No. Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) excludes from a taxpayer’s gross income certain payments to individuals to reimburse or pay for expenses related to a qualified disaster (“qualified disaster relief payments”). Although the COVID-19 outbreak is a “qualified disaster” for purposes of section 139 the Code (see below), qualified leave wages are not excludible qualified disaster relief payments, because qualified leave wages are intended to replace wages or compensation that an individual would otherwise earn, rather than to serve as payments to offset any particular expenses that an individual would incur due to COVID-19.
Section 139(c)(2) of the Code provides that for purposes of section 139 of the Code, the term “qualified disaster” includes a federally declared disaster, as defined by 165(i)(5)(A) of the Code. The COVID-19 pandemic is a “federally declared disaster,” as defined by section 165(i)(5)(A) of the Code. On March 13, 2020, the President of the United States issued a Proclamation declaring a national emergency concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak, stating that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic warrants an emergency determination under section 501(b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5121 – 5207. A “qualified disaster relief payment” is defined by section 139(b) of the Code to include any amount paid to or for the benefit of an individual to reimburse or pay reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of a qualified disaster. Qualified disaster relief payments do not include income replacements such as sick leave or other paid time off paid by an employer.