Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

In certain cases of a facility sale, restructuring or cessation, recently released information by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) leaves many unanswered questions about plan sponsor liability for single-employer defined benefit plans. Given the lack of clarity, these plan sponsors should continue to consult their lawyer in any type of transaction, restructuring or cessation that approaches a 15 percent demographic change in a plan sponsor’s controlled group over a three-year period.

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On February 9, 2018, President Trump signed a bipartisan budget deal into law, effectively extending federal funding through March 23, 2018. The act includes multiple provisions affecting employee benefit plans, including relaxed hardship withdrawal rules and relief for individuals affected by the California wildfires.

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In a recent webinar, Jake Mattinson and Sarah Raaii discussed the practices that benefits professionals can adopt to add value to their organizations and avoid common mistakes.  Jake and Sarah discussed recommended practices for ERISA benefit claims and inquiries, how to review plan compensation definitions and payroll codes, best practices for corrections using the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), and the importance of document retention. The webinar is part of the larger Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group, a group that meets to discuss key benefit issues and trends and provides networking opportunities aimed at connecting tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

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In a major victory for church-affiliated hospitals, the US Supreme Court overturned three appellate court rulings and decided unanimously that church-affiliated hospitals can maintain their pension plans as “church plans” exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), regardless of whether a church actually established the plan. Impacted health systems, and especially their management, should evaluate how best to document and demonstrate their common religious bonds and convictions with the church.

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On December 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States granted the petitions for writs of certiorari to Advocate Health Care, et al. v. Stapleton, Maria, et al., St. Peter’s Healthcare, et al. v. Kaplan, Laurence and Dignity Health, et al. v. Rollins, Starla, all of which previously requested the Court review their arguments on whether the church plan exemption available under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), applies so long as a tax-qualified retirement plan is maintained by an otherwise qualifying church-affiliated organization, or whether the exemption applies only if, in addition, a church initially established the tax-qualified retirement plan. The three cases are being consolidated and will receive one hour total for oral argument.

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On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced a proposal to implement sweeping changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would significantly increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all retirement plans. The changes also would have a considerable impact on employer-sponsored group health plans.  For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on health and welfare plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Would Significantly Increase Reporting Obligations for Health and Welfare Plan Sponsors.

The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019. Certain compliance questions will, however, be effective for Form 5500 series returns filed for the 2016 plan year.

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President Barack Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the Budget Act), which raised Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premium rates beginning in 2017.

Background

Single-employer defined benefit pension plans must pay annual premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the U.S. government agency that insures these plans. All single-employer defined benefit pension plans pay an annual fixed premium. Those plans with unfunded vested benefits at year-end must pay an additional variable rate premium. The due date for payment of these premiums has generally been the fifteenth day of the tenth full calendar month of the premium payment year.

In 2016, the fixed premium is set at $64 per participant. The variable rate premium is based on the amount of potential liability that the plan creates for the PBGC. Calculated on a per-participant basis, the variable rate premium is a specified dollar amount for each $1000 of unfunded vested benefits under the plan as of the end of the preceding year, subject to a $500 per-participant cap. For 2016, it will equal $30 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to the cap. Both premiums are indexed for inflation.

Changes to PBGC Rates

The Budget Act makes the following changes:

  1. Single-employer fixed premiums will be raised to $69 per participant for plan years beginning in 2017, $74 per participant for plan years beginning in 2018 and $80 per participant for plan years beginning in 2019. In 2020, the fixed premium will be re-indexed for inflation.
  2. Single-employer variable rate premiums, which will continue to be adjusted for inflation, will increase by an additional $3 for plan years beginning in 2017 (from $30 to $33 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing); by an additional $4 for plan years beginning in 2018 (from $33 to $37 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing); and by an additional $4 for plan years beginning in 2019 (from $37 to $41 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing). There are no scheduled increases (other than indexing) for years after 2019.
  3. To include the 2025 premium revenue within the 10-year budget window, the premium due date for plan years beginning in 2025 will be the fifteenth day of the ninth calendar month beginning on or after the first day of the premium payment year.

For more information regarding the PBGC premium increases described above or the other employee benefits provisions included in the Budget Act, please contact your regular McDermott lawyer or one of the authors.

Effective January 1, 2016, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) altered the reportable event rules for defined benefit pension plans. Although new PBGC regulations make electronic filing of all reportable event notices mandatory, the regulations also substantially reduce the reporting requirements for pension plan administrators, sponsors and contributing employers.

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Budget legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, repeals the controversial automatic enrollment provision under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Section 18A of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), added by the ACA, directed employers with more than 200 full time employees to automatically enroll new full time employees in one of the employer’s health benefits plans (subject to any waiting period authorized by law), and to continue the enrollment of current employees in a health benefits plan offered through the employer. This requirement, which had yet to take effect, was riddled with concerns and questions regarding how these employers would effectuate administration. The Budget Bill also sharply increased the amount of premiums employers pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which will be detailed in a separate article.