OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard: Guidance on Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination/Testing

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published its Emergency Temporary Standard, which requires most U.S. employers with 100 or more employees to adopt a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy with an option to include an alternative weekly testing program.  The ETS is effective immediately and employers have until December 5, 2021, to comply with all of the requirements of the ETS, except for the weekly testing option for employees who have not been fully vaccinated.  While the ETS has already been legally challenged, employers should begin preparing for compliance. 

Response to the Great Resignation

Response to the Great Resignation

Covid has changed a lot of things, especially how some people view their relationship with work. While the search for work-life balance is not new, the pandemic and a heightened focus on workplace equity is at the forefront of many people’s minds, and they are starting to take action.

In what some are calling “the Great Resignation,” employees are leaving their jobs in higher than usual numbers to pursue better opportunities. What defines better opportunities is not necessarily the same now as it was pre-pandemic, when pay scales and benefits packages often served as driving forces. Now, what motivates a significant portion of workers, especially in younger generations, is a more holistic approach to life that includes addressing personal and important societal needs.

In this article, we discuss the following:

Data Reflecting Job Market Trends

During the pandemic, millions lost their jobs and many more struggled with underemployment. As our country begins to open up again and returning to work is on everyone’s mind, one would think that employers should easily be able to meet their staffing needs. However, when it comes to post-pandemic recruiting and retention, workers find themselves in the driver’s seat.

Recent survey data shows some interesting trends. Most importantly, people are not jumping to get back into the workforce, and for those fortunate enough to remain employed through the pandemic, they do not feel compelled to stay in their current jobs.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites several surveys indicating that employee departures will rise as the pandemic subsides. Such predictions are supported by the recent U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) which reported that the combined number of people who voluntarily left their jobs in April and May 2021 totaled more than 7 million.

The Pandemic Changed Attitudes About Working From Home

As employers begin to roll out return to work plans, the ability to work remotely is of particular importance for employees and prospective job applicants. Eighty percent of Americans working from home during the pandemic enjoyed the arrangement according to 2020 research by McKinsey & Company. Over half of respondents reported that they were as or more productive than working in an office.

Workers Weigh in on Remote, Hybrid, or In-Person Strategies

study by the Becker Freidman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, published in July 2021, reveals that only a little over half of respondents (58 percent) would willingly follow their employer’s requirement to report to a business location five days a week. More than one-third (36 percent) would comply but start looking for a new position, and six percent would quit immediately.

Some workers might even give up a pay raise to remain fully remote. A recent Forbes article revealed that 64 percent of employees at prominent employers, such as Amazon, Goldman Sachs, and QualComm, would forgo a $30,000 salary bump to continue working from home.

These research results are compelling, but do not tell the whole story, as this sea change is not based solely on remote work opportunities. There are a variety of reasons coming together in a perfect storm to create this great exodus.

Factors Contributing to the Increase in Turnover

Since March 2020, a number of forces have refocused societal priorities and challenged people to rethink how they approach work and their lives. These various factors create an environment of escalating quit rates and labor shortages, forcing many employers to scramble as they try to address these concerns.

Flexible Working Arrangements

Covid response demanded many employers adopt work from home scenarios. This arrangement was a positive development for some employers and employees. For many workers, this autonomy was crucial as Covid-19 closed schools, daycare centers, and other avenues that provided family member care before the lockdown. As family demands continue, people are turning to their employers for support and seeking accommodations that proved workable over the past year and a half plus.

Additionally, there is a set of workers (Millennials & Gen Z) who do not define their lives by work. They see their career trajectories as having multiple employers, varying opportunities, and the ability to live wherever they feel at home, but still have viable employment prospects. They envision their careers as supporting their personal as well as professional goals as they seek to harness the best work-life balance.

Discrimination and Equity Concerns

The events of Summer 2020, focused our attention on the broad issue of discrimination (i.e., race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) in a way that has not happened since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Today, disparities in hiring, compensation, advancement opportunities, access to childcare, and many other work-related issues rank highly on workers’ checklists when evaluating if a company is a right fit. While many companies feel they have addressed these issues with appropriate policies and procedures, employees now expect more than lip service. Actions demonstrate a company’s commitment.

Employees are demanding more transparency and open communication from employers in all areas of the work relationship. They seek a comfort level that the company they work for sees them as individuals, values their contributions, and compensates them fairly. Additionally, being associated with an organization that supports equity in our communities and is motivated to play a role in resolving societal injustices also resonates with many of today’s job seekers.

A Meaningful Life

Living through a pandemic has given many people a new perspective. They desire to contribute more to society than simply completing their assigned tasks and bringing home paychecks. They want the work they perform and the goods and services they provide to improve the world in some way.

This desire to make the world a better place ties into the focus on eliminating societal inequities, but most people recognize that they may not be able to affect groundbreaking change or touch millions. So, for them, impacting their corner of the world — the people they interact with on a daily basis — is a starting point, and they expect their work environment to support that goal.

Covid-19 Related Issues

Employer return to work plans also play a direct role in creating the Great Resignation. Employers want to bring their employees back into the workplace safely, and employees wish to feel safe while there. However, how each employer and individual reaches that comfort level is different and such distinctions often cause friction, even polarizing coworkers, supervisors, and leadership.

Corporate vaccination policies are such an issue. Some employers are encouraging their workforces to take the vaccine; others have mandated it. For a certain population of employees, mandatory vaccination is untenable, and they will refuse, instead opting to resign or be fired. This situation is unfolding in the healthcare sector and spreading to others.

Even without mandatory vaccination policies, masking, social distancing, and testing protocols may also prove to be divisive, driving employees to leave organizations that impose policies with which they do not agree.

The Implications of High Resignation Rates

Rapid and extensive turnover is disruptive and expensive. The cost is both in hard dollars spent to recruit and train new hires and also in loss of institutional knowledge.

Productivity is likely to be impacted as those hired ramp up and learn their new responsibilities. Existing employees may feel overworked and underappreciated as they shoulder the burden of a reduced and green workforce. If open positions remain unfilled, companies may struggle to fulfill organizational goals, serve customers, and prosper.

Preventing an Employee Exodus

As worker expectations shift, employers must adjust, reevaluating how to attract and retain talent. This process is not confined to examining HR functions alone but involves assessing corporate culture. Core business needs must be met, but they must be balanced against emerging employee interests.

Some areas of consideration to solidify employee retention and recruitment include:

  • Opening lines of communication to not only hear employee concerns but also share insight into leadership decisions
    • If leadership agrees to transparency, fulfill that promise
  • Offering employees flexibility in structuring their workweek to the extent it aligns with the organization’s business plan and operations
  • Furnishing avenues for emotional and mental support
  • Updating job descriptions so they accurately represent each position
    • Avoid hiding the less desirable aspects of jobs, so candidates have appropriate expectations before accepting positions
  • Providing training and other pathways to upskill existing employees
  • Establishing onboarding, mentoring, and job opportunity processes to make people want to stay longer
    • These steps may foster a sense of accomplishment, engagement and commitment to the company
  • Conducting “stay interviews” to uncover employee needs, concerns, and complaints
    • Waiting until exit interviews does little to fortify retention
  • Training managers & supervisors to understand and support these initiatives

By reviewing some or all of these areas, leadership may discover that the policies and procedures relied upon for years no longer provide the company with protection against a talent drain.

How RealHR May Help You Address the Great Resignation

Every company is unique in what they add to the marketplace and the culture they adopt internally, so addressing the causes of the Great Resignation will differ from company to company. However, what every assessment has in common is the need for significant evaluation and realistic recommendations that align with organizational goals.

At RealHR, we have the knowledge and years of experience to help point you in the right direction. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you as you consider your options and examine your hiring and talent retention concerns.

The blog should not be construed as legal advice

The American Rescue Plan Act

The American Rescue Plan Act
In the continuing saga of the CARES Act regulations, Congress just released the 4th sequel … The American Rescue Plan Act. The Act provides an additional $1.88 trillion in federal support, making it the second largest federal stimulus package, behind only the CARES Act.
The Act is made up of 11 sections or Titles. While the Act provides significant benefit to so many classes of people, we will briefly discuss the main components of each of the Titles:

Title I – Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
·         Food Supply Chain and Agriculture ($4 billion): In addition to direct food purchases, the Act provides funding to make grants and loans for small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to COVID–19, including for measures to protect workers against COVID–19; and to make loans and grants and provide other assistance to maintain and improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency.
·         Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: Provides funds to pay-off certain government loans, training and education, improved land access, and grants to improve the overall business for qualified farmers and ranchers.
·         Nutrition (SNAP Program $1.15 billion): The Act extends the 15% increase in SNAP benefits scheduled to expire June 30, 2021 through September 30, 2021 to continue to provide food support for people in need.  In addition, States will receive additional allotments based upon participants in the SNAP program through September 2023.  Finally, additional funding will be used to make technological improvements in the SNAP on-line purchasing and other systems.
·         Pandemic EBT funding:  The Act will extend the Pandemic EBT program funding, designed to help children who rely on the school lunch program, by allowing families, who normally would receive school lunch assistance when their children attend school in person, to receive the value of those missed school breakfasts and lunches.
·         WIC Program:  The Act provides additional funding to improve access and outreach to the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program, including modernization, to make the program more user friendly.  In addition, the Act increases the amount of Cash Value Voucher benefits to moms and their children.
Title II – Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension
·         Vaccines: The Act set aside $7.5 billion to ensure vaccines reach every community as quickly as possible.  There is also $5.2 billion for BARDA for vaccine and supplies procurement.
·         Testing: The Act provides $48.3 billion for testing in order to contain the virus and mitigate its effects, hire staff for contact tracing, provide PPE for healthcare workers, and take other steps to combat the virus, such as enabling isolation and quarantine.
·         Health Workforce: This bill provides $7.66 billion to bolster the public health workforce and COVID-19 response.
·         Community Health Centers and Health Disparities: The Act delivers immediate relief to frontline providers who serve communities of color and underserved populations hardest hit by the pandemic. This includes $7.6 billion for community health centers, $1.44 billion for Older Americans Act programs, $800 million for the National Health Services Corps, and more.
·         Mental Health: The need for accessible mental health and substance use disorder treatment has skyrocketed during the pandemic. The Act includes $3.88 billion to increase availability of treatment.
·         K-12 Schools: The Act provides over $125 billion for public K-12 schools to safely reopen for in-person learning, address learning loss, and support students as they work to recover from the long-term impacts of the pandemic. The bill includes $122.747 billion in funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER), $800 million in dedicated funding for the identification and provision of wraparound services for students experiencing homelessness, and over $3 billion in funding for programs authorized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Act also includes $2.75 billion for States to provide services to non-public schools that serve a significant percentage of students from low-income families.
·         Higher Ed: The Act provides $39.6 billion for higher education.  At least half of such funding must be spent on emergency financial aid grants to students to help them with college costs and basic needs like food, housing, and health care, with the balance available to institutions of higher education to defray lost revenue and increased costs from declining enrollment, the transition to online learning, closures of revenue-producing services and facilities, and COVID-19 testing, vaccination, PPE, and classroom retrofits.
·         Child Care and Head Start: The Act includes $39 billion for childcare, including nearly $24 billion for Childcare Stabilization grants and nearly $15 billion for the Childcare and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. States must use Childcare Stabilization funds to award subgrants to qualified childcare providers that are either open or temporarily closed to help support their operations during the pandemic. Subgrants can be used for expenses such as personnel expenses, rent and mortgage payments, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, mental health services for children and staff, and other goods and services necessary to maintain or resume operations of the child care provider.
·         Family Violence and Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment: The Act includes $350 million in funding for programs authorized under CAPTA. Families are facing increased stressors related to financial hardship and isolation during this pandemic. This includes $250 million in funding for community-based child abuse prevention programs to provide services to strengthen and support families throughout the pandemic. The funding will ensure that child welfare agencies have the necessary supports to safely prevent, investigate, and treat child abuse and neglect. The proposal also includes funding for domestic violence and sexual assault service providers.
·         LIHEAP and Water Utility Bill Assistance: The Act includes $4.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and $500 million for low-income water assistance.
·         Institute of Museum and Library Services: The Act includes $200 million in funding for libraries through IMLS. These funds will provide emergency relief to over 17,000 public libraries across the country. This funding will allow libraries to safely reopen and implement public health protocols. This emergency relief will enable libraries to provide residents with accessible Wi-Fi, internet hotspots, education resources, expanded digital resources, and workforce development opportunities, which are heavily relied upon services for marginalized individuals.
·         National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities: The Act includes $135 million apiece for the NEA and NEH. These funds will support arts and cultural organizations to address layoffs, budget cuts, and implementation of public health protocols to safely reopen.
Title III – Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
·         Emergency Rental Assistance:  In December, $25 billion in emergency rental assistance to provide support to help families pay back rent and utilities to help keep them in their homes was distributed to states, localities, and territories.  The Act adds an additional $21.55 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance to these funds.
·         Emergency Medical Supplies Enhancement:  The Act sets aside $10 billion to used for the purchase, production (including the construction, repair, and retrofitting of facilities as necessary), or distribution of medical supplies and equipment related to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. 
·         Emergency Housing Vouchers:  $5 billion has been set aside under the ACT for emergency housing vouchers for homeless, at risk of homeless, and recently homeless individuals, as well as individuals who are fleeing from domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other situations. 
·         Housing Counseling: $100 million in grants to housing counseling intermediaries approved by HUD, state housing financing agencies, or NeighborWorks organizations for providing housing counseling services.  This includes helping families to understand the options that are available to them and developing assistance or work-out plans. 
·         Homelessness Assistance and Supportive Services Program:  $5 billion has been reserved to provide tenant based rental assistance, to provide supportive services to individuals or families not already receiving supportive services, to develop affordable housing, and to acquire and develop non-congregate shelter units.  This includes purchasing of properties, such as hotels or motels, that can be converted to emergency shelters or permanent affordable housing.
·         Homeowner Assistance Fund:  There has been no funding dedicated to assist homeowners since the pandemic began, and with more than 3 million homeowners behind on their payments or in foreclosure, funding is critically needed in this area.  The Act sets aside $9.961 billion in funding to provide assistance to homeowners in need.
·         Small Business Credit Initiative:  The Act provides $10 billion to states to help support small businesses with low-interest loans and other investments to help entrepreneurs and small business emerge from the pandemic.
 
 
Title IV – Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
·         FEMA Support: The ACT has provided additional FEMA grant funding for the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program (to assist food pantries and shelters). Assistance to Firefighter Grants and staffing for adequate fire and emergency response grants. In addition, $50 billion has been allocated for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, which will be used to pay for such costs as protective equipment; vaccine distributions; sanitation of schools, public transit, and courthouses; healthcare overtime costs; and other emergency needs brought about by the pandemic, including funeral assistance.
Title V – Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
·         Targeted EIDL Grants:  This provision will allow the SBA to provide funding of up to $10,000 for EIDL grant advances to prior applicants who were ineligible due to prior funding appropriations being fully exhausted.
·         Restaurants Revitalization Fund: This fund will provide grants of up to $10 million to qualified restaurants, food trucks, bars, and brewpubs, among other establishments. The grant amounts will be based on a calculation of lost revenue from 2019 to 2020.
·         Shuttered Venue Operators Grants:  An additional $1.25 billion will be allocated to this program to eligible venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organization operators, relevant museum operators, zoos and aquariums who meet specific criteria, motion picture theater operators, talent representatives, among others. Grants of up to $10 million are calculated as 45% of 2019 gross earned revenue.
·         Nonprofit Eligibility:  The PPP program was initially limited to charities and a small subset of the nonprofit community. The revised program will expand its scope to most other 501(c) organizations as well.
·         Community Navigator and Administrative Funding:  $175 million has been allocated to fund community organizations, SBA resource partners, and community financial institutions with experience working in minority, immigrant, and rural communities to help connect small business owners in these communities to critical resources, including small business loans, business licenses, and federal, state, and local business assistance programs. The bill also includes $1.325 billion to support SBA’s mission and to administer the new grants and other relief programs.
Title VI – Committee on Environment and Public Works
·         Economic Development Administration:  The Act provides the Economic Development Administration with $3 billion to aid communities in rebuilding local communities, including $750 million for the travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation sectors. 
Title VII – Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
·         Remote Learning: When learning moved remote last year, there were many children that were limited in their ability to get a quality education due to lack of, or inappropriate, internet connectivity or lack of a device to facilitate remote learning at home.  The Act provides $7.172 billion to the FCC to help schools and libraries ensure that all children have access to an appropriate and safe education.
·         Airlines:  The airline industry has been hit hard, with passenger volume at 42% of pre-pandemic levels.  The Act extends the airline payroll support program, provide airport relief (including small airport concessionaries), and provide payroll assistance to aviation manufacturers.
·         Research Relief: The NSF has been provided funding under the Act to insure that important scientific research is continued.
·         Manufacturing: The Act provides an additional $150 million to support COVID related projects within the manufacturing area.
·         Prevention of COVID-19 Scams: With the pandemic wreaking havoc and leaving people vulnerable, scam artists have taken advantage of people at an alarming rate.  During 2020 there were more than 4.7 million consumer complaints regarding scams.  The Act sets aside $30.4 million to the FTC to combat the rise in consumer scams during the pandemic.
Title VIII – Committee on Veterans Affairs
The Act includes many provisions to help veterans, including the following:
·         $14.5 billion for COVID-19-related health care, including IT and facility updates.
·         $1 billion for debt forgiveness related to copayments for VA health care and to reimburse veterans who paid a copay for care and prescriptions provided from April 6, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021.
·         $750 million for both construction grants ($500 million) and payments ($250 million) to state homes. 
·         $386 million for a new COVID–19 Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program to provide up to one year of education and employment assistance for unemployed Veterans to enter high demand occupations.
·         $262 million to pay past compensation and pension claims.
·         $100 million to update the VA’s supply chain system.   
·         $80 million to fund the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Leave Fund.
 
Title IX – Committee on Finance 
•      Stimulus Payments: The Act is providing and additional $1,400 stimulus payment to qualifying taxpayers during 2021, to go along with the previous two stimulus payments made in 2020. 
•      Unemployment Insurance Extension: The Act extends the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits until September 6, 2021. This includes an extension of the federal unemployment insurance bump that is added to all unemployment benefits (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC), at the current rate of $300. It also includes extensions of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which expands eligibility for the self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others in non-traditional employment who do not qualify for regular unemployment insurance, as well as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which provides additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who exhaust their state benefits. All other CARES Act and Families First Act unemployment programs are similarly extended until September 6.
•      Unemployment Insurance Taxation: The Act excludes the first $10,200 of unemployment compensation from income on taxpayers 2020 tax return for households with income under $150,000.
•      Credits: The Act includes a significant expansion the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). It will nearly triple the maximum EITC for childless workers and to put more money into the pockets of working families, it will increase the amount of the CTC, from $2,000 to $3,000 (with a more generous $3,600 credit for children under the age of 6). The CTC will also be fully refundable. Additionally, the Act includes an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to help working families afford the cost of childcare during this crisis. This includes increasing the credit so households can receive a total of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children and making it fully refundable so families who owe little in taxes can still benefit.
•      State and Local Fiscal Aid: The Act provides $350 billion to States, territories, Tribes, and local governments to be used for responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, to offset revenue losses, bolster economic recovery, and to provide premium pay for essential workers.
•      Health Care Support: The Act includes five main provisions to improve health coverage. Over the next two years, it invests nearly $35 billion in premium subsidy increases for those who buy coverage on the ACA marketplaces. The bill both increases the level of subsidies for eligible individuals, as well as removes the 400% federal poverty level limit on subsidy eligibility. Second, given significant income fluctuations in 2020, the bill forgives more than $6 billion in payments that people would have had to pay if their 2020 advanced premium subsidies did not match their income. Third, the bill provides a major incentive for certain states to expand Medicaid, offering them a 5% increase on their base FMAP rate for two years if they expand coverage. Fourth, the bill subsidizes 100 percent of COBRA premiums for six months for individuals who lost employment or had reduced hours. Fifth, for one year, the bill provides premium subsidies of ACA marketplace coverage equivalent to a person earning up to 133% FPL for people who receive unemployment compensation.
•      Paid Sick Leave Credit: The Act provides an extension and expansion of the paid sick and FMLA leave tax credits created in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. It provides payroll tax credits for employers who voluntarily provide paid leave through the end of September 2021.
•      Employee Retention Tax Credit: The Act extends and expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC), which was supposed to expire June 30, 2021, through December 31, 2021. The ERTC provides credits to businesses experiencing a 20% or more decline in revenue in a quarter of 2021 as compared to 2021. 
 
•      Tax Treatment of Certain SBA Programs: The bill provides for the tax-free treatment of Targeted EIDL Advances and Restaurant Revitalization Grants. It also clarifies that any otherwise-allowable deductions continue to be deductible notwithstanding the tax-free treatment of grant proceeds.
 
Title X – Committee on Foreign Relations
·         Foreign Aid:  The Act provides funding to support the fight against the global spread of COVID, vaccine development, international disaster relief, global economy recovery, assistance to refugees, and to support Americans abroad. 
 
Title XI – Committee on Indian Affairs
·         Essential Safety-Net Services:  The Act provides for essential services for native communities, including
o   Additional health care services
o   Information technology, telehealth infrastructure, and the Indian Health Service electronic health records system
o   Maintaining operations of the Urban Indian health program
o   Plan, prepare for, promote, distribute, administer, and track COVID-19 vaccines
o   Detect, diagnose, trace, and monitor COVID-19 infections
o   Activities necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and supplies necessary for such activities
o   Establish, expand and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19
o   Mental health and substance use prevention and treatment services
o   Lease, purchase, construction, alteration, renovation, or equipping of health facilities to respond to COVID-19
o   Maintenance and improvement projects necessary to respond to COVID-19
o   Potable water delivery
 
This is just a brief summary of the $1.88 billion appropriated under the American Rescue Plan Act.  Over the next few weeks, additional information will become available to clarify some of these provisions.  We anticipate additional legislation both at the Federal and State levels that will further provide support, and yes, even more changes to previously provided information.  Please understand, this is a dynamic process. 

CARES Act Update

Ken Cerini of Cerini & Associates, LLP will be discussing:
-How forgiveness interplays with your funding streams
-With so many resources (HHS, PPP, ERTC, etc.) how they interplay with each other and how they can be effectively deployed
-While PPP does not open providers up for a Uniform guidance audit, ERTC, HHS, and other CARES Act related funding could … are you appropriately prepared for these audits and do you understand your responsibilities?
-If you received over $2 million in PPP funding, you could be subject to audit … Is your agency ready.

Children’s Mental Health in the Time of COVID

Children's Mental Health

The pandemic has exacerbated depression and anxiety, especially among children. A new Child Mind Institute survey supported by Morgan Stanley shows the depth and breadth of the problem.

Fever, cough and shortness of breath are among the typical symptoms of COVID-19 that we are all familiar with. What we are hearing less about is anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. Yet these mental health issues have risen dramatically during the pandemic, particularly among children and young adults. According to the CDC, nearly 75% of young adults now suffer from at least one mental health or drug-related problem, and one in four have struggled with suicidal thoughts since the pandemic began.1

“We knew that the extraordinary stresses and societal upheaval happening in response to the pandemic would have widespread negative consequences on most people’s wellbeing, including children,” says Aki Nikolaidis, PhD, a research scientist in the Center for the Developing Brain at the Child Mind Institute, a partner in the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health(Alliance).“So we gathered a group of scientists and clinicians to create a tool that would give us an accurate and broad snapshot of how COVID-19 has impacted their lives and mental health.”

A Window on the First Wave

They called this project the Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey (CRISIS)2.  Supported by the Alliance—formed in February 2020 to leverage the resources of the Morgan Stanley Foundation and key nonprofit partners to help address children’s mental health—and by the National Institute of Mental Health, CRISIS is based on data collected in April 2020, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Researchers surveyed 5,646 participants in both the U.S. and the U.K., focusing on the moods, worries and life changes of the participants and their children in order to capture meaningful amounts of real-time data. The National Institute of Mental Health gave their 2020 Director’s Award to the researchers working on the CRISIS survey. The team was recognized for their outstanding efforts in the rapid implementation of mood surveys in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers noted that the effects of other catastrophic events had been studied with data collected after such events were over. With the CRISIS research, they aimed to look at the risk and protective factors for wellbeing during this prolonged threat. “We wanted to start collecting the data as rapidly as possible, so we could be more actively attuned to how the unfolding pandemic was impacting people’s mental health,” says Nikolaidis. He and his team hoped to identify “the main drivers that are exacerbating mental health symptoms, as well as factors that may help protect mental health at this time.” The results showed that during this period, about 70% of children and adults felt lonely, irritable and fidgety, and a little more than half (55%) of children felt very, or moderately, sad, depressed or unhappy, compared to 25% of adults.

Identifying Those Most at Risk

The study also revealed that preexisting mental health problems, including anxiety and depression, were the most significant factors associated with a higher incidence of mental health issues in children during COVID-19. “This suggests that those previously struggling with their mental health are now among the most severely affected, and they are experiencing the highest need for intervention and support,” says Nikolaidis.

Among adults, anxiety and worries about COVID-19 were either the first or second most important driver of their pandemic mental health. But for children, disruptions in daily life—including isolation, financial changes and food insecurity—were a stronger driver than their worries about COVID-19 itself. “This finding is consistent with what we already know about the importance of regular, predictable, daily routines for pediatric mental health,” the researchers stated. “It suggests that looking at changes in children’s lives may be key to identifying which children are, and will be, most at risk for negative psychological impact during and after the pandemic.”

With U.S. infections surging again, Nikolaidis and his fellow researchers hope that the insights gleaned from their survey can help protect those at higher risk this time around. In particular, minimizing further disruption will be crucial to safeguarding the mental health of children. Likewise, watching out for signs of increased anxiety and depression, especially in those with preexisting mental health diagnoses or those experiencing significant worry, can help get them the care they need sooner, leading to better coping and a healthier outcome.

Morgan Stanley has funded follow-up surveys to identify any changes in behavioral and mental health among children and adults as the pandemic continues, and provide insight into potential long-term effects. “The first phase of our follow-up study, conducted in November 2020 has showed highly consistent findings,” Nikolaidis added. “Disruptions in daily life for children and adults in the U.S. and the U.K. were still one of the dominant drivers of mental health during the second wave of the pandemic, along with preexisting mental health conditions and worries about COVID-19.” 

Morgan Stanley Rises to the Challenge

The Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health continues to support children and families in this unsettling time through additional educational initiatives, especially in secondary and higher education. This includes a significant grant to the Child Mind Institute to provide digital mental health resources for children, adolescents and young adults in the U.S., with a focus on vulnerable communities that traditionally lack access to these resources.

In the U.K., Morgan Stanley is supporting Place2Be with the launch of their free online training program for teachers to build skills and capacity to support positive mental health in school communities, following lockdowns.

Just recently, the Alliance hosted its inaugural convening to engage educators, school administrators and mental health professionals virtually across the U.S. in discussing pandemic-related mental health effects on young people and the importance of building communities of wellness and healing in response.

Since the crisis began, $175 million in emergency funding has been allocated to hospitals and other medical facilities, but less than 1% of that has gone specifically to mental health and substance abuse services.3 These efforts by the Alliance and its partners, including this latest research from the Child Mind Institute, are aimed at helping to correct that imbalance. “The overarching goal of the Alliance is to use our resources and reach to help improve children’s mental health around the world, which is at risk now more than ever,” says Joan Steinberg, Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Community Affairs, the President of the Morgan Stanley Foundation and the Chair of the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health. “Research like the CRISIS study is imperative in understanding what this pandemic has done to children’s mental health, in order to help prevent the rise in mental health challenges going forward and to help the current generation of children develop the resilience to come out of this stronger.”

1Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1049–1057. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6932a1

2Nikolaidis, A. et al. The Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey (CRISIS) reveals reproducible correlates of pandemic-related mood states across the Atlantic.

3https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/11/23/covid-pandemic-rise-suicides/

LEARN MORE ABOUT COVID’S MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT : DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE!

Be a COVID Vaccine Messenger | Tips to Share with Your Staff + Clients

COVID Vaccine Messenger

More and more New Yorkers are becoming eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We know that many communities and individuals throughout the State have expressed hesitancy around immunization.

As you, your staff, and clients begin to get vaccinated, we hope you will encourage them to participate in sharing their vaccine story on social media to assure others that the vaccine is safe and important.

We’ve put together this document that you can print out and give to staff and clients when they get vaccinated to help them become COVID vaccine messengers! And if your staff and clients are already sharing their stories, please send those social media posts to diamondj@humanservicescouncil.org so we can help amplify them.

Here’s how to participate:

1. Take a short video of yourself after your vaccine. Make sure to include some or all of the following information:

  • Who you are! (Are you a human services worker, a faith leader, a community member?)
  • Were you afraid before getting the vaccine? (It’s okay to say you were!)
  • Did you have any side effects? What were they?
  • Why did you get the vaccine? (To protect your family? To get back to normal life?)

NOTE: **If you don’t want to make a video, you can take a photo of yourself getting the vaccine or after the vaccine and write your information into a Facebook or Twitter post!**

2. Share your video on social media!

  • Make sure to tag HSC (Twitter: @HSC_NY, Facebook: Human Services Council of New York, Instagram: @HSCNY) so we can help promote your content to other providers and community members.
  • Use the hashtags #myCOVIDvaccine and #NYCVaccineForAll to be a part of the conversation and to help others find your videos.

3. Spread the word by sharing this document and asking your family, friends, and colleagues to do the same when they get vaccinated! Thank you for helping to keep New Yorkers safe!

PPP Changes & Second Draw Expansion Guide

PPP Guide

Arguably the most popular provision of the CARES Act for businesses and nonprofit organizations was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans, which provided these organizations with a necessary lifeline to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic.  The original program provided employers with loans of up to $10,000,000 based on 10 weeks (2.5 months) of their average monthly payroll.  The loans were intended to be used to cover payroll and certain other costs, and, subject to certain guidelines, were eligible for forgiveness to the borrower. 

As the pandemic has continued into 2021, many businesses and nonprofits are still suffering from reduced operations and revenues.  As result, included in the 2021 appropriations & COVID-19 relief bill passed in late December 2020 was the “Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act”, which had a goal of continuing the PPP loan program and contained other small business support. 

SBA Necessity Questionnaire Released for Borrowers with PPP Loans Over $2,000,000

In what is likely the first step in the audit process for borrowers that received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans more than $2,000,000 (including affiliates), the SBA has developed a questionnaire for both for-profit and non-profit borrowers which was released on Thursday, October 29, 2020.  This questionnaire will be used to “facilitate the collection” of information that the SBA will use to “evaluate” the good-faith certification made on the PPP loan borrower application.

To refresh, during the initial PPP Loan application, borrowers had to certify that “current economic uncertainty makes this loan request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the Applicant.”  However, at no point did the SBA provide any material guidance as to what this certification meant, leaving many borrowers flustered.  The limited guidance at the time only stated borrowers must take into account their current business activity and their ability to access other sources of liquidity.  The FAQ mentioned that public companies with substantial market value would not be able to make this in good faith, nor would companies owned by hedge funds or private equity firms. 

The forms were authorized in the Federal Register on October 26th, 2020 and known in that document as Form 3509 and 3510.  At this time, these forms are NOT available on the SBA or Treasury website, but copies can be found here and here for non-profit borrowers.  It is anticipated at this time that these questionnaires will come directly from the lender and/or servicer and is required to be returned within 10 business days of receipt. 

The questionnaire can be broken down into 2 separate components – a business activity component and a liquidity assessment component.  Borrowers can mark to keep their answers confidential (all borrowers should consider this).  Each question has space to allow for explanations as necessary and use March 13, 2020 as the focus date (meaning all answers are for the period of March 13, 2020 onward) for business activity. 

For borrowers with loans (including affiliates) totaling less than $2,000,000 the release of this questionnaire has no immediate impact, and they will not be required to complete it at this time.  These borrowers are automatically considered to have made the certification in good-faith pursuant to SBA FAQ 46, which explicitly states “Any borrower that, together with its affiliates, received PPP loans with an original principal amount of less than $2 million will be deemed to have made the required certification concerning the necessity of the loan in good faith.”  This questionnaire feels very “Monday Morning Quarterback” by the SBA.  Many of the responses require information that could only have been obtained after the certification was made to obtain the loan.  Further, some of the questions asked were never brought up as issues during the application process, such as employee compensation size, owner distributions and nonprofit noncash assets.  At this point, this is only a questionnaire and there is nothing yet definitive about it, but it implies some points that may become an issue on SBA reviews of loans.  Like everything else in the program, it comes way after the fact, as many borrowers have now completed their 24-week covered period and/or have spent their PPP funds.

Edward McWilliams, CPA

EDWARD MCWILLIAMS, CPA | Partner

Ed is a Partner in the firm’s tax and business advisory practice focusing on providing services to middle market private companies across different industries as well as to early stage startups. Ed has over a decade of experience providing tax and business consulting services to these companies of different sizes and across different industries, bringing a broad and diverse knowledge base and strategic solutions to the many complex issues that businesses face.

Virtual Nonprofit Check Up

Virtual Nonprofit Check up

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit New York, nonprofit organizations did their best to ensure safe operations while still carrying out their missions—and, in many cases, increasing their workload. So many people rely on the services that nonprofits provide to New York communities, especially in times of crisis. New York Nonprofit Media will host “Virtual Nonprofit Checkup” bringing together Executive Leadership from nonprofits across New York to learn how to best assess the health of your nonprofit amid the pandemic and going forward into the new normal.

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