Review of Employee Benefit Files Should Include Tax Cuts and Job Act Provisions

From ChamberChoice

At this time of year it is less hectic in the Human Resource and Employee Benefit departments with the end of the year reports filed and open enrollment out of the way. It’s the perfect time of year for employers to pull out benefit records for review, confirmation and updating. Here are several tasks that employee benefit professionals should consider to help with their review.

Many employers use benefit confirmation statements once employees have completed their open enrollment elections. Although these statements are generally utilized for electronic enrollments, some employers provide them for paper elections also. During this “winter lull”, an employer should compare any confirmation statements to what the employer has on record for an employee’s benefit choices and dependents enrolled. Furthermore, an employer should ensure that payroll records reflect any premium changes because of the employee’s elections. This is especially important when an employee’s premium insurance elections are done on a pre-tax basis through an employer’s Section 125 plan. Section 125 rules provide that an election is irrevocable for the 12-month plan year unless there is an IRS permissible reason for a mid-year election change. There are some events not in the 125 rules that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, an individual might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children.

Two popular benefits that employers provide their employees are group term life insurance and disability (both short and long term). Life insurance premiums are usually based on the age of the employee, while disability premiums are based on an employee’s wages. An employer should take advantage of “spring cleaning” to ensure that its records (payroll and invoices) reflect the age changes of employees as well as any pay increases that may have occurred at the beginning of the new year. Also, the employer should double-check these benefits for issues such as the removal of terminated employees, employee classification change which affects the amount of a benefit, and proper taxation. Depending on the employer’s policies, an employee may be able to have the premiums for disability insurance paid on a post-tax basis (instead of pre-tax) which enables an employee to avoid taxation upon receipt of a disability benefit.

Now is also a good time for employers to have employees review, and update if necessary, their beneficiary forms. Beneficiary designations are frequently used in retirement and life insurance plans to determine entitlement to benefits payable upon death of the participant. In the case of certain benefits subject to spousal protections, federal law imposes requirements on both the form and timing of beneficiary designations. Other types of beneficiary designations are a matter of plan design. A beneficiary designation which does not accurately reflect an employee’s intent can result in disputes following the death of a participant. There are a multitude of life situations that if a proper beneficiary designation is not on file, could be costly to an employer (think divorce, simultaneous death of the participant and beneficiary, or lost forms as examples). An employer may be required to defend a lawsuit, correct improper payments or find the proper beneficiary.

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017 includes several significant changes relevant to employers for payroll and employee benefits purposes. The new tax act was effective as of Jan. 1, 2018. In IRS Notice 1036 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published the income-tax withholding tables for 2018 reflecting changes made by the new tax law. The updated tables, which are to be used no later than Feb. 15, 2018, reflect the new rates for employers.

Additionally in the Notice, the IRS noted it is working on revising the Form W-4 to reflect the changes in the new law. The new Form W-4 can be used by employees who wish to update their withholding in response to the new law or changes in their personal circumstances in 2018, and by workers starting a new job. Until a new Form W-4 is issued, employees and employers should continue to use the 2017 Form W-4. Employers should visit the IRS website as to the release of 2018 W-4s.

During this review time, and due to the TCJA, besides employee benefit records, employers should take the time to review any of its policies which may be affected. Previously, employers were able to offer qualified transportation fringe benefits, including qualified parking, on a tax-favored basis (meaning not included in an employee’s gross taxable income). In 2017, the maximum monthly exclusion was $255. This benefit was seen as a “perk” to employees and employers could generally deduct these expenses. However, the TCJA repealed the employer deduction for qualified transportation fringe benefits. This repeal in no way affects a Qualified Transportation Plan an employer may have established under IRC Section 132. This type of plan allows for an employee to have contributions deducted on a pre-tax basis for qualified parking and transit passes.

In conclusion, during mid-winter there usually is some time for HR and Employee Benefit professionals to do a review of employee files. An employer should ensure that employee benefit elections are properly reflected in payroll deductions. Any premium increases due to wage increases or age increases of employees should be considered. Finally, the new tax act makes some changes that affect employer benefit policies and taxes.

Thank You to the Annual Meeting’s Sponsors

This is the first of two posts recognizing and thanking all of the valuable contributors that helped make the 2018 Chamber Annual Meeting a successful event once again. It is the continued support of these businesses, organizations and individuals that helps the Chamber fulfill its mission of offering programs, benefits and events to its members, giving them a stronger voice and advocacy and being involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. 

Thanks to all of the sponsors of this year’s Annual Meeting.

Event Sponsor
PPL Electric Utilities

 

 

 

Small Business of the Year Award Sponsor
First Columbia Bank & Trust

 

 

Large Business of the Year Award Sponsor
The Columbia Alliance For Economic Growth

 

Community Progress Award Sponsor
Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center

 

 

Outstanding Citizen Award Sponsor
Berwick Industrial Development Association

 

 

Hospitality Sponsors
Century 21 Covered Bridges Realty

 

 

 

Lucy’s Kitchen & Catering

 

 

 

 

 

MetroCast Business Services

 

 

 

SUEZ 

 

 


Corporate Table Sponsors

Columbia County Traveling Library
Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center
First Columbia Bank & Trust
First Keystone Community Bank (2)
Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital
Geisinger Health Plan
Ken Pollock Ford-Lincoln
Key Partners Realty
M&T Bank
MetroCast Communications
PPL Electric Utilities
Scott’s Floral, Gift & Greenhouse
Service 1st Federal Credit Union
Williams

Annual Award Winners Announced at Chamber’s Annual Meeting

Member businesses and individuals of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce were recognized during the organization’s Annual Meeting on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at Rolling Pines Golf Course & Banquet Facility in Berwick, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities.

More than 200 people attended the dinner meeting, which celebrated outstanding member achievements, elected members to the Board of Directors, highlighted Chamber activities of the past year, and previewed the year ahead.

The Chamber’s four annual awards were presented businesses and individuals for their significant contributions to the community. The following awards were presented to the following recipients:

Small Business of the Year
(Sponsored by First Columbia Bank & Trust)
Steph’s Subs

Large Business of the Year
(Sponsored by The Columbia Alliance of Economic Growth)
SEKISUI SPI

Community Progress Award
(Sponsored by Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center)
LCBC Church Columbia-Montour

Outstanding Citizen
(Sponsored by Berwick Industrial Development Association)
Denise Stone, Geisinger

The Small Business of the Year award goes to a member business of 30 employees or fewer than has done one or more of the following: demonstrated business leadership evidenced by diversification and creativity in the development of new products, services and/or markets; demonstrated staying power and positive response to adversity; or demonstrated community involvement.

In an area full of giving people and businesses that support their community, Steph’s Subs sets the example. There aren’t many positive community causes, especially those in Bloomsburg, that owner Steph Severn doesn’t support, and her personality matches her generosity, as she is one of the most genuine people one will ever meet.

The list of ways that Steph and her business support the community is very lengthy. For instance, each fall Friday for the last several years, before every Bloomsburg High School football game, she has invited the team to her restaurant for a free meal. There probably isn’t a nonprofit in the area that she has not donated to in some way, and she also generously gives her time through service on a number of boards and advisory committees throughout her career, including the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau, Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc., and Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital’s patient-family advisory boards.

In terms of staying power, Steph’s product is an area mainstay. Whether one bit into a sub that she made in 1978, or 2005 after she decided to open her own business, or yesterday, the taste is the same. Steady and constant quality is a hallmark of a good business, and Steph and her business certainly have those attributes.

Another part of being a community-minded business is encouraging the next generation. Many a Bloomsburg University or high school student have worked at Steph’s Subs over the years, but these many students have received far more than just a paycheck. Steph personally takes these students under her wing and serves as a mentor to them, imploring them to continue their education, but also do volunteer work and be active, positive citizens in their community, whether that’s here or elsewhere. When we consider the challenges of workforce, this may be the most important thing of the many that Steph and her business contribute.

The Large Business of the Year Award, goes to a business with 31 or more employees, and the criteria is the same as for the Small Business of the Year honor.

Many in the local business community as well as others that work with SEKISUI SPI or its employees have heard great things about its culture and purpose. SEKISUI’s culture includes ensuring total customer satisfaction, providing superior value, caring for the environment, promoting a team spirit among all personnel, and recognizing and rewarding excellence of individuals. Its purpose comes from making positive contributions to society, such as through research and development, being environmentally conscious and committing to zero-landfill, as well as empowering its employees.

Over the last several years, SEKISUI has greatly invested in its culture and its people, as well as its facilities in Columbia County. In 2016, it opened its second manufacturing plant here, its “South campus,” which was part of a $15 million investment in the area. Any business that makes such a significant investment in a region usually only does so if it knows it has an adequate workforce. SEKISUI president and COO Ronn Cort, who has worked around the world and in areas with far larger populations than Columbia County during his career, noted that the workforce in this area is the best he has ever worked with. He serves as an Ambassador for our area in spreading that message.

The people that make up that workforce have been empowered to make a difference in their community, and one conduit of doing so has been the United Way of Columbia & Montour County. Over the last five years, SEKISUI’s employee campaign has grown by 79%, and when combined with the corporate matching and additional donations, SEKISUI’s contributions over the last five years to the United Way have grown by over 250%. SEKISUI also sponsors programs such as Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s Theatre in the Classroom, the Chamber Foundation’s Leadership Central Penn, scholarships at both Bloomsburg University and Penn College, and through its “Noble Acts” program, has also given corporate and employee donations to organizations such as Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech, AGAPE, Bloomsburg University’s STEM Magnet Program, the Columbia County Traveling Library, Central Columbia School District and many more.

The Community Progress Award goes to a member business or organization that showed improvement in the internal or external appearance of a commercial property through either new construction, renovation, restoration or remodeling, and completed that construction within the last three calendar years or by December 2017.

Founded in 1986 in the Lancaster area, LCBC Church has grown to 11 campuses in Pennsylvania and is now one of the largest and fastest growing churches not only here but in the country. The Columbia-Montour campus was launched in 2015 in Berwick, and in 2016, plans were made to move to have it more centrally located in the area and have a building that would be able accommodate continued growth.

LCBC Church chose the former Giant Food Stores building on Rt. 11 and Central Road that had sat vacant for well over a decade. It invested $4.2 million to transform this building from an eyesore, to a vibrant, uplifting and inspirational location for its hundreds of weekly churchgoers. Since opening the new church in July of last year, LCBC’s high-energy worship services have attracted thousands. The church here averages about 1,000 in attendance per week, and all LCBC campuses average just over 17,000.

With this investment also comes a commitment, as LCBC Church has a 15-year lease on this property, with options to extend it to nearly 30 years if they choose. Occupancy rates for both homes and commercial buildings are one indicator of a community’s overall health, and how much progress they can truly make. Thanks to LCBC Church, our community has progressed and gotten that much healthier.

The Outstanding Citizen Award is presented to an individual that is an employee or volunteer of a member organization who is involved in civic activities beneficial to the Columbia Montour region and who projects a positive community image.

Now in her second stint at Geisinger, where she currently is a director of service line development with the Geisinger Foundation, Denise Stone has lent her expertise to several community organizations throughout her career, all of which have helped make our community and these respective organizations better.

She currently serves on the Columbia Montour Chamber and Downtown Bloomsburg, Inc. boards, the Chamber’s membership committee, and is a member of the Bloomsburg Rotary Club, Bloomsburg American Legion and Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital Auxiliary. For just short of a decade, while her sons where in school, she also served as the president of the Bloomsburg High School football boosters.

One of her most notable contributions to our community was as part of her recently concluded service on the board of the Columbia County Traveling Library, which last year purchased a new bookmobile for the first time in over 20 years, with a price tag of $280,000. Additionally, the Traveling Library needs to raise about $40,000 each year to deliver the service the community expects, so it had some pretty significant work to do.

She was instrumental in helping the Traveling Library develop its fundraising capacity, and she immediately lent her expertise and took over as chair of the bookmobile campaign. The Traveling Library board did not have her level of fundraising experience or network, so Denise helped them develop those relationships and expand their network. Her depth of knowledge, personable nature, and determined approach served the Traveling Library extremely well, just as these same attributes have served every organization that Denise has been associated with. When it came time for her service to the board to end a few months ago, the Traveling Library had already raised $200,000 of the $280,000 that it needs to finance the bookmobile.

Denise resides in Bloomsburg with her husband, Matt, and two college-aged sons.

Chamber Announces 2018-19 Board of Directors

The 2018 – 2019 Board of Directors of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce was announced at the organization’s Annual Meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 8, at Rolling Pines Golf Course & Banquet Facility in Berwick, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities

The following individuals were elected to the Board of Directors:
 

Nominated to serve a 3-year term on the Chamber Board:
Dan Knorr, II, Bloomsburg University
Mary Radle, Key Partners Realty
Denise Stone, Geisinger
Jeff Whitenight, First Columbia Bank & Trust


Nominated to serve a 1-year term on the Chamber Board:
Donna Coombs, GordnerCoombs Insurance
Sam Haulman, Service Electric
Chris Stamatedes, PPL Electric Utilities


Nominated to serve as Chamber Officers
Chair (2-year term)     Karen Wood, Service 1st Federal Credit Union
Vice Chair                      Dan Knorr, II, Bloomsburg University
Treasurer                       Denise Stone, Geisinger
Immediate Past Chair Mark Gardner, M&T Bank
President                        Fred Gaffney


Appointed by Board Chair for 1-year appointments
Jim Micklow, Press Enterprise
Holly Morrison, Central Susquehanna Community Foundation
Tom Neal, Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center

Workers Comp Drug Formulary Bill Fails in House

Legislation that would create a drug formulary for workers compensation did not receive the necessary votes to pass in the State House on Tuesday, Feb. 6. The vote on SB 936 was 98-98 – three votes short of the 101 needed to pass. Normally, 102 votes are needed but two seats are currently vacant, and three members who had expressed support for the legislation were on leave. A reconsideration motion was filed which may provide an opportunity for another vote later in the session.

The goal of the bill is to curb overprescribing and abuse of opioids. The Chamber joined with dozens of other chambers from across Pennsylvania in supporting the legislation, which passed in the Senate in October. Thanks to Senator Gordner as well as Representatives Masser and Millard for supporting the bill.