Fix the pandemic and get the economy going, our panelists tell President Biden

If there’s one thing President Joe Biden can do in his first 100 days to help the nation’s economy it’s this: get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. That’s the consensus of three panelists who participated in the “Business Impact: First 100 Days” webinar hosted by Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.

Dr. Lynette Chappell Williams, vice president and chief diversity officer for Penn State Health; Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry; and Andrew Desiderio, Certified Public Accountant and shareholder at Bethlehem-based Concannon Miller, agreed the pandemic, which has put millions out of work, caused the closure of many businesses and shattered supply chains, is the biggest threat to the economy.

But, amid the many challenges surrounding the delivery of the vaccine, convincing a large and wary portion of the public to take it may be the most daunting task.

“The best thing we can do is educate people so that they can make an informed decision,” said Chappell Williams. “It’s important to get the word out to minorities that the vaccine was tested on a diverse group, and that the data shows that the vaccine is safe for all races and genders.”

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” agreed Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. While businesses can’t force employees to get the vaccine, they should encourage it with education and incentives, such giving out gift cards to those who get vaccinated.

When asked what infrastructure improvements would benefit the nation’s economy, the answer was making high-speed internet available to everyone.

“We have a desperate need for more information infrastructure,” chamber president Barr said, who would like to see 5G access across Pennsylvania.

Chappell Williams noted that internet and transportation are needed.

“How do we get the vaccine to people without internet and to those with transportation issues?” she asked. Williams said that issues like these are a priority for minorities who face high rates of COVID-19 infection.

Biden’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 raised concerns. Such a move would put a lot of pressure on small businesses, who are barely making ends meet, said Desiderio, of Concannon Miller.

Desiderio, who works with small business owners, said a mandated $15-an-hour minimum wage would hurt, but coming in the middle of a pandemic would be devastating.

“The timing right now is not ideal,” said Barr.

Additional payroll costs might break small business owners who are still not recovered from the financial losses of the pandemic, he said.

Also during the webinar, the panelists discussed the importance of cultivating a diverse workforce. Diversity does not just mean racial diversity, they said, but age, gender and cultural diversity as well.

Studies show that companies with a diverse workforce and leadership have better productivity and financial outcomes, said Chappell-Williams. Part of the reason for that, she said, is because diversity brings different ways of looking at things.

“It shifts you out of the mindset that ‘This is how we’ve always done things…,’” she said. “That’s how you drive innovation.”

Chappell-Williams added later that being open to diversity can help remedy supply chain shortages for business during the pandemic as well.

“Look beyond your traditional supply chains,” she said, advising companies look at women-owned and minority-owned businesses as options. “See who else is out there that can help.”

Congress extends some key individual, business tax benefits

Just in time to avoid a government shutdown, the federal government this week approved new spending bills that extend and change some important tax benefits for both businesses and individuals.

Here’s a look at some of the key changes from the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020. These will go into effect right around the two year anniversary of the passage of the sweeping Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017. 

Affordable Care Act Taxes: The spending bills scrapped key taxes that help fund the Affordable Care Act including excise taxes on high cost employer-sponsored health coverage (also known as “Cadillac Plans”) and taxes on medical devices.

FMLA Tax Credit: The bills extend through year end 2020 the Employer Credit for Paid Family and Medical Leave that was enacted as part of the TCJA. Learn more details about the credit here. 

Work Opportunity Tax Credits: The bills extend WOTC through year end 2020. The maximum credits range from $2,400 for the general target groups all the way to $10,000 for certain qualified veterans and Welfare-to-Work employees. You can learn more about the credit here.

Empowerment Zones/Indian Employment Credit: The bills also extend through year end 2020 both the Empowerment Zone tax credits and the accelerated depreciation afforded to businesses on Indian reservations. Read more about Empowerment Zones here.

Alcohol Excise Taxes: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced several taxes on brewers, vintners and distillers. They were set to expire Dec. 31, 2019 but the new bills extend them another year. Learn more about the benefits here.

New Market Tax Credits: The bills extended the New Market Tax Credits program, intended to spur investment in economically depressed areas, through Dec. 31, 2020.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Fixes: The bills include several fixes to the TCJA, including changes to the so-called kiddie tax and church parking tax.


  • Church Parking Tax: This is an important change for nonprofits. The bills eliminate the so-called “church parking tax,” an unintended consequence of the TCJA’s attempt to treat employee fringe benefits of C Corporations and tax-exempt entities in the same manner. The unintended effect had required church and some other nonprofit employees to pay tax on reserved parking spaces.
  • Kiddie Tax: The application of the estates and trusts tax rate to certain unearned income of children – the so-called “kiddie tax” – has been reverted to the prior use of the parents’ tax rate for tax years beginning after 2019. The change had had the unintended consequence of increasing the tax on the unearned income – such as military death benefits – of children in low-income families.
  • Retail Glitch: The bills, unfortunately, do not fix the so-called retail glitch that impacts McDonald’s Owner/Operators. The TCJA left leasehold improvement property outside of the category of 15-year recovery property for depreciation purposes, keeping it in the 39-year recovery category and therefore not eligible for 100% bonus depreciation. 


Medical Expenses Deduction: The TCJA allowed taxpayers to deduct qualifying medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of their 2018 adjusted gross income. The threshold increased to 10% in 2019 but the bills now keep it at the 7.5% level for 2019 and 2020. 

Tuition and Fees Deduction: This deduction, which expired as the end of 2017, has been extended through year end 2020. It allows parents who have a child in college to deduct up to $4,000 a year in higher-education tuition costs and other expenses.

Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction: The bills extend the deduction for the cost of premium mortgage insurance (PMI) for homes and vacation homes. The provision had expired but was renewed retroactively for 2017 and extended to 2020.

Retirement Plan Changes: The SECURE Act of 2019 includes major changes for 401(k) plans and IRAs including:

  • Increasing the age after which required minimum distributions from certain retirement accounts must occur from 70½ to 72.
  • Ending the 70½ age limit for contributions to an IRA
  • Allowing distributions for a qualified birth or adoption that are exempt from the early-withdrawal penalty
  • Tax incentives meant to encourage auto-enrollment in qualified retirement plans

These are just some of the changes in the 1,700-page bill. Please contact us to learn more or with any questions you have on the changed and extended tax benefits.

Andrew Desiderio, CPA, is a senior manager at Concannon Miller, a CPA and business consulting firm in Hanover Township, Northampton County. He can be reached at [email protected]