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This article is the first in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with ERISA requirements.

Reading through the 133-page exposure draft for the Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA, issued back in April 2017, and then comparing it to the final 100+ page standard approved in September 2018, may not sound like a fun way to spend a Sunday morning sipping a coffee (or three), but I disagree.

Read this if you are a timber harvester, hauler, or timberland owner.

The USDA recently announced its Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers (PATHH) initiative to provide financial assistance to timber harvesting and hauling businesses as a result of the pandemic. Businesses may be eligible for up to $125,000 in financial assistance through this initiative. 

Who qualifies for the assistance?

To qualify for assistance under PATHH, the business must have experienced a loss of at least 10% of gross revenue from January, 1, 2020 through December 1, 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019. Also, individuals or legal entities must be a timber harvesting or timber hauling businesses where 50% or more of its revenue is derived from one of the following:

  • Cutting timber
  • Transporting timber
  • Processing wood on-site on the forest land

What is the timeline for applying for the assistance?

Timber harvesting or timber hauling businesses can apply for financial assistance through the USDA from July 22, 2021 through October 15, 2021

Visit the USDA website for more information on the program, requirements, and how to apply.
If you have any questions about your specific situation, please contact our Natural Resources team. We’re here to help. 

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Temporary USDA assistance program for timber harvesters and haulers

Read this is you use QuickBooks Online.

Whether you sell products or services, you may need to create estimates in QuickBooks Online. Here’s how it’s done.

It would be nice if you could just instantly invoice every sale. But sometimes your customers need to know what a particular purchase will cost before they make the decision to buy. So you need to know how to create an estimate. If the sale goes through, you’ll of course want to send an invoice.

QuickBooks Online automates this entire process. It even helps you track the progress of your estimates by providing a special report. Here’s how it works.

Just like an invoice, almost

The process of creating an estimate in QuickBooks Online is almost identical to creating an invoice. You click the New button in the upper left and select Estimate


Creating an estimate in QuickBooks Online is like creating an invoice, with a few differences.

When the form opens, you’ll notice one difference right away. Directly below the Customer field, you’ll see the word Pending next to a small down arrow. Click it to see what your options are here. You’ll be able to update its status later. Select a Customer to get started. If this is a new customer, click + Add New and enter at least the name. If you want to build a more complete profile at this point, click Details and complete the fields in the window that opens. To send a carbon copy or blind copy of the estimate to someone else, click the Cc/Bcc link.

Next to the Estimate date, there’s a field for Expiration date. Enter that and continue on to add the products and/or services that will be included, just as you would on an invoice. If you’re generating an estimate for a new product or service, click + Add new in the drop-down list. A panel will slide out from the right that allows you to create one. 

You’ll see more options for your estimate at the bottom of the page. You can add a message in the message box (or leave the default message if there is one). You can also Customize it, Make recurring, or Print or Preview it. When you’re satisfied, Save it, and send it to the customer. 


You can preview your estimate to see what the customer will see before saving it.

Updating the status

Your estimate will not be considered a transaction until you accept it. To do this, click the Sales link in the toolbar, then All Sales. Find your estimate in the list by looking in the Type column. Click the down arow next to Create invoice to see your other options there. You’ll see that you can Print or Send it or save a Copy

Click Update status. In the window that opens, click the down arrow next to Pending. From the list that drops down, select Accepted. You can also mark it Closed or Rejected. If you choose any of the last three options, another window opens that allows you to enter the name of the individual who authorized the action and the date it was done.

Click Create invoice if your estimate was accepted. You’ll have three options here. You can invoice your customer for:
•    The estimate total.
•    A percentage of each line item.
•    A custom amount for each line.


When you locate your estimate on the Sales Transactions page, you’ll have several options for managing it.

After you’ve made your selection, click Create invoice to open the form with the amounts filled in based on your preference. Complete anything that’s unfinished but do not change any of the product or service line items. Save it, and your invoice is ready to go. You can always check the status of your estimates by running the Estimates by Customer report.

Creating and tracking estimates is as easy as working with invoices. You may run into difficulties, though, if you need to do anything beyond that point with estimates, such as modifying it and re-submitting them. We’re here to answer any questions you might have about this. It’s important that you get your estimates and their subsequent invoices exactly right, so you don’t lose money or sales. Contact our outsourced accounting team if you want to go over these concepts.

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How to create estimates in QuickBooks online

Read this if you are a State Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, or State Procurement Officer—or if you work on a State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

You can listen to the companion podcast to this article, Organization development: Shortcuts for states to consider, here: 

Over the last two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has undertaken an effort to streamline MES certification. During this time, we have been fortunate enough to be a trusted partner in several states working to evolve the certification process. Through this collaboration with CMS and state partners, we have been in front of recent certification trends. The content we are covering is based on our experience supporting states with efforts related to CMS certification. We do not speak for CMS, nor do we have the authority to do so.

What organization development (OD) shortcuts can state Medicaid agencies consider when faced with competing priorities and challenges such as Medicaid modernization projects in flight, staffing shortages, and a retiring workforce?

The shortcuts include rapid development and understanding of the “why”. This requires the courage to challenge assumptions, especially around transparency, to allow for a consistent understanding of the needs, data, environment, and staff members’ role in impacting the health of the people served by a state’s Medicaid program. To rapidly gain an understanding of the “why”, state Medicaid agencies should:

  1. Accelerate the transparency of information and use of data in ways that lead to a collective understanding of the “why”. Accelerating a collective understanding of the why requires improved communication mechanisms. 
  2. Invest time to connect with staff. The insistence, persistence, and consistency of leaders to stay connected to their workforce will help keep the focus on the “why” and build a shared sense of connection and purpose among teams.
  3. Create the standard that planning involves all stakeholders (e.g., policy, operations, systems staff, etc.) and focus on building consensus and alignment throughout the organization. During planning, identify answers to the following questions: What are we trying to achieve, what are the outcomes, and what is the vision for what we are trying to do?
  4. Question any fragmentation. For example, if there is a hiring freeze, several staff are retiring, and demand is increasing, it is a good idea to think about how the organization manages people. Question boundaries related to your staff and the business processes they perform (e.g., some staff can only complete a portion of a business process because of a job classification). Look at ways to broaden the expectations of staff, eliminate unnecessary handoffs, and expect development. Leaders and teams work together to build a culture that is vision-driven, data-informed, and values-based.

What are some considerations when organizations are defining program outcomes and the “why” behind what they are doing? 

Keep in mind that designing system requirements is not the same as designing program outcomes. System requirements need to be able to deliver the outcomes and the information the organization needs. With something like a Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) modernization project, outcomes are what follow because of a successful project or series of projects. For example, a state Medicaid agency looking to improve access to care might develop an outcome focused on enabling the timely and accurate screening and revalidation for Medicaid providers. 

Next, keeping with the improving access to care example, state Medicaid agencies should define and communicate the roles technology and staff play in helping achieve the desired outcome and continue communicating and helping staff understand the “why”. In Medicaid we impact people’s lives, and that makes it easy to find the heart. Helping staff connect their own motivation and find meaning in achieving an outcome is key to help ensure project success and realize desired outcomes. 

Program outcomes represents one of the six major categories related to organizational health: 

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategy
  3. Workforce
  4. Operations and process improvement 
  5. Person-centered service
  6. Program outcomes

Focusing on these six key areas during the analysis, planning, development, and integration will help organizations improve performance, increase their impact, and achieve program outcomes. Reach out to the BerryDunn’s Medicaid and Organization Development consulting team for more information about how organization develop can help your Medicaid agency.
 

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Outcomes and organization development, part II

Read this if you are a solar investor, developer, or installer.

The IRS recently released Notice 2021-41 that extends the Continuity Safe Harbor requirements for the production tax credit for qualified facilities under I.R.C. Section 45 (the “PTC”) and the investment tax credit for energy property under I.R.C. Section 48 (the “ITC”). The extension is in recognition of the supply chain delays caused by COVID-19 that are impacting completion of renewable energy projects.

In May 2020, the IRS released Notice 2020-41 to address construction delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The requirements for the PTC and the ITC include provisions establishing methods to determine the beginning of construction and include a continuity requirement—that the project show continuous construction or continuous efforts. Per Notice 2020-41, the continuity requirement is deemed satisfied if the taxpayer “places an energy property in service by the end of a calendar year that is no more than four calendar years after the calendar year during which construction of the energy property began” (Continuity Safe Harbor).

The IRS recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused extraordinary delays in development of renewable energy projects. As a result, many projects would no longer satisfy the existing four calendar year Continuity Safe Harbor. Notice 2021-41 extends the original Continuity Safe Harbor based on the year the property began construction under the Physical Work Test or the Five Percent Safe Harbor as follows:

  • Any property that began construction in calendar year 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019 will satisfy the Continuity Safe Harbor if the taxpayer “places an energy property in service by the end of a calendar year that is no more than six calendar years after the calendar year during which construction of the energy property began.”
  • Any property that began construction in calendar year 2020 will satisfy the Continuity Safe Harbor if the taxpayer “places an energy property in service by the end of a calendar year that is no more than five calendar years after the calendar year during which construction of the energy property began.”

If you have questions about your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to contact the Renewable Energy team. We’re here to help.
 

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IRS extends safe harbor timeline for renewable energy projects

Read this if you are a plan sponsor of employee benefit plans.

This article is the seventh in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements. You can read the previous articles here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged individuals and organizations to continue operating during a time where face-to-face interaction may not be plausible, and access to organizational resources may be restricted. However, life has not stopped, and participants in your employee benefit plan may continue to make important decisions based on their financial needs. 

To help you prepare for a potential IRS examination, we’ve listed some requirements for participants to receive Required Minimum Distributions (RMD), hardship distributions, and coronavirus-related distributions, recommendations of actions you can perform, and documentation to retain as added internal controls. 

Required Minimum Distributions

Recently, the IRS issued a memo regarding missing participants, beneficiaries, and RMDs for 403(b) plans. If an employee benefit plan is subject to the RMD rules of Code Section 401(a)(9), then distributions of a participant’s accrued benefits must commence April 1 of the calendar year following the later of 1) the participant attaining age 70½ or 2) the participant’s severance from employment. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, RMDs was temporarily waived for retirement plans for 2020. This change applied to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) plans and IRAs. 

In addition, RMDs were waived for IRA owners who turned 70½ in 2019 and were required to take an RMD by April 1, 2020 and have not yet done so. Do note the waiver will not alter a participant’s required beginning date for purposes of applying the minimum distribution rules in future periods. Although you may be applying this waiver during 2020, it is important you prepare to make RMDs once the waiver period ends by verifying participants eligible to receive RMDs are not “missing.”

There are instances in which plans have been unable to make distributions to a terminated participant due to an inability to locate the participant. In this situation, the responsible plan fiduciary should take the following actions in applying the RMD rules:

  1. Search the plan and any related plan, sponsor and publicly available records and/or directories for alternative contact information;
  2. Use any of the following search methods to locate the participant: a commercial locator service, a credit reporting agency, or a proprietary internet search tool for locating individuals; and
  3. Attempt to initiate contact via certified mail sent to the participant’s last known mailing address, and/or through any other appropriate means for any known address(es) or contact information, including email addresses and telephone numbers.

If the plan is selected for audit by the IRS and the above actions have been taken and documented by the plan, the IRS instructs employee plan examiners not to challenge the plan for violation of the RMD rules. If the plan is unable to demonstrate that the above actions have been taken, the employee plan examiners may challenge the plan for violation of the RMD rules.

We typically recommend management review plan records to determine which participants have attained age 70½. Based on the guidelines outlined above, we recommend plans document the actions they have taken to contact these participants and/or their beneficiaries.

Hardship distribution rules

A common issue we identify during our employee benefit plan audits is that the rules for hardship distributions are not always followed by the plan sponsor. If the plan allows hardship withdrawals, they should only be provided if (1) the withdrawal is due to an immediate and heavy financial need, (2) the withdrawal must be necessary to satisfy the need (you have no other funds or ways to meet the need), and (3) the withdrawal must not exceed the amount needed. You may have noted we did not add the plan participant must have first obtained all distribution or nontaxable loans available under the plan to the list of requirements above. This is due to the recently enacted Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (the Act), which removed the requirement to obtain available plan loans prior to requesting a hardship. Thus, the removal of this requirement may increase the number of eligible participants to receive hardship withdrawals, if the three requirements noted are satisfied. The plan sponsor should maintain documentation the requirements for the hardship withdrawal have been met before issuing the hardship withdrawal.

The IRS considers the following as acceptable reasons for a hardship withdrawal:

  1. Un-reimbursed medical expenses for the employee, the employee’s spouse, dependents or beneficiary.
  2. Purchase of an employee's principal residence.
  3. Payment of college tuition and related educational costs such as room and board for the next 12 months for the employee, the employee’s spouse, dependents, beneficiary, or children who are no longer dependents.
  4. Payments necessary to prevent eviction of the employee from his/her home, or foreclosure on the mortgage of the principal residence.
  5. For funeral expenses for the employee, the employee’s spouse, children, dependents or beneficiary.
  6. Certain expenses for the repair of damage to the employee's principal residence.
  7. Expenses and losses incurred by the employee as a result of a disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provided that the employee’s principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance with respect to the disaster.

Prior to the enactment of the Act, once a hardship withdrawal was taken, the plan participant would not be allowed to contribute to the plan for six months following the withdrawal. The Act repealed the six-month suspension of elective deferrals, thus plan participants are allowed to continue making contributions to the plan in the pay period following the hardship withdrawal. Prior to the Act we had seen instances where the plan participant was allowed to continue making contributions after the hardship withdrawal was taken. Now we would expect participants who received a hardship distribution to continue making elective deferrals following receipt of the distribution.

Coronavirus-related distributions

Under section 2202 of the CARES Act, qualified participants who are diagnosed with coronavirus, whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with coronavirus, or who experience adverse financial consequences due to certain virus-related events including quarantine, furlough, or layoff, having hours reduced, or losing child care, are eligible to receive a coronavirus-related distribution. 

Distributions are considered coronavirus-related distributions if the participant or his/her spouse or dependent has experienced adverse effects noted above due to the coronavirus, the distributions do not exceed $100,000 in the aggregate, and the distributions were taken on or after January 1, 2020 and on or before December 30, 2020.  Such distributions are not subject to the 10% penalty tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 72(t), and participants have the option of including their distributions in income ratably over a three year period, or the entire amount, starting in the year the distribution was received. Such distributions are exempt from the IRC § 402(f) notice requirement, which explains rollover rules, as well as the effects of rolling a distribution to a qualifying IRA and the effects of not rolling it over. Also, participants can be exempt from owing federal taxes by repaying the coronavirus-related distribution. 

Participants receiving this distribution have a three-year window, starting on the distribution date, to contribute up to the full amount of the distribution to an eligible retirement plan as if the contribution were a timely rollover of an eligible rollover distribution. So, if a participant were to include the distribution amount ratably over the three-year period (2020 – 2022), and the full amount of the distribution was repaid to an eligible retirement plan in 2022, the participant may file amended federal income tax returns for 2020 and 2021 to claim a refund for taxes paid on the income included from the distributions, and the participant will not be required to include any amount in income in 2022. We recommend the plan sponsor maintain documentation supporting the participant was eligible to receive the coronavirus-related distribution. 

There is much uncertainty due to the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has forced many of our clients to review and alter their control environments to maintain effective operations. With this uncertainty comes changes to guidance and treatment of plan transactions. We have provided our current understanding of the guidance the IRS has provided for the treatment surrounding distributions, specifically RMDs, hardship distributions, and coronavirus-related distributions. If you and your team have any additional questions which may be specific to your organization or plan, an expert from our Employee Benefits Audit team will be gladly willing to assist you. 
 

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Defined contribution plan distributions: Considerations and recommendations