President Trump’s executive action last weekend to defer collection of payroll taxes forces employers, including associations, to make some difficult choices in the weeks ahead.
Trump’s executive order defers payroll taxes from Sept. 1 through the end of December, meaning companies have just weeks to figure out whether the order is mandatory and modify payroll systems to accommodate the changes.
Companies are looking to the IRS to quickly issue guidance implementing Trump’s order. Legal experts say companies also need more clarity on who is eligible for the payroll tax deferment. The memo says it applies to employees whose wages and compensation are up to $4,000 per bi-weekly pay period, but it does not define wages and compensation or specify whether it includes bonuses, commissions or overtime pay. Employers are also hoping the guidance clarifies whether they or their employees will be responsible for paying when the taxes come due at the end of the year.
Trump suggested the payroll tax deferment could be “permanent” if he is reelected but offered few assurances about the impact on programs funded by payroll taxes like Social Security.
“If I’m victorious on Nov. 3, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” Trump said. “I’m going to make them all permanent. In other words, I’ll extend beyond the end of the year and terminate the tax.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Trump’s actions last week, which also included orders to provide a $300 per week boost in unemployment benefits and institute a moratorium on evictions, are “illusions” designed to reassure citizens impacted by the ongoing pandemic that relief is coming their way.
“While it has the illusion of saying we’re going to have a moratorium on evictions, it says I’m gonna ask the folks in charge to study if that’s feasible,” Pelosi said on Fox News Sunday. “While he says he’s going to do the payroll tax, what he’s doing is undermining Social Security and Medicare, so these are illusions.”
Democratic tax writers have said Trump’s efforts to circumvent Congress to enact his own tax-and-spend policies put companies and American workers in a very uncertain position.
“While employers are unlikely to risk a massive tax liability by not collecting payroll taxes or having to double up collection later, if they do go along with this stunt, it would drain the Social Security trust fund,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. “This fake tax cut would also be a big shock to workers who thought they were getting a tax cut when it was only a delay. These workers would be hit with much bigger payments down the road.”