Health & Welfare Plans Newsletter

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Benefits in General

[Official Guidance]

DOL Issues Compliance Guidance for Employee Benefit Plans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey
"The Department is working with the IRS to provide relief regarding certain verification procedures that may be required under retirement plans with respect to plan loans to participants and beneficiaries, hardship distributions and other pension benefit distributions....

The Department recognizes that some employers and service providers acting on employers' behalf, such as payroll processing services, located in identified covered disaster areas will not be able to forward participant payments and withholdings to employee pension benefit plans within the prescribed timeframe. In such instances, the Department will not -- solely on the basis of a failure attributable to Hurricane Harvey -- seek to enforce the provisions of Title I with respect to a temporary delay in the forwarding of such payments or contributions to an employee pension benefit plan to the extent that affected employers, and service providers, act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of employees to comply as soon as practical under the circumstances....

With respect to blackout periods related to Hurricane Harvey, the Department will not allege a violation of the blackout notice requirements solely on the basis that a fiduciary did not make the required written determination....

The Department recognizes that plan participants and beneficiaries may encounter an array of problems due to the hurricane, such as difficulties meeting certain deadlines for filing benefit claims and COBRA elections. The guiding principle for plans must be to act reasonably, prudently and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health plans for their physical and economic well-being. Plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes."

Employee Benefits Security Administration [EBSA], U.S. Department of Labor [DOL]

[Official Guidance]

Text of DOL FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries Following Hurricane Harvey (PDF)
8 pages; 22 Q&As, including:

Health Benefit Questions: If my place of employment has closed as a result of Hurricane Harvey, am I still covered by my employer's group health plan? ... My employer's place of business is closed. I cannot locate my plan administrator. Who do I contact to file a claim for benefits, or to obtain replacement identification documents? ... Can my employer terminate or reduce my health benefits? ... My employer did not pay my insurance premium. May I pay the premium to continue my coverage? ... I am a retiree and I receive retiree health benefits from my former employer. The company was affected by the events of Hurricane Harvey. Can my retiree health benefits be terminated or changed? ... I had COBRA coverage prior to Hurricane Harvey. The location I was sending my COBRA premium to is closed. Where do I send my premium? ...

Retirement Benefit Questions: My employer's place of business is closed due to the events of Hurricane Harvey. Who should I contact to file a claim for retirement benefits or make sure that I will continue to receive my pension payments on time? ... How can I make changes in the way my 401(k) plan account is invested if it was affected by the events of Hurricane Harvey ? ... Can I get money out of my retirement plan if I need financial assistance to help me at this time? ... When must my retirement plan pay my claim for benefits? ... If I am entitled to receive benefits from my spouse's retirement plan based on the terms of a divorce or separation, what should I do to make sure my rights are protected? ... If my employer faces economic difficulties as a result of the events of Hurricane Harvey, can my employer terminate my retirement plan, and if so, what happens to my benefits? ... All of the records concerning my employment with the retirement plan sponsor and my participation in the retirement plan were destroyed as a result of the events of Hurricane Harvey. What do I do? ... Where can I get more information on my retirement benefit rights?"

Employee Benefits Security Administration [EBSA], U.S. Department of Labor [DOL]

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David Rhett Baker, J.D., Editor and Publisher
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BenefitsLink Health & Welfare Plans Newsletter, ISSN no. 1536-9595. Copyright 2017, Inc. All materials contained in this newsletter are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of, Inc., or in the case of third party materials, the owner of those materials. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notices from copies of the content.

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