$1.9 Trillion American Rescue Package Includes Major Relief for Single and Multiemployer Pension Plans

The $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package recently signed into law by President Biden includes significant assistance for pension plans. The financial assistance provisions will have a large bearing on shoring up the ongoing multiemployer pension crisis. The pension assistance has not received as much press as have other provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) but it is no less impactful. The stimulus package provides direct financial support for certain underfunded multiemployer pension plans and relief from several minimum funding rules for both multiemployer and single-employer plans.

The pension provisions of ARPA are a modified version of the Butch Lewis Act, a pension rescue bill that has passed in the House but never in the Senate in years past. ARPA should allow over 100 severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans to return to relative financial health; however, ARPA does not provide for any long-term funding reform that would prevent another pension crisis. It also will have little or no effect for contributing employers.
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IRS Clarifies Pandemic-Related Relief for Dependent Care FSAs

As noted in our prior blog posts here and here, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “Act”) includes several types of relief for flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), impacting both health and dependent care FSAs.  In February, the IRS issued Notice 2021-15 (the “Notice”), which provides clarifying guidance with respect to the Act’s FSA relief provisions and answers many of the outstanding questions posed by employers following the Act’s passage.  Our prior blog post answers common questions about how the guidance applies to health FSA benefits. Below we describe the key changes in the Act and the Notice (together, the “Relief”) specific to dependent care FSAs.

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Reminder: The SECURE Act’s Safe Harbor for Lifetime Annuity Options Opens New Possibilities for Defined Contribution Plan Sponsors

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (“SECURE”) Act made a number of changes designed to increase the availability of lifetime income options in defined contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans. Among those changes was a new fiduciary safe harbor for choosing an annuity provider, including an “in-plan” annuity-type product. Although this provision may not have received as much attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plan sponsors and committees should be aware of the new safe harbor option, particularly in light of the upcoming requirement to provide lifetime income disclosures to participants, which is set to become effective later this year (discussed here).

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IRS Clarifies Relief for Health FSA Benefits under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

As noted in our prior blog posts here and here, Section 214 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (“Act”) permits employers to amend their flexible spending account (FSA) plans to help participants avoid forfeiting unused amounts for the 2020 and 2021 plan years.  The Act offers employers a myriad of temporary relief options for health FSAs—including expanded carryover relief, extended grace period relief, mid-year election change relief and post-termination spend down relief.  The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-15 (“Notice”) giving employers significant flexibility to tailor these relief options to their particular concerns and objectives.  This blog post answers common questions about how the guidance applies to health FSA benefits; the application to dependent care FSA benefits will be discussed in a forthcoming blog post.

Employers should keep in mind that:

  • All of the relief options are optional. An employer can choose not to adopt any of them or can adopt only some options.
  • All of the relief options require plan amendments.
  • The options do not permit participants to receive refunds of their unused contributions.
  • The options do not permit participants to use health FSA balances for dependent care expenses or vice versa.

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Employers Must Provide COBRA Subsidies to Assistance Eligible Individuals

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, includes COBRA subsidy provisions that are significant – both for the individuals who will become eligible for COBRA subsidies and for the employers who will be required to subsidize COBRA coverage. The key requirements of the COBRA subsidies, which are effective beginning April 1, 2021, are outlined below.

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Department of Labor Confirms It Will Not Enforce Controversial “Pecuniary Factors” Rule for ERISA Plan Investments

On March 10, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing ERISA, announced that it will not enforce the Trump-era “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments” rule, which has been perceived as potentially discouraging retirement plan fiduciaries from selecting investment alternatives which emphasize environmental, social, and governance factors (commonly referred to as “ESG investments”).

The rule, which was finalized in November 2020 and technically became effective on January 12, 2021, does not prohibit ESG investments.  However, it has been widely criticized as fostering a misapprehension that ESG investments may be subjected to a higher degree of fiduciary scrutiny than others.  Following the election, EBSA’s announcement of its non-enforcement policy comes as no surprise, as the Biden administration had already identified the rule on its “List of Agency Actions for Review.”

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New Guidance Requires Free COVID-19 Testing and Vaccines

On February 26, 2021, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury collectively issued new frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and other health coverage issues related to COVID-19. Previous blogs posts reviewed the FAQs on COVID-19 group health plan coverage implementation and preventative care mandates. The FAQs expand upon prior guidance related to the requirement under the FFCRA that group health plans and health insurance issuers (health plans) cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and vaccinations, and certain related issues.

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Recent Webinar Regarding Health Plan Provisions in Consolidated Appropriations Act: New Legislation Brings COVID-19 Relief and Shines a Light on Health Plan Price Transparency

As the pandemic continues, employers are increasingly faced with compliance challenges in response to new and pending legislation. Click here to view our webinar recording as members of Faegre Drinker’s benefits and executive compensation group discussed various welfare benefits provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the new provisions employers will need to navigate. Specifically, our team explored:
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COVID-related Benefit Plan Timeframe Extension Relief Continues With One Year Case-by-case Limit

As described in a prior blog post, last spring the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (Agencies) issued COVID-19 pandemic relief that extended numerous deadlines under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to group health plans, retirement plans, and other ERISA benefit plans, as well as participants in those plans (Extension Relief).  Specifically, the Extension Relief stated that, subject to a one-year statutory limitation imposed by ERISA Section 518 and Code Section 7508A, all deadlines for benefit plan actions identified in the Extension Relief (Deadlines) would be put on hold for the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (Outbreak Period). President Biden extended the National Emergency on February 24, 2021 and the end date is, at this time, unknown.

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