.

2. Restrictions On Aid. The House bill would put restrictions on corporations that receive federal aid. This includes limits on executive bonuses, bans on golden parachutes (excess compensation for executives with separation packages), stock buybacks (yes, again), dividend payments, and spending money on lobbyists. The House bill also infamously included “green” provisions as criteria for airline bailouts. 

  • The Senate proposal did not impose many restrictions, and definitely not this specific. 

3. Voting. The House proposal included 60-some pages of voting legislation.

  • The Senate did not address voting in its proposal.

4. Funding. The House bill included hundreds of pages providing funding for various federal agencies to address the coronavirus response. To be fair, the bill did come out of the Appropriations Committee, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised…

  • The Senate did not include federal funding at the same levels or with the same detail. 

Remember: these are just proposals. And this just a quick look – you can find a deeper dive (with links to the text of the bills) in my summary of the Senate bill here, and you can skim my recap of House bill here.

Yes, there are differences. Loads and loads of differences. But there are also similarities. Hopefully, Congress can build on the shared bits and reach a compromise. Changes are coming, and I’ll keep you posted.

One more thing: this bill is in addition to H.R. 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law on March 18, 2020. You can read more about the highlights of the bill in our prior coverage here. It’s also in addition to the $8.3 billion emergency health package, which was passed earlier this month. 

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.

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