Stopgap Funding Bill Makes Notable Changes to Affordable Care Act Deadlines

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

After a brief government shutdown, a stopgap funding measure was signed on Jan. 22 that also contains a few provisions that makes changes to the federal Affordable Care Act and will have a direct impact on certain employer plans. Among the notable changes are:

  • A two-year delay of the “Cadillac” tax – the ACA provision that levies a 40 percent excise tax on the cost of healthcare plans above specific IRS limits delays the tax an additional two years, setting its new effective date to 2022. According to financial consulting firm Conrad Seigel, the delay on the tax (this is the second time it has been delayed), coupled with bipartisan opposition to it has raised speculation over whether the “Cadillac Tax” will ever be fully implemented.
  • One-year suspension of the Health Insurer’s Tax in 2019 – Two years ago, Congress and the president issued a one-year suspension on HIT – a provision in the ACA that imposes a tax on health insurers. The delay was in place for 2017, so the tax became effective again this year.
  • Two-year suspension of the Medical Device Tax – A 2.3 percent excise tax on U.S. medical device revenues was delayed in 2016 and 2017 and under the new law will continue to be suspended through 2018 and 2019.
  • Restoration of federal funding to the Children’s Health Insurance Program – The new stopgap funding bill provides an additional six years of federal funding for CHIP, following months of speculation about the program’s future after its budget expired on Sept. 30 of last year. The funding will assist states in providing health coverage to children and pregnant women in need.

Planning for Spring Festivals Underway

Coordination of the spring festivals that bring people into our communities is well underway. Following Renaissance Jamboree in Bloomsburg on April 28 and Spring Fling in Danville on May 5, Celebrate Berwick will be returning to Market Street in the Borough. A planning meeting for Celebrate Berwick is scheduled for this Thursday, Feb. 1, at 5:30 p.m. at Berwick Brewing Company. Anyone interested in helping with the event is welcome to attend.

ERISA Penalty Adjustments Announced

From ChamberChoice

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is the enforcement arm for the Department of Labor (DOL) as it relates to employee benefit plans. The EBSA enforces ERISA’s fiduciary, reporting and disclosure provisions. Civil monetary penalties can be assessed for compliance failures of any of these requirements. Penalties however, become less effective when they have not been raised to keep up with inflation. Therefore, based on the Inflation Adjustment Act, new penalty amounts are adjusted annually in January.

Increased penalty limits for 2018 are scheduled to be effective as of Jan. 2, 2018 when they will be published in the Federal Register. Employers need to be aware of these penalties as many are applicable to employee benefits they offer. 

At right is a brief table outlining some of the increases.

Although the DOL does not typically assess the maximum permissible penalty under the law, the looming penalties may spur plan sponsors and administrators to more closely scrutinize their compliance efforts.

Leadership Central Penn Goes Nuclear

When one thinks about nuclear power it doesn’t usually conjure the most positive images. Whether those images are from movies like Godzilla, or stark reality, like Three Mile Island, Fukishima and Chernobyl, it just never seems to go well.  Leadership Central Penn was lucky enough to be hosted by Talen Energy at the Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant, to learn the reality of this awesome power.  The facts were shared with the group by Todd Martin, corporate communications manager, and Alise Seibert, nuclear training supervisor.

The facts are that nuclear power in the 21st century is safe, as with all things, there are risks, but with Talen’s safety first approach, and the oversight of the National Regulator Commission, nuclear power in our community and the United States is not a public risk, but a benefit. The facility is secure and meets the highest standards with rigorous training metrics. As they generate power for the grid, it is sold, as they are not a public utility.  This competitive market has caused some touch choices to be made by the organization.

One effort to maintain flexibility in a market that has spiking load requirements, especially in winter cold snaps, is their ability to bring the Montour Coal Power Plant on line.  This plant is maintained locally at all times, and used when the grid has a demand for more competitively priced energy. The class asked what the lowest cost fuel is for generation. However that is like asking which taste better, an apple or a watermelon?  There are too many factors that influence that answer. Some include demand, pricing of raw materials, subsidies of generation fuel, etc. 

The program from Talen concluded with a tour of the simulator for nuclear training. The class was walked though a program of very excited engineers that liked to challenge themselves with scenarios. They want to simulated load needs, melt down preventions, system failures, and more to ensure safety of the plant, employees and community. Their philosophy is simple – if one safety step is good, two is better, and three is necessary. 

After a wonderful lunch from Lucy’s Kitchen & Catering, the class focused on economic development in this region. This discussion and presentation was led by Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber. The group learned about the successes and challenges of economic development efforts in the area related to government support, workforce development, and impact on public works. One example that was shared is the ongoing Columbia County Business Park. The class was very engaged in the discussion about the creation and ultimate goals that lead to the development of this industrial/commercial park. The future success of this project is growing with one site currently developed and occupied by the Fairfield Inn & Suites, and two additional sites currently being developed.

Everyone also learned more about the role of The Foundation of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce in the economic development of our counties.  These efforts are focused on workforce development and partnership between industry and school districts. Additionally, programming like LCP allows for lifelong learning and community impact programming for professionals. 

The final presenter of the day was David “Otto” Kurechian, executive director of the Columbia-Montour Visitor’s Bureau.  First, Otto allowed the group to follow-up on the Visitor’s Bureau’s role in economic development and success of the Fairfield Inn at the business park. Everyone is aware that tourism is a large business for our area, especially during the spring, summer and fall season with fairs, wine and craft beer trails, outdoor activities and more. However, the class learned about the impact of certain economic development projects like the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. This project has brought many workers to the areas that are staying in local rentals and hotels, eating at local restaurants and shopping at local businesses. 

After economic development wrapped up, Otto discussed boardmanship, what it means to serve on a local Board of Directors or Board of Trustees.  The presentation focused on how to decide if when and how to serve on these boards.  First, he said one should never, ever say yes when initially asked to join a board. Even if it is by one’s employer, and strongly encouraged, or a best friend, neighbor, etc. There are questions people should ask themselves and the organization. The first thing is why do you want to join this organization in this capacity and what you offer them with your skills and interest? You’ll be asked to express these very things when you formally apply to join and are being vetted.  You also need to ask to see the organization’s by-laws, financials, and strategic plan. What is your expected time commitment, how long are you expected to serve, what is the financial situation of the organization, and where are they headed? If you can’t be at the first Tuesday of each month meeting, then don’t join. If you don’t agree with the strategic plan, or finances worry you from the organization, don’t join. This is much like looking for a job, and should be scrutinized as such.

When you find the right fit, you will get extreme amounts of personal satisfaction from your service. The organization will benefit from your skills and passion. The community will be impacted positively. This is the goal of boardsmanship, and the LCP class in general. 

Leadership Central Penn is sponsored by Bloomsburg UniversityKawneerSEKISUI SPI and USG.

State Grant Application Period Now Open For Popular Recreation Program

From State Sen. John Gordner

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will begin accepting applications for the latest round of grants for community conservation and recreational projects on January 22, 2018, according to state Senator John R. Gordner.

“This is a special year, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund,” said Senator Gordner. “Over that time, over 3,000 community park projects and over 12,000 miles in trail projects have been completed or maintained because of this essential program.”

In 2018, DCNR will again focus on grant awards that meet the priorities laid out in the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

“As usual, the priorities for the program this year include rehabilitation of trails and community parks, land conservation projects and improved access to Pennsylvania waterways,” said Senator Gordner.

The application period will remain open until April 11, 2018. Grants will be funded through a variety of sources, including the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund, the Pennsylvania Recreational Trails Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation staff is available to assist in helping applicants develop and submit a competitive grant application.  Detailed program information, access to the online grant application portal and more can be found here

Information on the Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan may be found here. Grant applications are available here.