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2023 Disaster Relief: Understanding Section 139 and its Benefits


With the unpredictability of natural events, disaster relief becomes paramount. The Section 139 of the tax code is here to assist. This provision allows employers, under specific circumstances, to offer tax-deductible disaster relief payments to their employees. Employees can then exclude these payments from their gross income, ensuring they receive the full benefit of the assistance.

Are You Eligible for the Disaster Relief Section 139 in 2023?

Should your workforce experience hardships due to a federally acknowledged catastrophe, as an employer, you can extend qualified disaster relief payments to them. These payments assist in covering certain disaster-linked costs, and your business can conveniently claim a tax deduction for these amounts.

Delving Deeper: 2023 Disaster Relief Section 139 Insights

The tax code is designed to provide relief when employees face challenges stemming from federally recognized disasters. If these relief payments are in line with IRC Section 139, they can be considered deductible business expenditures for employers and are exempt from the gross income of employees.

So, what exactly counts under Section 139?

  1. Expenses: Payments made towards personal, familial, living, or funeral expenses resulting from a federal calamity.

  2. Repairs: Costs associated with mending a personal residence or its contents post-disaster, provided insurance doesn't cover these.

How should employers approach this? Employers must draft a written plan detailing:

  • The compensation process for non-insurance covered employee expenses.

  • Clear definitions of acceptable expenses.

  • Exclusions for non-essential items and services.

  • Procedures for claim submissions and payment distributions.

The law generously does not cap the amount payable to employees under this provision, ensuring substantial relief in dire times.

Benefits at a Glance

  • Flexibility for Employers: Choice to reimburse or directly pay the affected employee.

  • Inclusivity: Provision extends to shareholder-owner employees.

  • Broad Expense Coverage: Encompasses expenses beyond standard plans, like home health care.

  • Tax Benefits: Payments are not taxable income for the recipient employee.

  • No Capping: Absence of a maximum expense/reimbursement threshold per employee.

Things to Consider

  • The necessity of a detailed written plan to validate expenses.

  • The provision is not applicable for Schedule C or non-W-2 employees.

Assumptions & Pre-requisites for Availing Section 139

  • The relief payments should address damages from a federally declared disaster.

  • The expenses should be deemed reasonable and necessary for the employee and shouldn't be already covered by insurance.

  • A written plan is mandatory to claim benefits under this section.

Who Can Claim the Disaster Relief Section 139?

  • Schedule C

  • Schedule F

  • S Corporation

  • C Corporation

  • Partnership

In conclusion, the Disaster Relief Section 139 for the year 2023 continues to offer significant tax benefits for both employers and employees affected by federally declared disasters. By allowing employers to provide tax-deductible disaster relief payments, employees can receive financial assistance without bearing any tax implications. The provisions of this section are broad, encompassing a range of disaster-related expenses from personal and family needs to home repairs and funeral costs. While the law is generous in terms of the amounts that can be paid to employees, it mandates a detailed written plan to ensure transparency, accuracy, and adherence to the specified guidelines. With such a supportive framework in place, businesses can efficiently aid their employees in times of crisis, reinforcing mutual trust and fostering a supportive work environment.

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