“You don’t want to be complacent. You always want to be ahead of the curve.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, businesses may consider having their affiliated company foundations take the lead on providing assistance to affected employees and their families. This is permitted, but companies must follow the rules to provide the benefits on a tax-favored basis.
Many private foundations and company foundations may believe that this sort of direct assistance to an individual is not allowed, or that grants cannot be made to individuals or entities other than public charity 501(c)(3)s, or that it can only be done with significant amounts of paperwork filed with the IRS. In many situations this is true.
However, the IRS has provided specific guidance (IRS Publication 3833) that allows private foundations to make direct charitable gifts to employees of an affiliated employer in certain circumstances. A key requirement is that the gifts must be related to a “qualified disaster” as defined by Code Section 139. A qualified disaster is a disaster that i) results from terrorist or military actions, ii) is a federally declared disaster under the Stafford Act, iii) results from an accident involving a common carrier, or iv) is an event that the Secretary of the Treasury determines is catastrophic. President Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic to be an emergency under the Stafford Act on March 13, making it a qualified disaster under Code Section 139 (although there is some lack of clarity as to whether an emergency declaration would constitute a qualified disaster, we believe this point will be clarified shortly). Other cases of employee assistance, such as emergency hardship assistance (assistance provided when an employee has an individual or family emergency or hardship), may not necessarily qualify for this exemption, although may be acceptable in some cases).
The intent of the IRS requirements is to ensure that the assistance provided by the company foundation is really for charitable section 501(c)(3) purposes of assisting employees with bona fide financial and health needs, and not a hidden employee benefit program or compensatory device for higher paid individuals.
A company foundation can provide employee assistance to the employees of the affiliated company if:
If these IRS criteria are satisfied, the employer-sponsored foundation’s payments made in response to the qualified disaster are presumed to be made for charitable purposes. In addition, by meeting the IRS requirements, the payments from the company foundation to the employee are excluded from the employee’s taxable compensation and are not subject to employment taxes such as Social Security and Medicare and federal income tax withholding.
In summary, employer-sponsored foundation have an opportunity to make tax-favored disaster relief in order to mitigate negative impacts from the COVID‑19 pandemic. For more information about recommended steps, please contact your Foley relationship partner or the Foley colleagues listed below. For additional web-based resources available to assist you in monitoring the spread of the coronavirus on a global basis, you may wish to visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.
Foley has created a multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional team to respond to COVID‑19, which has prepared a wealth of topical client resources and is prepared to help our clients meet the legal and business challenges that the coronavirus outbreak is creating for stakeholders across a range of industries.
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