On July 24, 2020, President Trump signed four Executive Orders related to drug pricing that direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take a number of actions aimed at lowering prescription drug prices. These HHS actions generally are not expected to apply directly to employer-sponsored group health plans. However, the Executive Order on “Lowering Prices for Patients by Eliminating Kickbacks to Middlemen” (the Order) could have an indirect impact on such plans, or provide an indication of things to come.
The IRS deadline to file for a determination letter for an individually designed statutory hybrid plan is August 31, 2020. Statutory hybrid plans include cash balance plans, pension equity plans and certain other variable annuity plans. This deadline has not been extended under any recent IRS pandemic-related guidance.
Beginning in 2017, the IRS suspended the cyclic determination letter program for individually designed retirement plans. However, subsequent IRS guidance established a limited window for statutory hybrid plans to apply for a new determination letter.
On June 29, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-52 addressing mid-year reductions and suspensions of contributions to Safe Harbor 401(k) and 403(b) plans. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Notice provides some temporary relief for plan sponsors that wish to reduce or eliminate safe harbor contributions mid-year.
On June 23, 2020, the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of the Treasury (the Departments) issued new frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding coverage for COVID-19 testing under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The FFCRA and the CARES Act generally require employer health plans to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing without imposing any cost sharing (including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance), prior authorization or certain other medical management requirements. Prior FAQs were issued on April 11, 2020 (FAQs Part 42).
The June 23, 2020, FAQs provide additional guidance on health coverage issues for sponsors of group health plans during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are particularly relevant for employers considering return-to-work policies.
On June 19, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-50 (the Notice) to provide guidance on coronavirus-related distributions, increased plan loan limits, and deferment of plan loan repayments allowed pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Notice provides further guidance for retirement plan sponsors on implementing changes under the CARES Act provision, and supplements prior IRS guidance issued in the form of FAQs, as discussed in a prior post.
Key elements of the Notice include:
An Expanded Definition of “Qualified Individual”
Under the CARES Act, coronavirus-related distributions, the increased plan loan limits, and the deferral of plan loan repayments are available only to “qualified individuals.” A “qualified individual” is someone who has been diagnosed with the virus SARS-CoV-2 or the coronavirus disease 2019 (each referred to herein as “COVID-19”); whose spouse or dependent has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or who experiences adverse financial consequences stemming from COVID-19 as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having reduced work hours, being unable to work due to lack of child care, the closing or reduction of hours of a business owned or operated by the individual, or other factors as determined by the Department of the Treasury.
In the Notice, the IRS exercises this authority and expands the definition of “qualified individual” to include an individual who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of one or more of the following:
- Having a reduction in pay (or self-employment income) due to COVID-19
- Having a job offer rescinded or a start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19
- The individual’s spouse or member of the individual’s household being (1) quarantined, furloughed, laid off, or having work hours reduced due to COVID-19; (2) being unable to work due to lack of childcare due to COVID-19; (3) having a reduction in pay (or self-employment income) due to COVID-19; or (4) having a job offer rescinded or start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19
- The closure or reduction of hours of a business owned or operated by the individual’s spouse or a member of the individual’s household due to COVID-19.
A “member of the individual’s household” means someone who shares the individual’s principal residence.
NOTE: This broadens the already expansive definition of qualified individual, and allows a greater number of plan participants to benefit from the favorable tax treatment of a coronavirus-related distribution (discussed in more detail in our earlier alert).
Clarification of Rules Allowing Reliance on Self-Certification of “Qualified Individual” Status
The Notice also resolves an open issue about whether a plan administrator may rely on an individual’s self-certification that he or she is a “qualified individual” for purposes of the expanded plan loan provisions. The CARES Act and earlier FAQ guidance allowed plan administrators to rely on self-certification, but only for coronavirus-related distributions. The Notice makes it clear that plan administrators may rely on self-certification for purposes of the plan loan changes as well. In both instances, reliance on an individual’s self-certification is permitted if the administrator does not have actual knowledge that is contrary to that certification. For purposes of this standard, a plan administrator is not obligated to inquire into whether the individual has satisfied the conditions to be a “qualified individual.” The Notice also includes a sample certification.
Clarification that CARES Act Changes Are Optional
The Notice clarifies that retirement plan sponsors are not required to allow coronavirus-related distributions, increase the plan loan limits, or suspend plan loan repayments. These changes are optional, and plan administrators may develop any reasonable procedures for identifying which distributions are treated as coronavirus-related distributions under its retirement plans, provided the plan is consistent in its treatment of similar distributions.
Regardless of whether a plan is amended to allow coronavirus-related distributions, a qualified individual may obtain favorable tax treatment by treating a distribution that would otherwise satisfy the CARES Act requirements as a coronavirus-related distribution on his or her federal income tax return.
A Safe Harbor for Administration of Suspended Loan Payments
The CARES Act includes a rule under which the due date for repayments on a qualified individual’s outstanding plan loan that would otherwise be due during the period beginning March 27, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2020, may be delayed for one year. Subsequent loan repayments are required to be adjusted to reflect the delay and any interest accruing during the delay, and the period of the delay is disregarded in determining the five-year maximum repayment period.
Prior to the Notice, there were a number of open questions related to administration of this provision and re-amortization of repayments otherwise due during the suspension period. The Notice establishes a safe harbor that is available when a qualified individual’s obligation to repay a plan loan is suspended for any period beginning March 27, 2020, and ending not later than December 31, 2020 (the “suspension period”), provided: (1) the loan repayments resume after the end of the suspension period; (2) interest accruing during the suspension period is added to the remaining principal of the loan; and (3) the loan is re-amortized and repaid in substantially level installments over the remaining period of the loan (which may be extended by up to one year from the date the loan was originally due to be repaid). If a plan administrator satisfies the safe harbor, the plan is treated as complying with the applicable requirements of section 72(p) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1984, as amended (the Code). Compliance with the safe harbor is not required, however, and the Notice acknowledges that there may be other, reasonable ways to administer this provision in the CARES Act.
NOTE: This safe harbor for re-amortization of suspended repayments is substantially similar to the relief the IRS provided following Hurricane Katrina and the similar loan rules established in the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005. This guidance is welcome relief for plans and administrators who hoped the IRS guidance would align with past administrative practices.
In addition to the changes listed above, the Notice provides guidance on a number of other aspects of coronavirus-related distributions, including: tax reporting by plans and individuals; the types of distributions that can and cannot be designated as a coronavirus-related distribution; the types of distributions that may be recontributed to a retirement plan or IRA; accepting recontributions; special tax notice and mandatory/optional withholding requirements; and the $100,000 total distribution limit.
Along with the guidance on the CARES Act, the Notice also briefly addresses nonqualified deferred compensation plans. The Notice permits the cancellation of a service provider’s deferral election under such a plan when the service provider receives a distribution from a retirement plan that constitutes a coronavirus-related distribution by deeming such a distribution a hardship distribution for purposes of existing regulations under Code section 409A. Note that it is required that the deferral election be cancelled; it cannot be delayed.
Please contact your Faegre Drinker attorney with questions and/or to request more detailed information about implementing these CARES Act changes and the impact of the Notice.
In recent years, it has become the norm for the IRS to respond to a federally declared disaster by issuing guidance enabling employers to establish “Leave Donation Programs,” which allow employees to “convert” accrued vacation, sick, or personal leave benefits into an employer-paid monetary donation to a charitable relief organization, without the employee being taxed on the value of donated leave.1 Therefore, it is not surprising, but certainly welcome, that the IRS recently issued Notice 2020-46 (the Notice) to allow employers to adopt the same type of employer-based Leave Donation Programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 created a new type of plan that may begin operating in 2021 called a pooled employer plan (PEP). A PEP is a plan in which multiple unrelated employers will be able to participate. A PEP will have to be maintained by a pooled plan provider (PPP) which must act as a named fiduciary and take on substantially all of the PEP’s administrative duties. Though the statute is fairly detailed, it leaves open a variety of questions, including a number of prohibited transaction issues, that need to be addressed by the Department of Labor (DOL).
For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.
On June 3, 2020, the Treasury Department issued Notice 2020-42 providing temporary relief from the requirement for a plan representative or notary public to be physically present to witness certain participant elections (including spousal consents), which has been exceptionally difficult to satisfy while following COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines.
In a 5-4 decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A., the Supreme Court found that participants in a defined benefit pension plan lacked Article III standing to sue under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) for alleged mismanagement of that plan, finding the plaintiffs suffered no concrete injury that could be redressed by the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs were former employees of U.S. Bank who, having retired as vested participants in its defined benefit plan, had already begun receiving fixed monthly payments. They filed a class action lawsuit under ERISA in 2013 against the plan sponsor and numerous plan fiduciaries, alleging that defendants breached their fiduciary duties by investing plan funds in the investment managers’ mutual funds, paying excessive management fees, and making imprudent investment decisions that led to $750 million in losses to the plan. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit after the plan, which was underfunded when the suit was filed, became overfunded when the company contributed $311 million to bring the plan into compliance, which the court found mooted plaintiffs’ claims. The Eighth Circuit affirmed on the basis that the overfunded nature of the plan removed plaintiffs’ statutory standing under ERISA to sue.
To address growing concerns over an increase in ERISA litigation claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Faegre Drinker’s ERISA litigation team developed the “Preventing an ERISA Litigation Outbreak After COVID-19” alert series to help clients navigate the fiduciary and plan liability issues associated with COVID-19. Part Two of our series examines the potential for fraudulent 401(k) distributions as an unexpected result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act (CARES Act), and highlights steps plan sponsors and recordkeepers can take to mitigate the risk of these cybercrimes.
View Part One of this series, which provides guidance to assist ESOP fiduciaries in carrying out their duties during the pandemic.