October Ushers in Ongoing COVID-19 Relief Talks and Visa Fee News
October 9, 2020
As Election Nears, COVID-19 Relief Talks Pause, Resume, and Refocus
Negotiations over the next federal relief package are continuing, even as the context for finding a bipartisan agreement is fraught amid the rapidly approaching election and the upcoming Supreme Court nomination process. Congressional leadership and the White House have been locked in disagreement over the approach and overall price tag for the next COVID-19 aid package, even as essential forms of relief created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) expire.
Despite the on-again, off-again headlines surrounding relief talks, policy leaders do continue to negotiate the fine print of possible elements of a new package, and ongoing advocacy by orchestras is essential. While the House is not expected to be back in session until after the November elections, policymakers could be called back to Washington for a vote on a breakthrough.
On October 1, the House passed its latest relief proposal, which includes expanded employee retention and rehiring tax credits, Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans, pension relief, pandemic unemployment benefits, broadband and public education funding, and direct federal relief funding to support the arts. The League of American Orchestras has summarized the key policy changes and additions in this updated version of the House’s earlier HEROES Act, and we continue to partner with the broader nonprofit and arts sectors to advance specific policy provisions to support orchestras and their workforces.
While many orchestras are contacting Congressional offices through the League’s COVID-19 online advocacy campaign, we encourage you to reach out with direct personal contacts to policy leaders. Please inform of those contacts, which we will reinforce as negotiations continue.
SBA Releases Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Updates
Yesterday, the Small Business Administration released a new Form 3508S Loan Forgiveness Application and instructions, providing a streamlined process for Paycheck Protection Program borrowers with loans of $50,000 or less, requiring fewer calculations and less documentation to complete the loan forgiveness process. Those pursuing forgiveness for loans in excess of $50,000 will continue to use the standard Form and Form EZ released in mid-June.
Background about the Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness process is available on the League’s federal relief resource page, where orchestras can also access the League’s dedicated webinars and legal assistance portal. The first round of Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans provided a lifeline of resources that saved jobs and supported the capacity of orchestras to deliver on their mission in partnership with communities. More than 1 million nonprofit jobs have been lost amid the COVID-19 crisis. Orchestras are partnering with the broader sector to seek #relief4charities today and asking Congress to include a second round of expanded PPP forgivable loans in the next COVID relief package.
Universal Charitable Deduction and the Latest Giving Trends
Building on years of advocacy by orchestras in partnership with the broader nonprofit sector, a new universal charitable deduction was created under the CARES Act in March, allowing the growing number of taxpayers who do not itemize their returns to receive a tax deduction of up to $300 per tax return for cash charitable donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations during calendar year 2020.
A statement by the Charitable Giving Coalition this week, in which the League is a partner, calls on Congress to lift the cap on the universal charitable deduction and extend the incentive beyond 2020, pointing to the latest quarterly data from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. The report shows a 7.5 percent increase in overall charitable giving and a 7.2 percent increase in the number of donors for the first half of 2020, as compared to the same time in 2019. The biggest increase in gifts came from those donors giving $250 or less at 19.2 percent.
New Visa Fee and Forms on Pause, but Congress Approves PPS Hike
Orchestras that engage international guest artists should be aware that the new forms and fees that were to go into effect October 2 have been paused due to a nationwide preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Petitioners should continue to use the current version of the Form I-129 (dated 01/27/20) and $460 filing fee for O and P visas for the time being.
While the I-129 form, filing fee, and process remain unchanged for now due to the injunction, the continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating contained authorization for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to increase the fee for Premium Processing Service (PPS) to expedite petition processing from $1,440 up to $2,500. There is no word on when this fee will go into effect, but legal action to prevent the fee increase seems likely. For now, petitioners using the Premium Processing Service should continue to file Form I-907 with the $1,440 PPS fee. More details are available on the League’s dedicated website, Artists from Abroad.