PA Public Utility Commission Working to Preserve Rural Broadband Funding

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is encouraging residents, businesses, local leaders and other concerned parties – especially in rural communities – to contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of efforts to preserve nearly $140 million in funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in underserved areas in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, the PUC and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) filed a joint petition with the FCC as part of an ongoing effort to address Pennsylvania’s “digital divide” by preserving millions of dollars in federal funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in rural communities across the Commonwealth.

Funding for the Connect America Fund Phase II program (CAF II) is drawn from the federal universal service surcharges paid by state residents and businesses. It is intended to support the deployment of broadband service in high-cost areas, including many rural communities. Most incumbent local telephone companies serving Pennsylvania’s high-cost areas accepted the CAF II funding, along with the commitment to meet federal benchmarks for broadband speed (10 Mbps download & 1 Mbps upload), but the Verizon companies did not, jeopardizing the continued availability of millions of dollars in broadband support throughout Pennsylvania. While this funding is currently only available to regulated utilities, there are other internet providers in the region willing to work with communities and businesses. The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to state legislators in June asking for more flexibility in how these dollars can be allocated to expand broadband in rural areas.

“The FCC plans to conduct an auction to allocate the broadband funding that was not accepted by Verizon, and the PUC has been encouraging all concerned parties to work together to keep these dollars in our state,” said PUC Commissioner David W. Sweet. “We remain hopeful that the FCC will consider the joint petition by the PUC and DCED to approve a Pennsylvania-specific weighting factor to the upcoming CAF II auction.”

Information regarding how to submit comments electronically or by mail to the FCC on this issue is available on the PUC’s website

Additionally, the Commission continues to encourage state and local leaders to continue exploring mechanisms to enhance financial support for rural broadband projects – which could help influence the FCC’s decision about where funds should be directed.

IRS Publishes 2018 Benefit Plan Adjustments

From ChamberChoice

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — when the IRS announces limits and adjustments on employee benefit plans. On Oct. 19, the IRS released its 2018 Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) for tax-related employee benefits in Revenue Procedure 2017-58 and in IRS Notice 2017-64. Some limits have increased while others remained the same.

What Employers Need to Know

• Health Flexible Spending Accounts Increased. The annual employee salary contribution limit to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) will increase to $2,650 for 2018 (a $50 increase from 2017). An employer may decide to have a different limitation on employee health FSA contributions, it just cannot be more than the IRS limit. The limit applies on an employee-by-employee basis. Any non-elective employer contributions generally do not count toward the employee’s dollar limit.

• The monthly limit under IRC Section 132 for fringe benefits is $260 for the combined monthly limit for transit pass and vanpooling expenses. The monthly limit for parking expenses is also $260 per month.

• Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) is an HRA that is available only to small employers that are not subject to the employer shared responsibility penalties under health care reform. As of January 1, 2018, the limitation for QSEHRA payments and reimbursements is $5,050 for an individual and $10,250 for family. This is a $50 increase for individual reimbursements and a $250 increase for family reimbursements.

• The penalty for failure to file correct information returns (which include W-2s, W-3s, 1095 and 1094-C’s will increase to $270 per failure. This increased penalty will be applicable for returns required to be filed in 2019.

The table above demonstrates the 2018 limits for many of the common benefits offered by employers. This is not a comprehensive list.

Employers should begin to review their payroll and plan administration systems for the 2018 adjustments. When preparing open enrollment materials, an employer should incorporate these limits in any communications.

Finally, the employer should determine to distribute updated Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD) or provide a Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) for any required amendments.

Congressional Republicans Unveil Key Details Behind Tax Reform Legislation

The U.S. House chamber

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives made public the blueprint of a bill that will aim to make the first significant changes to the nation’s federal tax system in more than 30 years.

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” seeks to permanently lower the U.S. corporate tax rate to 20 percent and limit home interest deductions to loans up to $500,000. According to national news stories on the legislation, it would also increase the standard deduction for individuals and households, repeal state and local tax deductions (while preserving property tax deductions up to $10,000), repeal the alternative minimum tax, increase the child tax credit to $1,600 and repeal the estate tax by 2024. Notably, the bill would not make changes to 401(k)s. Now that the details of this bill have been shared, it is certain to be the subject of vigorous debate in the months ahead and has become the Trump Administration’s most important domestic issue.

Following the release of the draft, the U.S. Chamber’s Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradly issued a statement acknowledging that while the bill is needed, more work lies ahead in getting the right “policy mix” to ensure its passage in Congress. Also, PA Chamber Vice President Sam Denisco offered these comments to reporters: “The tax plan unveiled by the U.S. House of Representatives this week is a step in the right direction,” Denisco said. “For too long our overly complicated federal tax structure has unnecessarily burdened employers and negatively impacted our country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. Our organization is ultimately pushing for a final bill that streamlines and simplifies the tax code; as well as additional reforms that will lower the tax burdens job creators are currently facing. The PA Chamber looks forward to working with federal officials as this draft proposal gets fine-tuned as it moves through the legislative process.”

The PA Chamber has joined the U.S. Chamber and other business advocacy groups nationwide in calling for Congress to act quickly on a tax reform package and get it to the president’s desk by the end of the year, having most recently signed this letter urging their quick action in achieving the goal of comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform. You can learn more about our support of this U.S. Chamber-led initiative and take action by visiting TaxReformforAmerica.com.

ChamberChoice to Offer Pair of Webinars on Benefits-Related Issues in November and December

ChamberChoice will offer a pair of webinars about two separate topics related to workplace benefits administration in November and December. Both webinars are available free-of-charge to all Chamber members as a benefit of membership through the Chamber’s affinity programs through ChamberChoice

The schedule and topics of the webinars are listed below. Please visit the JRG Advisors website for more information or to register for one or both.

Thursday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m. – Add Value with Life and Disability Insurance

Thursday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m. – Avoid the Pitfalls of Plan Administration

State Budget Impasse Ends as State Legislature Passes, Governor Signs Funding Bills

The four-month impasse between when spending bills for the 2018 fiscal year state budget were passed and funding mechanisms were agreed to ended earlier this week as the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a series of bills that were then signed by Governor Tom Wolf that will fund the necessary spending. The revenue package has three main components:

– Authorizes additional gambling, including Internet-based games and more casinos. 
– Authorizes borrowing up to $1.5 billion from the state’s tobacco settlement, to be paid back annually over the next 20 years.
– A series of one-time fund transfers totaling about $500 million into the state’s general fund. 

For more details, read this summary from the Harrisburg Patriot-News or this summary from the PA Chamber of Business & Industry