CARES Act Brings Much-Needed Relief (and New Obligations) for Benefit Plans

As people across the country react to the quickly changing COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed another piece of legislation providing guidance and relief on a variety of issues — the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020. This article includes brief summaries of what employers should know about key benefits-related components of the CARES Act. Plan sponsors should review their plans to assess the impact of these changes and take appropriate steps to implement the changes (some of which are required).

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Benefit Plan FAQs on COVID-19 Part 5

Hardship Distributions During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, retirement plan sponsors will likely receive questions from employees about ways in which they can access funds in their retirement plan accounts. While we wait for any potential Congressional action to ease access to retirement plan accounts, we look to the hardship distribution rules that apply now regardless of Congressional relief. Hardship distributions are one way an employee can receive an in-service distribution of elective deferral contributions (and, depending on the plan provisions, other types of contributions) from their accounts, provided the employee has an immediate and heavy financial need and the distribution is necessary to meet that need.

The IRS’s recently issued final regulations added a new type of safe harbor hardship distribution event, for losses related to a federally-declared disaster. Under the final regulations, an employee may be deemed to have an immediate and heavy financial need when the employee incurs expenses and losses (including loss of income) as a result of a disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), provided the employee’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 with respect to the particular disaster. Historically, the IRS announced similar relief on a piecemeal basis (for example, allowing certain hardship distributions for Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires in 2017).

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Benefit Plan FAQs on COVID-19

IRS Guidance Related to Coronavirus Testing/Treatment for HDHPs/HSAs

Last week, the IRS issued guidance confirming that high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts can provide coronavirus testing and treatment at no cost to participants without affecting eligibility for health savings accounts.  Without this guidance, any non-preventive services provided to such participants before meeting their plan deductible would have disqualified the participants from health savings account eligibility.  This guidance is welcome, as employers attempt to remove obstacles to testing and treatment for coronavirus.

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