In addition to $600 checks for most Americans, the year-end COVID-19 stimulus package signed by the President on December 27, 2020, includes a new round of changes that employers will need to track for their employee benefit plans. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133) (the “Act”) is the fourth major legislative attempt to provide relief to businesses and individuals facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although lacking a catchy acronym (like the “CARES” and “SECURE” Acts), this legislation makes the most significant changes to health plans since the Affordable Care Act, offers employers and employees additional flexibility for cafeteria plan benefits, and provides additional retirement plan relief.
The SECURE and CARES Acts provide a broad spectrum of required and optional changes that employers must evaluate with respect to retirement plan administration. One impending change is the SECURE Act’s broader eligibility requirement for part-time employees in 401(k) plans, which becomes effective on January 1, 2021. In addition, employers may be surprised to learn that some CARES Act distribution options were added to their plans automatically by their record keepers through a “default” process. Thus, employers should review their plan’s administrative procedures to determine if (and how) changes under the SECURE Act and CARES Act were (and are being) implemented to ensure administrative compliance with the plan document.
On May 4, 2020, the IRS posted 14 Questions and Answers (Q&As) on its website regarding the special retirement plan distribution options and loan provisions made available to certain qualified participants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (hereinafter, the “CARES Act”). These Q&As answer many, but not all, of the questions that plan sponsors and third-party administrators have been grappling with since the CARES Act was enacted on March 27, 2020. Perhaps most importantly, the Q&As confirm that each of the distribution and loan provisions are optional for employers to adopt (or not adopt). They also indicate that the IRS intends to issue formal guidance regarding the CARES Act distribution and loan provisions in the near future, and that it anticipates that the guidance will generally apply the principles set forth in its prior guidance (Notice 2005-92) regarding the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005 (“KETRA”).
A frequently overlooked portion of the CARES Act offers employers the ability to give their employees some immediate – and cost-free – financial assistance. The Act opens the door for employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase over-the-counter drugs and menstrual care products. Employers will need to modify health FSAs, HSAs, and HRAs to take advantage of this relief.