COVID-19 HR/Benefits Information
UNY Conference Benefits Office contacts:
The Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits (CBOPHB) met on March 19, 2020 regarding the new direct bill arrearage policy that went into effect January 1, 2020. The CBOPHB has approved delayed enforcement of the direct bill arrearage policy until June 15, 2020. If a church is still able to pay their direct bills, they should. If a church experiences financial hardship as a result of reduced giving during this time, the church is asked to notify their District Superintendent as well as the Benefits office (Susan Latessa or Julie Valeski) of their situation. The Upper New York Conference will work on it on a case-by-case basis.
The following are ways in which the federal government, Guardian Life, and state government can help those affected by the COVID-19-related enforcements pertaining to work.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201 or “the Act”)
IRS Tax Deferment
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
Mental Health Benefits
COVID-10 Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave Benefits
COVID 19 Unemployment Insurance and CARES Act Benefits
What You Need to Know and Do about the CARES Act and Unemployment Insurance
UPDATE: Dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA) changes
COVID-19 Update CARES Act—Summary of Potential Impact for the UMC Overview
Message from Wespath to HealthFlex Participants
Relief efforts from Wespath and the CBOPHB during the COVID-19 Crisis
CARES Act Update SBA Publishes PPP Loan Forgiveness Application Form; Regulations Expected Soon
This act addresses the need for temporary paid employee sick and family leave, as well as other support programs to help individuals and families cope with COVID-19 disruptions. The President signed the bill and it will go into effect within 15 days of its enactment. It includes a mandate for paid sick leave for full and part-time employees as well as expanded paid family leave for employee’s whose children under the age of 18, are home due to school/day care closures. There will be a refundable tax credit for applicable employers who had employees take the leave. Click the links below to learn more about this.
On March 25, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a required notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). All employers covered by the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA (i.e. certain public sector employers and private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees) are required to post the notice. The notice applies to current employees and new hires. Click here to learn more and click here for the Employee Rights poster.
Click here for Wespath’s March 18, 2020 issue of HealthFlex Express for an article related to your Healthflex Benefits and COVID-19 Updates -
Click here for Wespath’s March 20, 2020 issue of On Board Express for an article related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201) — Preliminary Summary and UMC Impact
Click here to read Guardian Life’s (our Paid Family Leave Carrier) description of the Paid Family Leave Legislation. As did Wespath, Guardian nicely broken down the confusing language of the legislation.
Disclaimer: The information above, should not be considered legal or tax advice from UNYUMC or its vendors. Conferences, local churches, or other UMC employers should consult with their own counsel in considering the application of the Act to their circumstances.
If you are unable to work due to COVID-19, but do not meet the eligibility requirements of the H.R. 6201 legislation noted above – NOTE: NYS is waiving the 7-day waiting period for Unemployment Insurance benefits for people who are out of work due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) closures or quarantines. Click here to go to the unemployment website where there are instructions on how to file a claim.
There are an abundance of resources available to you every day as a member of the Upper New York Annual Conference through the Employee Assistance Program:
- EAP through Optum Health is for full-time clergy and employee’s enrolled in HealthFlex medical benefits.
- EAP through ESI is for part time clergy and supply pastors appointed to local churches, active clergy over the age of 65, clergy on CPP, part-time year-round Conference employees and Conference employees who waived medical insurance.
Click here to be directed to the EAP programs.
If you need for inpatient or outpatient mental health benefits, there is coverage under the medical plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield IL. Please click here to read Susan Latessa, UNY Director of Human Resources/Benefits, about the vendor change for mental health/behavioral health claims effective January 1, 2020.
U.S. Department of Labor
The United States Department of Labor has issued new guidance regarding the emergency FMLA leave and emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, including fact sheets and a “questions and answers” page. The USDOL also issued the required poster, together with FAQs about the notice requirement. These are all available on the USDOL’s website at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic. The guidance clarifies a number of ambiguities from the statute, including the effective date (April 1st), how to count employees, how to pay part-time employees, how to pay full-time employees with varying schedules, how overtime hours factor into the calculation, the interplay between the FMLA and PSL provisions, whether the statute is retroactive and more.
New York State Department of Labor
The New York Department of Labor has also added a new website at https://paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/COVID19. The website also includes a FAQs page at https://paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/new-york-paid-family-leave-covid-19-faqs. On its website, the NYDOL has provided new guidance that clarifies several important points, including how to calculate the paid sick leave compensation, whether the number of paid days is workdays or calendar days, whether school closures can trigger this law, whether the law applies retroactively and more.
COVID-19 Update CARES Act—Summary of Potential Impact for the UMC Overview
On Friday, March 27, 2020, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving a “Phase III” response and economic stimulus package aimed at countering some of the economic impacts of the coronavirus disease (“COVID-19”) pandemic in the United States. The President signed the bill into law the same day.
Click the following link for the summary: https://www.wespath.org/assets/1/7/5559.pdf
New York State Department of Labor
Important Information for Unemployment Insurance Claimants:
The CARES Act was enacted on Friday, March 27, 2020. Please see the CARES Act web page for information about how the Act may affect UI benefits.
Please do not call if you already have a UI claim; it will only make it difficult for others to reach an agent.
Information regarding the CARES Act and other COVID-19 updates will be posted in the Frequently Asked Questions about Unemployment Insurance During the Coronavirus Emergency.
If you are filing a new Unemployment Insurance claim, the day you should apply is based on the first letter of your last name.
A - F file on Monday | G - N file on Tuesday | O - Z file on Wednesday
Missed your day? File on Thurs-Fri-Sat
Any claim you file will be backdated to the date you became unemployed. If you are eligible, you will be paid for all benefits due.
The hours to file a claim have been extended. The hours are as follows:
Monday through Thursday: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
The federal CARES Act was signed into law March 27, 2020. The Act provides enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for New Yorkers. Here’s what you need to know.
Click here to view an enlared image of the graphic.
For more information about the CARES Act, Unemployment Insurance, or filing an application, please click here: https://www.labor.ny.gov/ui/cares-act.shtm
CARES ACT / PPP – Paycheck Protection Program
Wespath Summary on CARES ACT / PPP
Social Security Economic Impact Payments
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, reminds the public that Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit payments will continue to be paid on time during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency also reminds everyone to be aware of scammers who try to take advantage of the pandemic to trick people into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain Social Security benefit payments or receive economic impact payments from the Department of the Treasury.
“Social Security will pay monthly benefits on time and these payments will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Commissioner Saul said. “I want our beneficiaries to be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping or somehow changing your Social Security payments, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.”
The Department of the Treasury will soon provide information about economic impact payments under the recently enacted law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. Treasury, not Social Security, will be making direct payments to eligible people. Please do not call Social Security about these payments as the agency does not have information to share.
The agency continues to direct the public to its online self-service options whenever possible. Local offices are closed to the public but are available by phone. People can find their local field office phone number by accessing the Field Office Locator.
To allow available agents to provide better phone coverage, the agency is temporarily changing the National 800 number hours starting on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The hours will change from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time to 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. local time. The agency is experiencing longer than normal wait times on the 800 Number and asks the public to remain patient, use its online services at www.socialsecurity.gov, or call their local office.
Please visit the agency’s COVID-19 web page at www.socialsecurity.gov/coronavirus/ for important information and updates.
If your dependent care needs have changed such that you no longer believe you will spend your full election and/or you need additional funds for dependent care, please contact your plan sponsor and/or the Wespath Health Team to determine whether you may be able to update your election. Changes can only be made prospectively and you cannot reduce your election to less than you have already contributed.
Click here for a term sheet from Wespath to help Conferences and churches with their understanding of the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program.
Click here for more information about the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program regarding UNY churches.
Click here for instructions on how employers should complete an I9 form during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Click here to read the April 8, 2020 issue of On Board Express. There is one article about the CARES Act Update.
Click here to read On Board Express and COVID-19 Updates: Health-Related Expenses for Participants; PPP Loans for Employers
“The information above should not be considered legal or tax advice. Annual conferences, local churches, or other UMC employers should consult with counsel in considering the application of the Act to their circumstances.”
Click here to read an article from Susan Latessa regarding relief efforts from Wespath and the CBOPHB during COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, May 15 (after business hours), the Treasury Department (Treasury) and Small Business Administration (SBA) published a loan forgiveness application under the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The forgiveness application includes step-by-step instructions that clarify some questions borrowers have had about forgivable costs. Treasury has also issued a press release, in which they promise additional regulatory guidance soon to help borrowers complete this application. Treasury's press release states: "SBA will also soon issue regulations and guidance to further assist borrowers as they complete their applications, and to provide lenders with guidance on their responsibilities." Borrowers may want to await these forthcoming regulations before completing applications for PPP loan forgiveness.
PPP loan forgiveness is based on the borrower maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several provisions to ease the process for borrowers, including:
- Allowing borrowers to calculate payroll costs using an "alternative payroll covered period" that aligns with borrowers' regular payroll cycles (page 1 of the application). However, this flexibility appears only to be available to borrowers with payroll periods at least as frequent as bi-weekly (every other week/14–day intervals); so it appears to not be available for borrowers with semi-monthly (twice per month/13–16-day intervals) payroll periods.
- Providing borrowers some limited flexibility to determine payroll costs using an accrual method, but only if the incurred costs are paid by the end of the next pay period after the forgiveness period ends (application page 2).
- Offering borrower-friendly exemptions from loan forgiveness reduction based on (1) rehiring by June 30, or (2) for borrowers who have made a good-faith, written offer to rehire that was declined by the workers (application page 8).
In addition, borrowers will need to supply the lender and SBA a list of employees (page 9) and an array of other substantiating documentation (page 10). It appears that documents to be submitted must include "[p]ayment receipts, cancelled checks, or account statements documenting the amount of any employer contributions to employee health insurance and retirement plans that the borrower included in the forgiveness amount." The mention of account statements might suggest that the SBA is focused mainly on individual retirement accounts (defined contribution plans) and not necessarily thinking about how this might apply to defined benefit plan expenses.
The forthcoming forgiveness regulations may offer some additional guidance on some of the open questions and observations noted above.
Questions from Churches
We are receiving questions from churches, who are PPP borrowers, about payment of retirement plan and health plan costs during their forgiveness periods, and requests for related documentation. We (as Plan Sponsor) are working closely with Wespath on the guidance being provided. As we all await forthcoming forgiveness regulations, Wespath is determining how they can provide plan sponsors with flexibility, support and necessary documentation for PPP loan forgiveness applications.
PPP Resources for UMC Employers
We continue to partner with Wespath and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) as they analyze CARES Act guidance and provide relevant information for local churches, annual conferences and other UMC employers. These resources are available:
We expect additional Treasury and SBA guidance from Wespath about PPP loan forgiveness, and will update documents as needed.
Disclaimer: The information above, should not be considered legal or tax advice from UNYUMC or its vendors. Annual conferences, local churches, or other UMC employers should consult with their own counsel in considering the application of the Act to their circumstances.