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Finding Opportunity In A Changing Landscape

January 31, 2017


Health insurance professionals have definitely felt the effects of changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, as has the insurance industry as a whole. With some companies cutting commissions in response to medical loss ratio requirements, many brokers have seen substantial reductions in income. And while the new president has promised to make dramatic changes to the ACA, much remains to be seen about how and when those changes may take effect.

The $300 billion government-contractor market represents a huge opportunity for brokers who want to continue working in the health insurance industry. Federal contractors are required to spend a certain amount of money to provide benefits–including health insurance–to workers on contracts that fall under either the Davis- Bacon Act or the Service Contract Act. Many states and municipalities have similar laws and requirements as well.

Here are some of the advantages of working with government contractors:

  • While most know they’re required to spend a specified amount on benefits, many don’t realize that doing so results in significant savings on payroll burden and other taxes. Contractors that use these funds to pay for health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, vision insurance, disability insurance and retirement plans–rather than including the funds as additional cash wages for their workers–can increase their profitability as a result of these savings.
  • Funds to pay for worker benefits are included in the “wage determination.”

Government contractors are required to pay workers what’s called a “prevailing wage,” which is determined by the Department of Labor and varies for each job classification on a contract. The wage determination includes both a base wage and a set amount to be spent on fringe benefits, including health insurance.

  • Savings realized by using fringe dollars to provide benefits make contractors more competitive. When contractors prepare bids for government work, every dollar counts. Contractors that use fringe dollars for benefits lower their payroll burden, in turn lowering job costs. This makes them more competitive and increases their chances of winning contracts.
  • Construction is rebounding, making employee attraction and retention even more critical. Housing starts have risen in each of the past six years, and several industry sources predict healthy advances in commercial construction as well. That means competition for skilled construction workers is tough. One way employers can differentiate themselves when it comes to attracting and retaining good workers is by offering a robust benefits program.

Help is available. There are third-party administrators that specialize in working with brokers and their government contractor customers. These TPAs can provide guidance when it comes to working with this niche market, and they can be a valuable resource when it comes to prospecting for new clients. Some providers that specialize in benefits for contractors working on Davis-Bacon Act projects handle the administration of the program for their contractor clients and offer a unique program called hour banking.

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States Move Forward With Infrastructure Focus

January 27, 2017


While a federal infrastructure plan has been a topic of discussion of the new administration, no clear plan has yet to emerge. Despite this, many states are pressing forward with their infrastructure investment plans.

Here is a list of several states and what their efforts are focusing on:

  • Minnesota – Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith introduced a Jobs Bill that would invest $1.5 billion in community infrastructure projects statewide, creating an estimated 22,950 Minnesota jobs and supporting local economies across the state.
  • Delaware – budgeted approximately $460M for infrastructure projects through 2021; adopting a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) along with a Five Year Strategic Plan.
  • Connecticut – The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) released its $10.9 billion, five-year capital plan for fiscal years 2017-2021 covering highways, bridges, and public transportation needs; leveraging state and federal resources to advance the infrastructure programs.
  • Colorado – Governor Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech described investment in infrastructure and education as a necessity, not a luxury, and said the state needs to pay more to fund it. He also called for Colorado to chart its own course during a time when Republicans control the presidency and both houses of Congress.
  • Michigan – Governor Snyder’s State address focused on finding the funding to support statewide infrastructure spending.
  • Montana – unveiled “Employ Montana” which will rebuild infrastructure, create a marketplace for state-made products, enhance innovation, invest in jobs, and responsibly develop natural resources.

A consistent theme among the various states appears to be the question of how to fund the projects and programs that are in need. For now, it appears that states will continue to have a central role in planning and funding the nation’s road and bridge projects.

Infrastructure Spending May Gain Attention in 2017

December 1, 2016


There has been much discussion about an infrastructure spending bill getting traction once president-elect Trump takes office. During his campaign, Trump often spoke about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, though an exact plan is not clear.

One major feature of Trump’s plan appears to be involving the private sector. Trump has spoken about unleashing $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment over ten years by engaging the private sector with offers of $137 billion in federal tax credits to those private investors who want to back transportation projects.

The tax credits are intended to help finance a significant share of the nation’s infrastructure needs and would serve as a critical supplement to existing financing programs, public-private partnerships, America bonds, and other funding opportunities. However, this may only work on some projects, specifically those that generate revenue.

Trump has also discussed a desire to explore new policy ideas. Establishing a national infrastructure bank is one consideration, which has been favored by Democrats. Also under consideration is the idea of taxing corporate earnings that are stored abroad when the money returns to the US and using that revenue to pay for infrastructure spending. This second option is more favored by Republicans, but regardless there appears to be a willingness to examine a variety of policy opinions.

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Recording Available of Exclusive Webinar Covering the Fair Pay Final Rule

November 16, 2016


A webinar was hosted by FBG on Tuesday, November 15th, covering the recent Fair Pay Final Rule. The webinar was presented by our partner Leslie Stout-Tabackman, who is a Principal at Jackson Lewis P.C.

She discussed what you need to know about the new regulations, how it could impact your organization, and what contractors should be doing now, including:

  • Effective dates, including phased in requirements
  • Paycheck transparency and pre-dispute arbitration agreements
  • Covered entities and contracts
  • Definitions of disclosable labor law decisions and types of violations
  • Disclosures by subcontractors
  • DOL’s new preassessment of violations invitation

 

If you were unable to attend, you can view a recording of the webinar by clicking here.

Understanding The Fair Pay Final Rule

October 13, 2016


On August 25, 2016, a final rule was published to implement the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (EO 13673) which was signed by President Obama on July 31, 2014. The purpose of EO 13673, also referred to as “Fair Pay” or “blacklisting”, is to increase efficiency and cost savings in Federal contracting by improving contractor compliance with labor laws. Simply put, the intent of EO 13673 is to ensure that federal agencies do business with responsible contractors by encouraging the agencies to make purchasing decisions that consider the contractors’ compliance with federal and state labor laws.

The requirements needed to accomplish this goal significantly increases contractor (both prime and sub) labor law compliance disclosure, requires agencies to consider contractor compliance when making source selection decisions, and creates new agency responsibilities to assess contractor compliance and provide assistance.

Examples of federal labor laws that will be evaluated from a compliance standpoint include the Davis-Bacon Act, Service Contract Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and many others. Compliance with similar state laws must also be considered, but these will be addressed in a future rulemaking.

The October 25, 2016, effective date will have a limited phase-in period. Contractors who work on contracts with a value of $50 million or more must start reporting any labor law violations received within one year before the start of the contract beginning October 25, 2016. The phase-in ends April 24, 2017, at which time any contracts with a value of $500,000 or more must start reporting. By October 25, 2018, there will be a three-year look back period.

Subcontractors have one additional year in which to comply. Subcontractor reporting will begin October 25, 2017. In general, reporting requirements are complicated given the phase-in, contract value differences, and one-year extension for subcontractors. Contractors should review the final rule and talk with legal counsel.  A copy of the final rule can be found at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-19676.pdf

Efforts to enforce compliance with state and federal regulations are increasing, as evidenced by this new ruling (EO 13673).

Why SIMPLE Plans Don’t Work For Prevailing Wage Contractors

September 28, 2016


Deadlines are a way of life for contractors — and an important deadline is fast approaching! Does your company have a SIMPLE plan?  Did you know that they cannot be used effectively if you work on prevailing wage jobs? Employers with SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) plans are unable to take full advantage of the savings that can be realized from prevailing wage retirement contributions.

 

After November 1st, you are stuck with your SIMPLE plan through 2017. Written notice of intent to discontinue a SIMPLE plan must be provided to employees at least 60 days prior to the beginning of the calendar year so time is of the essence!

 

Here’s the Deal: Prevailing wage contributions made to a retirement plan reduce payroll overhead and can be leveraged in other ways to save company owners money and allow them to contribute more to their own retirement accounts.  Some contractors set up SIMPLE plans because there is no requirement for annual reporting and nondiscrimination testing but they quickly discover that a SIMPLE IRA plan is not a good fit for prevailing wage jobs. While they are relatively easy to set up, their lack of flexibility can cost you winning bids.

There are four reasons that SIMPLE plans are not appropriate for prevailing wage contractors:

  1. Contribution amounts must be identical. Contribution amounts cannot vary by project, job site or job category.  The contribution rate must be the same for all employees.
  2. Employers are prohibited from using any other type of qualified retirement plan with a SIMPLE plan. Employers who use a SIMPLE plan can only use the SIMPLE plan.   Some contractors who have existing retirement plans set up a second retirement plan specifically for prevailing wage contributions.  With a SIMPLE retirement plan, this is not allowed.
  3. Contributions are limited with a SIMPLE plan. Standard 401(k) plans allow annual deferrals up to $18,000 with an additional $6,000 allowed for employees age 50 and over.  With a SIMPLE plan, the annual deferral limit is $12,500 with an additional $3,000 allowed for employees age 50 and over.
  4. SIMPLE plans cannot help you maximize your tax savings. Because this type of plan requires that contributions for all employees be the same, employers are often prevented from contributing the entire fringe portion of the prevailing wage for job classifications with higher wage determinations.  This means companies cannot take full advantage of the potential savings on payroll burden which result from allocating the entire fringe benefit amount to bona fide benefit plans.

Transitioning from a SIMPLE Plan to a 401(k) Plan

As noted, the deadline for employers to provide notification to employees that they intend to discontinue their SIMPLE plans is November 1st.   Employers should also contact their current SIMPLE plan administrator to notify them that contributions will not be made to the plan next year.
What Type of Retirement Plan is Best?

 

So you’ve made the decision to get out of your SIMPLE plan and look for something that will be more beneficial given the amount of prevailing wage work you’re doing. For assistance in determining what type of plan will provide maximum benefits for you and your company, consult a qualified retirement plan provider with experience helping prevailing wage contractors.

 

About the author:

K.C. Cannon, Jr. is Vice President of sales at Fringe Benefit Group, which has been helping the construction industry design and administer fringe benefit programs since 1983. For more information on its prevailing wage benefit plan, The Contractors Plan, please contact K.C. at info@contractorsplan.com  or 866-670-7442.

NLRB Issues Memorandum Addressing Fair Pay & Safe Workplace Executive Order

August 10, 2016


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued Memorandum OM 16-23 addressing the collection of data in connection with the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Executive Order. The Memo directs the NLRB’s regional office personnel to report alleged labor law violations by federal contractors named by regional directors in unfair labor practice complaints. The purpose is to identify employers with federal contracts and ensure that federal contracting agencies know when the NLRB has issued a complaint against a federal contractor.

Part of this new reporting is the creation of a new position, a Labor Compliance Advisor, who will assist contracting officers in making their contractor responsibility determination by assessing whether the contractors’ violations of labor law are “serious,” “repeated,” “willful”, or “pervasive.”

 The NLRB already collects certain information, however the Agency will now collect four additional data points which are necessary to link their data with data gathered by other enforcement agencies. The new data points include Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Codes and Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) identifiers, and Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN).

The Order contemplates that the NLRB, along with DOL and EEOC, will make information concerning the agency findings of labor law violations available to the labor compliance advisors which is necessary for their assessments. The Executive Order applies to complaints issued on or after July 1, 2016.

The President signed the Executive Order to promote federal government procurement from responsible sources who comply with labor laws, including the NLRB. However, the Executive Order has not yet been finalized and is triggering many debates.

Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Funding Bill 

June 22, 2016


DOL Issues Overtime Final Rule

May 20, 2016


This week the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued the final overtime rule which implements President Obama’s 2014 Memorandum directing the agency to modernize overtime regulations to reflect the original intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The final rule also simplifies the regulations to make them easier for workers and businesses to understand and apply. The new rule becomes effective December 1, 2016.

The final rule updates the salary and compensation levels at which white collar workers are considered exempt. Under the final rule, the weekly salary threshold increases from $455 to $913. This ensures protections for approximately 4.2 million workers. This threshold will be updated every three years based on wage growth over time. The final rule does not, however, make any changes to the duties test for executive, administrative and professional employees.

The rule also raises the salary threshold for “highly compensated employee” to $134,004 annually. This upper threshold was designed to ease the burden on employers when identifying overtime-eligible employees, since it’s more likely that workers whose earnings exceed the threshold perform the types of job duties that would make them exempt from overtime requirements.

Ultimately this is a change to the “white collar” exemption to the FLSA minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, and promotes higher take-home pay, allowing workers to achieve better balance between work and family obligations.

Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order Suffers Setback

May 5, 2016


On July 31, 2014, President Obama issued Executive Order (EO) 13673, requiring covered federal contractors to disclose labor violations and contracting agencies to assess these violations when making contract awards.  Final regulations implementing EO 13673 are expected to be issued this spring.

However, EO 13673 has suffered a setback in the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee (HASC).  The HASC included an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit  application of the Fair Pay Executive Order to Department of Defense contracts. Since the Department of Defense accounts for the majority of all federal contracts, this is a major set-back.

 The bill must still work its way through the entire House, be included in the House-Senate compromise bill, and survive a potential Presidential veto.  Nevertheless, this opposition signals there will be an uphill battle before this Executive Order is implemented.