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US Treasury Issues Guidance on the ARPA Claw-Back Provision

Earlier this week, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued formal guidance regarding the administration of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) claw-back provision. The guidance (Interim Final Rule) provides that the claw-back provision is triggered when there is a reduction in net tax revenue caused by changes in law, regulation or interpretation, and the state cannot identify sufficient funds from sources other than federal relief funds to offset the reduction in net tax revenue. The Interim Final Rule recognizes three sources of funds that may offset a net tax revenue reduction other than federal relief funds—organic growth, increases in revenue (e.g., a tax rate increase) and certain spending cuts (i.e., cuts that are not in an area where the recipient government has spent federal relief funds). According to the Treasury, this framework recognizes that money is fungible and “prevents efforts to use Fiscal Recovery Funds to indirectly offset reductions in net tax revenue.”

The Interim Final Rule also provides guidance on what is considered a change in law, regulation or interpretation that could trigger the claw-back (called covered changes), but that point remains somewhat ambiguous. The Rule provides that:

The offset provision is triggered by a reduction in net tax revenue resulting from ‘a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation.’ A covered change includes any final legislative or regulatory action, a new or changed administrative interpretation, and the phase-in or taking effect of any statute or rule where the phase-in or taking effect was not prescribed prior to the start of the covered period. [The covered period is March 3, 2021 through December 31, 2024.] Changed administrative interpretations would not include corrections to replace prior inaccurate interpretations; such corrections would instead be treated as changes implementing legislation enacted or regulations issued prior to the covered period; the operative change in those circumstances is the underlying legislation or regulation that occurred prior to the covered period. Moreover, only the changes within the control of the State or territory are considered covered changes. Covered changes do not include a change in rate that is triggered automatically and based on statutory or regulatory criteria in effect prior to the covered period. For example, a state law that sets its earned income tax credit (EITC) at a fixed percentage of the Federal EITC will see its EITC payments automatically increase—and thus its tax revenue reduced—because of the Federal government’s expansion of the EITC in the ARPA. This would not be considered a covered change. In addition, the offset provision applies only to actions for which the change in policy occurs during the covered period; it excludes regulations or other actions that implement a change or law substantively enacted prior to March 3, 2021. Finally, Treasury has determined and previously announced that income tax changes—even those made during the covered period—that simply conform with recent changes in Federal law (including those to conform to recent changes in Federal taxation of unemployment insurance benefits and taxation of loan [...]

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The US Department of the Treasury Says State IRC Conformity Bills Do Not Trigger Federal Relief Claw-Back Provision

As we’ve blogged about in the past, the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision. If broadly interpreted, it could result in states losing relief funding provided under the APRA if there is any state legislative or administrative change that results in the reduction of state revenue. This provision is causing havoc in the state tax world, rightfully so.

After much yelling and screaming from state attorneys general and those in the tax world, including McDermott (see McDermott letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attached), the US Department of the Treasury issued a press release announcing forthcoming “comprehensive guidance” on this provision. Treasury also addressed a question that has been on the top of our minds since the provision was enacted: Could state legislation addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code trigger the claw-back? States routinely conform to and decouple from changes to the Internal Revenue Code, so if such actions could trigger the claw-back, state legislatures would be reluctant to consider them. We were so concerned about this issue that we specifically addressed it in our letter to Secretary Yellen.

This week, we received the Treasury’s guidance on this issue: Conformity bills will not trigger the claw-back. In its press release, Treasury stated:

… Treasury has decided to address a question that has arisen frequently: whether income tax changes that simply conform a State or territory’s tax law with recent changes in federal income tax law are subject to the offset provision of section 602(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, as added by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Regardless of the particular method of conformity and the effect on net tax revenue, Treasury views such changes as permissible under the offset provision.

This is a step in the right direction and should ease concerns of state legislatures. Passing a conformity bill will not cause any loss of federal funding. Treasury’s guidance, because it applies to all “methods of conformity,” should cover any legislation that either couples with or decouples from the Internal Revenue Code.

But our work is not done. In our letter to Secretary Yellen we also asked for guidance confirming that state actions in other areas will not trigger the claw-back. Specifically, we made concrete suggestions that actions to correcting tax statutes or rules that are either unconstitutional or barred by or violate federal law also should not trigger the claw-back. Treasury’s recent press release gives us a glimmer of hope that Treasury will exclude such actions from the clutches of the claw-back provision as well. Stay tuned for more!




McDermott Provides Treasury Department with Concrete Suggestions for Guidance on the American Rescue Plan Act’s Claw-Back Provision

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) includes an ambiguous claw-back provision that has brought the world of state and local tax policymaking to a grinding halt. Because ARPA’s adoption occurred during the final weeks of many states’ legislative sessions, rapid issuance of guidance from the US Department of the Treasury is needed before the sessions adjourn to prevent the irreversible damage that will occur if a state foregoes enacting policies aimed at alleviating the economic disruption caused by COVID-19 out of fear of facing claw-back of federal relief.

McDermott recently sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging the issuance of guidance giving a balanced interpretation of the claw-back provision. This guidance is necessary to avoid putting state legislatures, governors and tax administrators across the country in an untenable situation where every tax change or adjustment being considered—no matter how innocuous or routine—will carry the risk of a reduction to their state’s share of federal funding for the next three years.

In the letter, we provided concrete suggestions on areas where the ARPA left room for such balanced interpretation. We suggested that Treasury interpret the claw-back provision as either inapplicable to or provide a safe harbor for:

  • Changes addressing state conformity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)
  • Corrections of unconstitutional tax statutes or rules
  • Corrections of tax provisions barred by or that violate federal law
  • Actions in which there is no or only a weak connection between the law change reducing net revenue and the use of federal relief funds
  • Changes in the law announced before the enactment of ARPA
  • Reductions in net revenue related to purposes that further ARPA’s objectives.

The letter pointed out that states need concrete guidance, whether formal or informal, addressing these areas. Such guidance will alleviate the concerns of state governments and allow state policymakers to function and continue the orderly administration of state taxes.




Federal COVID-19 Relief Bill Brings State Tax Policy to a Grinding Halt

On March 11, 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), the COVID-19 relief bill that includes $350 billion in relief to states and localities. To prevent states from using federal relief funds to finance tax cuts, Congress included a clawback provision requiring that any relief funds used to offset tax cuts during the next three years be returned to the federal government. Here is the text of the provision:

  • A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

This language broadly prohibits states from taking legislative or administrative action through the end of 2024 that reduces state tax revenues by any means (deduction, credit, delay, rate change, etc.) if doing so could be characterized as the use of federal relief funds to offset, directly or indirectly, the tax reduction. Practically speaking, this limitation will completely hamstring state and local governments from the normal ebb and flow of tax policy changes, adjustments and interpretations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this language freezes state legislative and administrative tax policy development out of fear anything they may do would require the return of federal relief funds. We expect the US Department of the Treasury will issue guidance clarifying this provision in the coming weeks.

Practice Note: This provision of ARPA is, in our view, the most significant federal pre-emption of state tax policy in history. For the next three years, legislators and tax administrators alike will be scrutinized as their tax policy decisions are evaluated through the lens of this prohibition. This level of congressional control over state tax policy decisions and fiscal autonomy likely violates the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution and would dismay the framers’ basic notions of federalism.

While Congress has the ability to limit the use of federal funds in ensuring its policy goals are accomplished, the overly broad state tax limitation adopted by Congress goes far beyond its stated purpose and prevents states from furthering ARPA’s goals by using tax policy to craft their own COVID-19 relief measures. Any regulation or administrative interpretation that reduces state tax revenue or delays the implementation of a tax is, effectively, barred by the unprecedented intrusion into state tax policy-making.

The effects of ARPA’s state tax limitation are immediate and far-reaching. It will chill continuing state efforts to couple/decouple state tax codes to or from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Additionally, ARPA already stalled legislation pending in Maryland that would delay, for one year, implementation of its digital advertising services gross receipts tax, restoring return filing and tax [...]

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