IRS Gives Employers Guidance On Claiming ARP Tax Credits For Paid COVID Leave

April 27, 2021

Small and midsize employers and government employers interested in claiming refundable tax credits allowed by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARP”) to reimburse the employer for the cost of providing ARP-mandated paid sick and family leave to their employees due to COVID-19 (“COVID Leave”) between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 should review the new fact sheet designated FS-2021-09 (“FS-2021-9”) published by the Internal Revenue Service on April 21, 2021.

ARP Paid Sick And Family Leave For Which Tax Credits Can Be Claimed

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) required employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide employees with paid sick leave (“COVID Paid Leave”) or expanded family and medical leave (“COVID Unpaid Leave”) for specified reasons (“COVID Events”) related to COVID-19 through December 31, 2020, but provided for Covered Employers to be reimbursed for these expenditures through employment tax credits claimed by the employer.

Although the FFCRA COVID Paid Leave mandate expired on December 31, 2021 and was not revived or extended by ARP, ARP preserved and extended the availability of the employment tax credits for eligible employers opting to voluntarily continue to provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees between December 31, 2021 and September 30, 2021.  Thus, ARP authorizes employers of 500 or fewer employees that voluntarily provide COVID Paid Leave for all employees to claim a tax credit against their employment taxes.

While the FFCRA mandate was in effect, Covered Employers generally were required to excuse from work and pay the a percentage of the employee’s regular pay up to the specified statutory cap (“COVID Pay”) to any employee unable to work due to a COVID Event until the first work shift that begins on or after the earlier of the following dates:

  • The termination of the need for the COVID Paid Leave; or
  • The date the employee exhausts his maximum entitlement to Paid COVID Leave.

Employers Eligible To Claim ARP Tax Credit

The ARP tax credits generally are available to any eligible employer that voluntarily pays the COVID Paid Leave previously mandated by FFCRA through September 30, 2021.  An eligible employer is any business, including a tax-exempt organization, with fewer than 500 employees. An eligible employer also includes a governmental employer, other than the federal government and any agency or instrumentality of the federal government that is not an organization described in section 501(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. Self-employed individuals also are eligible for similar tax credits.  FS-2021-9 clarifies how employers that provide COVID Paid Leave can claim the ARP employment tax credits.

ARP Tax Credit Amounts

The ARP paid leave credits are tax credits against the employer’s share of the Medicare tax. The tax credits are refundable, which means that the employer is entitled to payment of the full amount of the credits if it exceeds the employer’s share of the Medicare tax.

The tax credit for paid sick leave wages is equal to the sick leave wages paid for COVID-19 related reasons for up to 80 hours for full-time employees (or for each part-time employee, up to the average number of hours such employee works over a 2-week period), limited to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate, at 100 percent of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The tax credit for paid family leave wages is equal to the family leave wages paid for up to twelve weeks, limited to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate, at 2/3rds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The amount of these tax credits is increased by allocable health plan expenses and contributions for certain collectively bargained benefits, as well as the employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes paid on the wages (up to the respective daily and total caps).

Claiming The Credit

Eligible employers may claim tax credits for sick and family leave paid to employees, including leave taken to receive or recover from COVID-19 vaccinations, for leave  between April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021.

Eligible employers report their total paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages) for each quarter on their federal employment tax return.  Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return is used by most employers to report income tax and social security and Medicare taxes withheld from employee wages, as well as the employer’s own share of social security and Medicare taxes.

In anticipation of claiming the credits on the Form 941, FS-2021-9 confirms eligible employers can keep the federal employment taxes that they otherwise would have deposited, including federal income tax withheld from employees, the employees’ share of social security and Medicare taxes and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes with respect to all employees up to the amount of credit for which they are eligible. The Form 941 instructions  explain how to reflect the reduced liabilities for the quarter related to the deposit schedule.

If an eligible employer does not have enough federal employment taxes set aside for deposit to cover amounts provided as paid sick and family leave wages (plus the eligible health plan expenses and collectively bargained contributions and the eligible employer’s share of social security and Medicare taxes on the paid leave wages), the eligible employer may request an advance of the credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19. The eligible employer will account for the amounts received as an advance when it files its Form 941for the relevant quarter.

FS-2021-9 states that self-employed individuals may claim comparable tax credits on their individual Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Reminder About Complying With ARP COVID-19 Premium Subsidy Mandates

Employers also should keep in mind that while ARP made paying COVID Paid Leave voluntary, compliance with ARP’s COVID Premium Subsidy rule is mandatory for covered group health plans and their sponsors.  Covered group health plans generally include all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA); group health plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act and group health insurance required to comply with state mini-COBRA laws.

ARP’s COBRA Premium Subsidy rules dictate that covered group health plans offer and allow individuals previously enrolled in employee or dependent coverage who qualify as “assistance eligible individuals” to reinstate if necessary and continue health benefits by enrolling in continuation coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (“COBRA Coverage”) at no charge during their applicable Premium Subsidy Period, but simultaneously allows employer or other sponsors of these group health plans to claim an employment tax credit to reimburse the employer or other health plan sponsor for the amount of the foregone COBRA premiums.

Assistance eligible individuals generally are COBRA qualified beneficiaries who lost coverage under the group health plan due to an involuntary reduction in hours or termination of employment enrolled in COBRA Coverage between April 1, 2021 and September 31, 2021 including those qualifying event was an involuntary employment loss occurring during the 18-month period (29-months for individuals qualifying for extended COBRA eligibility due to disability) prior to April 1, 2021 not enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021.  This generally includes COBRA qualified beneficiaries whose loss of group health coverage results from an involuntary employment reduction or loss for a reason other than gross misconduct after  ARP’s enactment on March 11, 2021 as well as qualified beneficiaries whose involuntary employment loss happened before the effective date who but for their previous failure to elect COBRA or to maintain COBRA Coverage would still be entitled to COBRA Coverage because less than 18 months (29 months for qualified beneficiaries disabled on the date of coverage loss who qualify for extension of the disability coverage period) has elapsed since their employment loss and an event has not occurred following the coverage termination that would terminate their COBRA eligibility before the end of such otherwise applicable maximum COBRA eligibility period.  Group health plans must offer a second opportunity to enroll in COBRA Coverage with COBRA premium assistance to qualified beneficiaries eligible for premium assistance not enrolled in COBRA Coverage as of April 1, 2021.

Assistance eligible individuals who timely enroll in COBRA Coverage with premium assistance generally must receive COBRA Coverage free of charge from the group health plan for any coverage period during the period that begins on or after April 1, 2021 until the earliest of the following dates (the “Premium Subsidy Period”):[1]

  • The date the qualified beneficiary is eligible[2] for coverage under any other group health plan (other than coverage consisting of only excepted benefits,[3] coverage under a health flexible spending arrangement under Code Section 106(c)(2), coverage under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement under Code Section 9831(d)(2) or eligible for benefits under the Medicare program under title XVIII of the Social Security Act;
  • The date of the expiration of the otherwise applicable maximum period of COBRA continuation coverage under Code Section 4980B (other than due to a failure to elect or discontinuation of coverage for nonpayment of COBRA premium that occurred before April 1, 2021).

To implement these rules, ARP also requires that no later than May 31, 2021, covered group health plan administrators notify eligible qualified beneficiaries eligible to obtain COBRA coverage due to a reduction in hours or termination of employment with premium assistance during their Premium Subsidy Period.  In addition to notifying employees and dependents experiencing employment loss related terminations of group health plan coverage of these rules on or after April 1, 2021, the ARP COBRA Premium Subsidy rules also require covered group health plans to notify certain former covered employees or dependents that lost coverage due to a loss of reduction in hours of employment within the last 18 (or in the case of an individual disabled on the date of the loss of coverage meeting certain other rules, potentially 29) months prior to April 1, 2021 qualify to enroll in COBRA coverage at no cost from April 1, 2021 through the end of the Premium Subsidy Period.  Group health plans also are required to send a notification to assistance eligible individuals that elect to enroll using the COBRA Premium Subsidy when their COBRA Premium Subsidy Period expiration is impending.

Regulatory guidance released by the Employee Benefit Security Administration on April 7, 2021 includes model notices and other preliminary guidance on the COBRA Premium Assistance Rules.

Compliance with these requirements is critical for group health plans and their employer or other sponsors.  Plans and their administrators can face administrative sanctions, lawsuits brought by assistance eligible individuals or the Department of Labor or both.  Additionally, as COBRA is one of the 40 laws listed in Internal Revenue Code section 6039D, employer or other plan sponsors of noncompliant plans could become responsible for self-identifying, reporting, self-assessing and paying excise taxes if the violation is not corrected by the due date of their business tax return (without extensions).

To mitigate the impact of complying with the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule, the employer or other entity that bears the cost of providing the COBRA Premium Subsidy should investigate and, if applicable, claim the ARP authorized employment tax credit.  Section 6432 of ARP authorizes the following party  to claim a quarterly tax credit toward the employment taxes under Internal Revenue Code section 3111(b), or so much of the taxes imposed under section 3221(a) as attributable to the rate in effect under section 3111(b), for each calendar quarter.  The amount of the available tax credit is equal to the premiums paid on behalf of the assistance eligible individuals for COBRA Coverage under the COBRA Premium Subsidy rule:

  • If the group health plan is a “multiemployer plan” under ERISA section 3(37), the plan;
  • If the group health plan is not a multiemployer plan and either (a) subject to COBRA or (b) is a plan under which some or all of the coverage is not provided by insurance, and (c), is not a multiemployer plan, the employer; and
  • In the case of any group health plan not described in paragraph (1) or (2), the insurer providing the coverage under the group health plan.

The credit allowed under these provisions for any calendar quarter can’t exceed the tax imposed under those sections for the calendar quarter (reduced by any credits allowed against such taxes under sections 3131, 3132, and 3134) on the wages paid with respect to the employment of all employees of the employer.  Rather, ARP provides that if the amount of the credit allowed exceeds the amount of tax due for that calendar quarter, such excess is treated as an overpayment refundable under Code sections 6402(a) and 6413(b).   Moreover, ARP allows for the credit, including the refundable portion under subparagraph (A),to be advanced, according to forms and instructions provided by the Secretary through the end of the most recent payroll period in the quarter and authorizes the Secretary of Treasury to waive any penalty under section 6656 for any failure to make a deposit of the employment taxes tax imposed by section 3111(b) or section 3221(a)  where the failure was due to the anticipation of the credit allowed under this section.

ARP includes various other rules regarding the calculation and claiming of the credits and for handling situations where assistance eligible individuals make payments which should have been waived.  The Department of Treasury is expected to issue guidance about these and other details of regarding the COBRA Premium Subsidy rules tax credit provisions soon.  Stay tuned for added guidance.

More Information

If you need assistance or would like additional information about these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here.

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