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ARPA Relaxes Funding Requirements for Single Employer Defined Benefit Pension Plans

Section 9705 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) extends the amortization period for prior year shortfalls from seven to 15 years, beginning with the 2022 plan year (or, at the election of the plan sponsor, the 2019, 2020, or 2021 plan year). Section 9706 of the ARPA both modifies and extends the funding stabilization percentages for single employer defined benefit pension plans through 2029 and allows plan sponsors to elect whether to have these modified percentages apply for all purposes or solely for the purpose of determining the plan’s adjusted funding target attainment percentage.  The plan sponsor may further elect whether to apply the modified percentages beginning with the 2020, 2021, or 2022 plan year.  The ARPA is available here. 

The DOL Announces a Non-Enforcement Policy on Final ESG Investment and Proxy Voting Rules

On March 10, 2021, the DOL released an enforcement policy statement (the “Statement”), which announced that until the DOL publishes further guidance, it will not enforce the recently issued “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” final rule (the “ESG Rule”) and the “Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights” final rule (the “Proxy Voting Rule”, together with the ESG Rule referred to herein as, the “Final Rules”). The ESG Rule generally required plan fiduciaries to select investments and investment courses of action based solely on consideration of “pecuniary factors,” and the Proxy Voting Rule set forth a plan fiduciary’s obligations when voting proxies and exercising other shareholder rights in connection with plan investments. The implementation of the ESG Rule in particular has caused concerns for plan fiduciaries about the use of environment, social, and governance considerations in its investment decisions and has been met with increasing criticism from a… Continue Reading

Big Increase in Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account Limit for 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”), which was enacted on March 11, 2021, temporarily increases the maximum amount that an employee is permitted to contribute to a dependent care flexible spending account (“FSA”) from $5,000 to $10,500 (or from $2,500 to $5,250 for a married person filing a separate return) for the taxable year beginning in 2021. The increased dependent care FSA limit is an optional change that a plan sponsor may choose to incorporate into its dependent care program included under its cafeteria plan. This change, combined with the change under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”), which authorizes a cafeteria plan to permit participants to make prospective changes to their dependent care FSA contributions (see our prior blog post regarding the CAA here), allows participants to increase contributions to their dependent care FSAs in 2021. In order to implement the new dependent care FSA limit, the… Continue Reading

Court Finds Exclusion for Autism Treatments Violates the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act

In Doe v. United Behavioral Health, No. 4:19-CV-07316-YGR (N.D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2021) a federal district court in California recently considered a plaintiff’s claim that an exclusion from coverage for “applied behavior analysis” and “intensive behavioral therapies” (the “ABA/IBT Exclusion”) used to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (“Autism”) violated the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (the “Parity Act”). The plaintiff, as the representative of her minor son who was diagnosed with Autism, was covered under an employer-sponsored, self-funded group health plan subject to ERISA.  The court held that the ABA/IBT Exclusion violated the Parity Act for two reasons. First, the court found that the ABA/IBT Exclusion, on its face, created a separate treatment limitation applicable only to services for a mental health condition (in this case, Autism). Second, the court concluded that the ABA/IBT Exclusion constituted a more restrictive limitation for a mental health condition than… Continue Reading

IRS Issues New FAQs on Claiming the Employee Retention Credit

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-20, which contains 71 new FAQs related to the employee retention credit (the “ERT”) available on qualified wages paid between March 13, 2020 and December 31, 2020. The new FAQs do not address changes to the ERT enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 on qualified wages paid between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021, which the IRS says will be addressed in future guidance. The FAQs provide numerous, helpful examples of how to apply key definitions and other provisions applicable to the ERT, such as who is an eligible employer; what constitutes a full or partial suspension of a trade or business, a significant decline in gross receipts, qualified wages, and allocable qualified health plan expenses; and the interaction of the ERT and Paycheck Protection Program loan recipients, among other topics. For additional information on the ERT, please see our prior… Continue Reading

Employee Benefits Regulations Potentially Impacted by the Biden Administration’s Regulatory Freeze

On January 20, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum (the “Memo”) announcing a regulatory freeze on regulations that have not taken effect as of the date of the Memo. Specifically, the Memo recommends postponing the effective date of any regulation that has been issued, but has not taken effect, for 60 days from the date of the Memo. The Memo further directs that regulations not yet published in the Federal Register be immediately withdrawn for review. Listed below are some of the proposed and final regulations related to employee benefits that may be subject to withdrawal or postponement under the Memo: Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 – Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. Final Rule. Application of the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions and Certain Nondiscrimination Rules to Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans Integrated with Individual Health Insurance Coverage or Medicare. Final Rule. Pension Benefit Statements-Lifetime… Continue Reading

DOL Increases Civil Monetary Penalties for Certain ERISA Violations

The DOL recently issued a final rule that adjusts for inflation the amounts of civil monetary penalties assessed or enforced in its regulations, including for certain ERISA violations. The adjusted penalty amounts apply to penalties assessed after January 15, 2021 and for which the associated violations occurred after November 2, 2015. Some of the penalties that were increased include the following: The maximum penalty for failing to properly file a pension or welfare benefit plan’s annual Form 5500 increased from $2,233 per day to $2,259 per day. The maximum penalty for failing to provide notices of blackout periods or of the right to divest employer securities increased from $141 per day to $143 per day (each statutory recipient is a separate violation). The maximum penalty for failing to provide employees the required Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage notices increased from $119 per day to $120 per day (each employee… Continue Reading

Severe Winter Storm Hardship Withdrawal Relief

The safe harbor rules for hardship withdrawals from a retirement plan permit such withdrawals for expenses and losses incurred by a participant due to a natural disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, provided the participant’s principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance related to that disaster. FEMA issued a series of disaster declarations as a result of the February 2021 winter storms that impacted portions of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. A list of counties that have been designated by FEMA for individual assistance in those states can be found on FEMA’s website here. Those disaster declarations mean that affected participants may be eligible for hardship distributions from their 401(k) plan accounts. Plan sponsors with participants who live or work… Continue Reading

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.  This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.  As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

After February 28, 2021, the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines may be over. The government’s authority for suspending these deadlines is limited by statute to a period of one year. It is unclear whether the one-year limit applies on the individual level (i.e., each person gets up to a year disregarded if the national emergency is ongoing) or applies as a limit on the outbreak period itself (i.e., deadlines for all persons would resume being counted as of March 1, 2021). The DOL/IRS have not yet issued guidance on this question. Employers may want to contact their service providers to see how they intend to administer, and communicate to participants, the end of the suspension of deadlines.

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