May 14, 2020
Yesterday the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued updates to its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) guidance on the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) Loans, and added Questions/Answers (Q&A) 45 and 46, with the latter Q&A being directly related to the certification issues, and to the corresponding May 14th deadline for the return of funds as a “safe harbor” from civil and criminal penalties relating to the certification of need.
As previously reported, the PPP applications required borrowers to certify that “current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.” Until its issuance of this Q&A, the SBA’s guidance suggested that it would seek to impose civil and criminal penalties relating to the certification as a first resort, if it determined that the loan was unnecessary. In doing so, the SBA induced a sense of fear; and then further induced a sense of urgency by offering the safe harbor from such penalties, allowing borrowers to return the funds on or before May 7th to avoid such penalties. Such deadline was further extended to May 14th.
The U.S. Supreme Court finally rendered its decision in U.S. v. Quality Stores, Inc., 572 U.S. ____ (2014), on March 25, 2014, in a closely watched tax case. The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and found that severance pay is to be considered wages, and therefore subject to Federal Insurance Contribution Act (“FICA”) taxes.
This holding dashed the expectations created by the Sixth Circuit’s holding that severance pay was not subject to FICA taxes. Many businesses had already filed refund claims based on the Sixth Circuit decision, and many more were in the process. Those refund claims are now most likely going to be denied.
The taxpayer, Quality Stores, Inc., paid severance to hundreds of employees while undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. In its originally filed payroll tax returns, the taxpayer paid roughly $1 million of FICA tax on those severance payments. It later sought a refund of those payments while in bankruptcy, which then placed jurisdiction with the U.S Bankruptcy Court, rather than the U.S. Tax Court. That jurisdictional position seemed to work in the taxpayer’s favor, as the Bankruptcy Court found in favor of the taxpayer, as did the Michigan District Court on review of the decision.