As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis wages on, our team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is well aware that residents across New York are harboring great uncertainty about their safety, benefits, and future financial well-being. That’s especially true for workers on construction and trade laborers who’ve been impacted by a number of evolving directives relating to COVID-19.
During these uncertain times, empowering yourself with the facts can make all the difference.
As we know, updates unfold on a daily basis; our firm has put together a list of recent developments regarding COVID-19 and their impact on local workers in New York City.
Non-Essential Construction Halted
On Friday, April 3, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a more decisive step toward social distancing with an amendment to his Executive Order to halt all non-essential construction. The new guidelines include:
- All non-essential construction on buildings and sites in New York will be halted, with the exception of emergency construction (i.e., projects necessary to protect the health and safety of building occupants, including construction on infrastructure, affordable and homeless housing, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals, and health care facilities; construction on projects that would pose a danger to the public if left incomplete; work by a single person; and projects approved separately by the city).
- Social distancing directives will apply to every construction site, especially for the purposes of entry and exit, meals, and elevators. Employers that fail to provide a safe work site and adhere to social distancing policies may be closed and fined up to $10,000 per violation.
Stimulus Relief Plan
On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan to help Americans navigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. As the largest stimulus package in U.S. history, the Act provides relief in the form of direct stimulus payments, expanded unemployment, tax credits, and nearly $350 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses that keep workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis.
- Direct Stimulus Payments: Most individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect a one-time $1,200 cash payment. Married couples would each receive checks, and families would get $500 per child. Payments are phased down after the $75,000 threshold and will not be made to individuals who make more than $99,000 and couples making more than $198,000.
- Unemployment Benefits: Unemployment benefits will be expanded by an additional $600 per week above the state unemployment benefit for eligible workers (through July 31), and an additional 13 weeks, up to a total of 39 weeks (through December 31).
- Retirement Accounts: Money withdrawn from a retirement account (i.e., a 401k) will not incur a 10% penalty for early withdrawals up to $100,000 if the withdrawal is due to COVID-19. Though withdrawals will still be taxed, taxes on withdrawals made during the public health emergency can be spread out over a three-year period. Required minimum distributions from individual retirement accounts have been suspended for 2020, and 401(k) account holders can withdraw up to $100,000 (or 100% of their balance, whichever is less) through the end of 2020. Anyone with an outstanding loan balance to be repaid this year can extend repayment for one year.
- Insurance Coverage: Under the CARES Act, all private insurance plans must cover COVID-19 treatments and vaccine, and make all coronavirus tests free.
- Student Loan Relief: All federally owned student loans and interest payments can be temporarily deferred through September 30 without penalty to the borrower.
- Safety Net Programs: Following the first wave of funding for major food security programs provided under the Families First Act, the CARES Act allocates $8.8 billion for schools providing student meals, $15.5 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and $450 million for food banks and other community food distribution programs.
In addition to relief for individuals, the CARES Act also helps small businesses with 500 or fewer employees, chiefly by way of emergency grants (up to $10,000) for small businesses to cover immediate operating costs, forgivable loans of up to $10M per business to maintain payroll and keep workers on the books, and six-months payment coverage for businesses with existing SBA loans.
As guidance is evolving and each case is different, it remains to be seen whether workers who contract COVID-19 due to workplace exposure will qualify for benefits under workers’ compensation. This is likely to be a controversial topic, and claimants should expect challenges in their cases.
Read our blog: Does Workers’ Comp Cover Coronavirus?
The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.: Supporting Workers & NYC Amid COVID-19
As a firm that’s served residents of NYC in the wake of 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and other times of turbulence, our team at The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. knows the coronavirus health emergency is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Still, we are confident in the strength and resiliency of our communities and stand by our fellow residents, workers, and clients as we navigate this journey together.
Though our firm is complying with social distancing directives and has closed our physical offices, we are working remotely and remain available to new and current clients. Call or contact us online to request a consultation.