Regulations eased

Federal and state governments are relaxing regulations for companies and individuals by extending deadlines and waiving some fees.

President Donald Trump and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts have issued mandates and guidelines Americans are expected to follow to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Here's what's happened so far:

On the federal level:

TRAVEL: Late last week, Trump issued travel restrictions closing the United States' borders to foreign nationals. American citizens and permanent residents returning from other countries are still allowed in, but they will be screened extra heavily upon arrival to the United States and will be instructed to isolate themselves for 14 days.

AID: He said old and obsolete rules are being broken down, with the "full power of the federal government" behind up to $50 billion in aid to states and territories to fight the pandemic.

TESTS: Additional tests for COVID-19 are being produced as quickly as possible, and stores like Walmart and Target are offering parking lot space for "drive-up" test sites.

TAXES: The U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service are allowing all individual and other non-corporate tax filers to defer up to $1 million of federal income tax (including self-employment tax) payments due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest. This also allows corporate taxpayers a similar deferment of up to $10 million of federal income tax payments that would be due on April 15, 2020, until July 15, 2020, without penalties or interest.

In a later decision, the individual tax filing deadline has been extended 90 days until July 15, though the Treasury encourages people to file by April 15 if they can.

“Americans should file their tax returns by April 15 because many will receive a refund. Those filing will be able to take advantage of their refunds sooner,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.  “This deferment allows those who owe a payment to the IRS to defer the payment until July 15 without interest or penalties.  Treasury and IRS are ensuring that hardworking Americans and businesses have additional liquidity for the next several months.”

The deferments are expected to result in about $300 billion of additional liquidity in the economy in the near term.

STUDENT LOANS: Trump also has halted the accumulation of interest fees on federal student loans during the pandemic.

• Updates on the federal level can be found at www.coronavirus.gov.

On the state level:

On March 13, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed an emergency declaration to allow the state to aid in the fight against COVID-19. The declaration suspended regulations on some things, like hauling, food deliveries and supplies.

“All across the state, individuals, businesses, employers and churches are stepping up to make plans to mitigate the impact of the virus," Ricketts said. "There is a role for each one of us in this as we work together to keep people healthy.”

RESTAURANTS: On March 19, Ricketts issued an executive order to provide relief to restaurants and bars. Such establishments are currently limited to 10 patrons as part of a nationwide social distancing effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Also on March 19, the state directed restaurants and bars in Cass, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties to close their dining/seating areas and move to takeout, carry-out or delivery only. This came after the Douglas County Public Health Department reported its second case of COVID-19 that officials could not trace to its origin. Untraceable cases are known as "community spread."

Ricketts' order gives restaurants and bars greater flexibility:

— Liquor Licensing: Establishments such as pizza parlors (Class A license holders) will be able to sell beer to customers on take-out or delivery orders.  Restaurants (Class I license holders) will be able to sell beer, wine and spirits to customers placing take-out or delivery orders.

— Sale of Alcohol: To encourage social distancing, restaurants and bars will be permitted to sell alcohol on drive-thru or curbside orders without customers having to exit their motor vehicles.

— Temporary Operating Permits: Temporary operating permits will be extended from 90 to 180 days.

— Waiver of Excise Tax Penalties: Excise tax payees still have the duty to file and pay the excise tax according to statute. However, the executive order will waive penalties for late payments.

— Payment of wine and spirit deliveries: Under normal circumstances, wine and spirit deliveries must be paid within 30 days. The executive order will give restaurants and bars 90 days to pay for wine and spirit deliveries for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. The requirement that beer deliveries be paid upon delivery is not changed.

UNEMPLOYMENT: On March 17, Ricketts issued an executive order to loosen eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits. The Nebraska Department of Labor will waive the following requirements for claims filed between March 22 and May 2. This timeframe will be evaluated as the situation with COVID-19 progresses.

— Work Search: This change applies to all workers filing for unemployment.  While many job search efforts are conducted online, waiving the requirement to search for work is in line with the social distancing practices that are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and potential exposure to the disease. The change will also accommodate those workers who are temporarily impacted by COVID-19, including those who are in an unpaid status due to a shutdown, quarantine, or because they are caring for a family member due to illness or a facility closure.

— Unpaid Waiting Week: This change will make the first week of eligibility payable rather than an unpaid waiting week and will help all unemployment recipients get their payments sooner.

— Employer charging: Unemployment benefits are typically paid with contributions from employers. NDOL will temporarily waive charges incurred by employers whose team members are filing claims related to COVID-19. Nebraska has a healthy Trust Fund that will be utilized to pay for unemployment benefits tied to COVID-19.

Workers needing to file for unemployment benefits should do so online at NEworks.nebraska.gov. The NEworks mobile app is available to download free for those who don’t have computer access. For technical assistance, access the NEworks live chat feature, email ndol.nichelp@nebraska.gov, or call 402-458-2500.

VEHICLES: Also on March 19, Ricketts issued another executive order to increase flexibility in requirements for Nebraska residents relating to driver licensing and vehicle registration requirements. He is extending driver licenses and vehicle registrations expiring on or after March 1. The extension will remain in effect until 30 days after the order is lifted.

— Driver Licenses or State IDs: The extension will apply to all driver licenses, state identification cards, permits or other credentials issued by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. Customers will still be able to renew credentials online; however, the aim is to reduce the number of individuals requiring in-person assistance. Driving tests have been suspended at this time.

— Vehicle Titling and Registrations: Any vehicle title requirements, registrations, in-transit tags or motor carrier temporary documents due to expire on or after March 1 will be extended until 30 days after this executive order is lifted.

— IFTA requirements: Any Nebraska penalties or interest associated with late filing of quarterly returns for members of the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) will be waived.

— Ignition Interlock Providers: Monthly inspection and reporting requirements under the ignition interlock program will be provided a two-week extension period for all existing interlock customers. Additional extensions may be available, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

More information on these protocols is available at dmv.nebraska.gov.

FOOD: On March 18, Ricketts addressed concerns over food shortages with a press conference. He said grocery stores and restaurants will not shut down, as they provide a vital, life-sustaining service.

“As our state goes through this unprecedented public health challenge, I want Nebraskans to know that we will have plenty of food available,” Ricketts said.  “The U.S. has the most efficient supply chain of food in the world, and it’s operating effectively. Grocery stores are open, and restaurants will continue to serve Nebraskans throughout the pandemic with takeout and drive-thru options.”

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