White House signs $900 billion coronavirus relief package

Washington — Congress passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Dec. 21 aimed at helping the people and businesses nationwide devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The bipartisan relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion spending bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, that funds the government through Sept. 30. President Donald J. Trump signed the bill Dec. 27.

The ADA sent out an Issues Alert email on Dec. 22 to dentists. In the email, the ADA said the Association “is proud to support dentists as they continue serving their communities during these difficult times. Together, we are driving dentistry forward on its path to recovery.”

These are the COVID-19 relief provisions the Association believes are the most critical for dentists:

• Making expenses paid for with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans tax deductible.
• Eliminating the requirement that PPP loan forgiveness be reduced by the amount of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grant that was received by the business. The bill also allocates additional EIDL grant money.
• Allowing PPP borrowers to utilize the Employee Retention Tax Credit. The bill also increases the wage cap and percentage of eligible wages for that credit.

Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations measures

The spending package includes $215 million for the Indian Health Services dental program — an increase of more than $4 million that will enable IHS to bring additional dental centers into the Electronic Dental Records System as well as expand access to dental services in isolated and rural areas through dental support centers. An additional $67 million is earmarked for IHS recruitment and retention programs.

The bill also allocates $485 million for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research — a $7 million increase from 2020 — to continue critical research projects including COVID-19-related research. Area Health Education Centers will receive $43 million — a $2 million increase — to expand workforce training and health care delivery in rural and underserved areas, including helping patients find dental treatment outside of hospital emergency departments.

Other significant measures

• Makes 501(c)(6) organizations eligible for PPP funds if they have less than 300 employees and meet certain lobbying restrictions.
• Eases the forgiveness process for PPP loans that are $150,000 or less.
• Allocates $3 billion in additional grants to reimburse hospitals and health care providers for health care-related expenses or lost revenue directly attributable to the pandemic.
• Provides additional funds for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccines.
• Extends mandatory funding through 2023 for community health centers ($4 billion), National Health Service Corps ($310 million), and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program ($27 million).
• Allocates $3.6 million in funding for Health Professions Opportunity Grants, which provides education and training for low-income individuals in health care fields, including dental assisting and dental hygiene.
• Calls for medical and nursing schools in the United States to form partnerships with schools in Mexico to ensure Mexican schools have comparable accreditation standards and medical and nursing students can pass American licensing exams. Dental schools were not included.
• Lowers the medical expense deduction on taxes to 7.5% from 10%, which can also be used for dental expenses.
• Allows individuals to carryover any unused health and dependent care flexible spending account benefits from 2020 into the 2021 plan year, along with other FSA plan flexibilities.
• Eliminates surprise billing in most circumstances. (The surprise billing provisions don’t include dental offices, but the bill gives HHS the ability to add additional types of health facilities.)
• Closes a loophole under current law that exempts online e-cigarette retailers from having to verify the age of their customers upon delivery.
• Extends pandemic-related unemployment benefits.

The ADA will be providing more details about these provisions in the coming weeks. The ADA has updated its fact sheet on small business loans with additional specifics on PPP and EIDL grants. Read the fact sheet here.

The ADA continues to advocate for issues and policies that affect the profession of dentistry including student loans, surprise billing, non-covered services and additional small business relief.

For more information about the ADA's advocacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit ADA.org/COVID19Advocacy.