What Is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law March 18, 2020, as the second major legislative initiative designed to address COVID-19. The FFCRA, effective April 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, provided expanded nutrition assistance, paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment insurance coverage, free coronavirus testing, and increased federal Medicaid funding.
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided funding for Americans suffering from food insecurity.
- COVID-19-related family medical and paid sick leave was mandated for employees.
- Tax credits to reimburse employers for both sick leave and family medical leave was available to stated limits.
- Free COVID-19 testing for everyone was part of the FFCRA, but treatment was not covered.
- The act provided extended unemployment benefits and additional funding to states.
The table below shows how funds were apportioned for each provision of the FFCRA. Amounts listed include only direct appropriated funds. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), this law will increase federal deficits by $192 billion between 2020 and 2030.
|$500,000,000||Nutrition - WIC program||Sep. 30, 2021|
|$400,000,000||Nutrition - TEFAP program||Sep. 30, 2021|
|As needed||Nutrition - SNAP program||Sep. 30, 2021|
|$100,000,000||Nutrition - U.S. Territories||Sep. 30, 2021|
|$250,000,000||Nutrition - Seniors, Native Americans, and Disabled||Sep. 30, 2021|
|As needed||Paid Sick Leave||Dec. 31, 2020|
|As needed||Family and Medical Leave||Dec. 31, 2020|
|$1,000,000,000||Unemployment Insurance||Sep. 30, 2021|
|$82,000,000||Testing - Defense Dept.||Sep. 30, 2022|
|$64,000,000||Testing - Indian Health Service||Sep. 30, 2022|
|$1,000,000,000||Testing - Uninsured||Expended|
|$60,000,000||Testing - Veterans||Sep. 30, 2022|
|$15,000,000||Operations Support||Sep. 30, 2022|
|$3,471,000,000||Total + additional as needed|
Source: H.R. 6201 and FFCRA Summary
This provision addresses four nutrition programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including an allowance to households normally eligible for free or reduced breakfast or lunch if the child's school has been closed due to COVID-19, and a program serving U.S. territories (Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa).
Additionally, the legislation allows for waivers on:
- The physical presence requirement under WIC during recertification
- Anthropometric and bloodwork nutritional risk requirements under WIC
- Other administrative requirements not possible due to COVID-19
- Work and work training requirements for the SNAP program
- Certain SNAP application, issuance, and reporting requirements
Emergency Paid Leave
Two provisions of the FFCRA provide up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave plus an additional 12 weeks (10 of those weeks paid) of expanded family and medical leave for reasons related to COVID-19.
Employees can substitute EPSLA leave or regular accrued leave for the 10 days of unpaid leave in EFMLEA.
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) required employers with fewer than 500 employees to grant workers up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave:
- At their regular rate of pay (up to $511 per day with a cap of $5,110) if the employee is unable to work due to being quarantined or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
- At two-thirds of their regular rate of pay (up to $200 per day with a cap of $2,000) if the employee is unable to work because they are caring for someone under quarantine or a child (under 18) whose school is closed due to COVID-19 or the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis
Self-employed individuals could claim a sick leave tax credit equal to the amounts above (or an equivalent percentage of their "average daily self-employment income," whichever is less) for up to ten days.
The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) required employers with fewer than 500 employees to grant up to an additional 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave with 10 of those weeks paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay if the employee is unable to work (including telework) to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed due to COVID-19.
Full-time workers were eligible for 80 hours of paid leave. Part-time employees received paid leave equal to the average number of hours they work in a two-week period. There was no waiting period or accrual required for paid sick leave. Benefits were not retroactive and could not be carried forward. The employee was not required to find a replacement and was not required to use accrued sick leave before taking advantage of leave provided by EPSLA or EFMLEA.
The first two weeks (of 12) under EFMLEA may be unpaid, but the employee can use other paid leave if available including EPSLA leave. To be eligible for EFMLEA, the employee must be covered under Title I of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and have worked for the employer for at least 30 days. This leave includes job protection as provided by the FMLA.
Self-employed individuals could claim up to $200 per day or 67% of their "average daily self-employment income" (whichever is less) for up to 10 weeks of family leave.
Employers were permitted to exclude healthcare providers or emergency responders from EPSLA and EFMLEA leave. If the employer does allow leave, it must be paid according to guidelines for EPSLA and EFMLEA.
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from paid sick leave or family and medical leave for child care if granting the leave would jeopardize the viability of the business.
Employer Tax Credits
Employers required to extend paid sick leave and/or emergency family and medical leave will receive refundable tax credits to offset the costs of providing this leave. The credits allowed will be for the full cost of benefits (leave) extended to employees (up to the limits noted above).
Employers will report total qualified leave wages and the related credits for each quarter on their federal employment tax returns (typically Form 941). In anticipation of receiving the credits, employers can fund leave wages (including health plan expenses and the employer's share of Medicare taxes) by withdrawing that amount from employment taxes and withheld income taxes required to be deposited with the IRS. Employers can also request an advance using Form 7200 Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.
Self-employed individuals who would be entitled to receive sick or family leave if employed by a regular employer can claim an income tax credit to offset their federal self-employment for any taxable year equal to their “qualified sick leave equivalent amount” or “qualified family leave equivalent amount.” They can do this by withholding an appropriate amount from estimated tax payments for 2020 or claiming the credit on their Form 1040 files in 2021.
If your employer closed your worksite prior to April 1, 2020, making you ineligible for sick or family leave benefits, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits.
The legislation increases unemployment benefits by nearly $1 billion in state grants. States with high unemployment and workers who have exhausted benefits already receive additional funding.
States also have access to interest-free loans to help pay unemployment benefits through Dec. 31, 2020, and states with a 10% or higher unemployment rate compared to the previous year will receive 100% federal funding for extended benefits. Normally this is a 50% match.
Testing and Health Provisions
The FFCRA includes provisions to make testing for COVID-19 free to everyone without deductibles or copayments. Included waivers allow testing costs to be covered by government programs or insurance.
The legislation also provides a temporary 6.2% increase in Medicaid payments to states so long as the states promise not to restrict eligibility or charge cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing services or treatment.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) gets coverage of diagnostic products related to COVID-19 along with additional funding for testing veterans, members of Native American tribes, and testing costs for uninsured Americans.
U.S. Congress. "H.R. 6201." Accessed Apr. 20, 2020.
CBO. "H.R. 6201." Accessed Apr. 30, 2020.
KFF. "The Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Summary of Key Provisions." Accessed Apr. 20, 2020.
Federal Register. "Paid Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act." Accessed Apr. 20, 2020.
DOL. "Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers." Accessed Apr. 20, 2020.
IRS. "COVID-19-Related Tax Credits for Required Paid Leave Provided by Small and Midsize Businesses FAQs." Accessed Apr. 20, 2020.
Internal Revenue Service. "About Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19." Accessed 4/20/20.