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. So far, three coronavirus stimulus bills have been signed into law with a fourth currently in the planning stages.

The Act, which is effective April 1 through December 31, 2020, addresses the impact of COVID-19 on the domestic front by providing expanded nutrition assistance, paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment insurance coverage, free coronavirus testing, and increased federal Medicaid funding.

Key Takeaways

  • The Families First Act provides key nutrition funding for Americans suffering from food insecurity.
  • COVID-19-related family medical and paid sick leave are mandated for employees.
  • Tax credits to reimburse employers for both sick leave and family medical leave are available to stated limits.
  • Free coronavirus testing for everyone is part of the FFCRA, but treatment is not covered.
  • The act provides extended unemployment benefits and additional funding to states.

Appropriations

The table below shows how funds are 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.

Amount Budget Line Until
$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, & Disabled Sep. 30, 2021
As needed Paid Sick Leave Dec. 31, 2020
As needed Family & 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 

Nutrition Assistance

This provision addresses four nutrition programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFEP), 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 been closed due to COVID-19, and a program serving U.S. territories (Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Roco, 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 unpaid leave in EFMLEA.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to grant workers up to two weeks (80 hours) 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 diagnosis

Self-employed individuals can claim a sick leave tax credit equal to the amounts above (or an equivalent percent of their "average daily self-employment income," whichever is less) for up to ten days.

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) requires 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 childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19.

Full-time workers are eligible for 80 hours paid leave. Part-time employees receive paid leave equal to the average number of hours they work in a two-week period. There is no waiting period or accrual required for paid sick leave. Benefits are not retroactive and cannot be carried forward. The employee is not required to find a replacement and is 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 FMLA and have worked for the employer for at least 30 days. This leave includes job protection as provide by the FMLA.

Self-employed individuals can claim a 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.

Special Situations

Employers may 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 childcare 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.

Unemployment Insurance

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 December 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

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 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.