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GASB 97: What's new, what to do, and what you need to know

05.12.21

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

GASB Statement No. 97, Certain Component Unit Criteria, and Accounting and Financial Reporting for Internal Revenue Code Section 457 Deferred Compensation Plans (GASB 97) addresses specific practice issues that have arisen related to retirement plans. The standard can be roughly divided into two parts, each of which focus on a different aspect of governmental retirement plan accounting. 

Part 1: Component units

Over the years, GASB has wrestled with clarifying exactly what entities should be included in a set of stand-alone financial statements. In general, it defined a financial reporting entity as a stand-alone government and all entities for which it is financially accountable, known as component units. One of the many situations where the government is financially accountable for another entity is where the majority of the entity’s board is appointed by the government. 

GASB 97 clarifies that when the entity has no governing board and the government performs the functions that a board would normally perform, the consideration of consolidation should be the same as if the government appointed a voting majority of a hypothetical governing board. This portion of the standard is consistent with previously issued implementation guides. 

What is new is that GASB 97 creates an exception, allowing defined contribution pension plans, defined contribution OPEB plans, and certain Section 457 plans who do not have a board to be excluded from consideration as a component unit. While GASB believes that it would be appropriate to include them like other entities, they listened to stakeholders who voiced their concerns about the costs of presenting defined contribution plans as component units. Their research showed that most stakeholders do not use information related to defined contribution plans presented as component units of governments, although if the government controls the assets, such information is more valued. GASB decided to balance the costs of preparation with the usefulness of the information.  

Additionally, for the purposes of determining component units, the government is not considered to have a financial burden for defined contribution pension plans and defined contribution OPEB plans that are administered through trusts. 

What should you do? 

First, the intended impact is that there will be fewer defined benefit plans presented as component units. If you currently present a defined benefit plan as a component unit, you may be able to save money by excluding them from the government-wide financial statements. 

Second, if you currently report a defined contribution plan that is administered through a trust as a component unit, you should reassess whether that is still considered a component unit. Remember, even if it is not a component unit, GASB Statement No. 84 Fiduciary Activities may still require it to be included in the financials if the primary government controls the assets. 

When does this apply? 

These changes are effective immediately. 

Part 2: Section 457 plans

Back in 1997 when GASB Statement No. 32 was issued, GASB did not believe it likely that plans established under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 457 would be pension plans because at that time, most Section 457 plans did not have employer contributions. In the more than twenty years that have passed since then, the IRC and characteristics of some of these plans have changed, forcing GASB to reconsider their classification. With the issuance of GASB 97, the board stated that it believes Section 457 plans could indeed be pensions. Therefore, Section 457 plans which fit the definition of a pension trigger the same reporting requirements of any other pension plan. 

What should you do? 

If your governmental organization has an employee benefit plan under Section 457, you should take the following steps: 

First, determine whether the plan is a “pension plan” or not. Pension plans provide retirement income or other postemployment benefits such as death benefits, life insurance, and disability benefits. Pensions do not include postemployment healthcare benefits and termination benefits. 

Despite the common usage of “pension” to mean only defined benefit plans, the statement is clear that the term “pension plan” includes defined contribution plans as well.

If the plan fits this definition, proceed to the next step. If not, this statement does not impact you. 

Second, if your Section 457 plan meets the definition of a pension plan and either issues its own standalone financial statements or is included in the financial statements of another government, those financial statements should include all financial reporting requirements that are relevant to pension plans. 

Generally, this means that GASB Statement No. 68 Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions (GASB 68) and all its related disclosure requirements are applicable, although there are some plans that don’t fall within GASB 68’s scope where GASB Statement No. 73 Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions and Related Assets That Are Not within the Scope of GASB Statement 68, and Amendments to Certain Provisions of GASB Statements 67 and 68 applies instead. The additional requirements will not look the same for all entities; defined benefit and defined contribution plans have different reporting requirements and their footnote disclosures will differ. 

When does this apply? 

The requirements related to Section 457 plans apply to fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2021. Some stakeholders requested that GASB delay the adoption due to COVID-19, but the GASB believes that the adoption date they set provides sufficient time for adoption. 

What else do you need to know? 

If your retirement plan falls within the scope of this pronouncement, you may have new costs to deal with, including potentially having to consult with an actuary to develop a model to prepare the new disclosures if you have a defined benefit pension. Fortunately, the GASB believes that most of the additional disclosures will relate to defined contribution pensions which have simpler note disclosures. 

If you would like more information or have questions about your specific situation, please contact Nathan Dunlap or Grant Ballantyne. We’re here to help.
 

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Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Along with COVID-19 related accounting changes that require our constant attention, we need to continue to keep our eyes on the changes that routinely emerge from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Here is a brief overview of what GASB Statement No. 93, Replacement of Interbank Offered Rates, Statement No. 96, Subscription-Based Information Technology Arrangements, and Statement No. 97 Certain Component Unit Criteria, and Accounting and Financial Reporting for Internal Revenue Code Section 457 Deferred Compensation Plans, may mean to you. If you want more detail, we’ve included links to more analyses and in-depth explanation of what you need to know now.

GASB 93

We have all heard that by the end of 2021, LIBOR will cease to exist in its current form. In March 2020, the GASB provided guidance to address the accounting treatment and financial reporting impacts of the replacement of interbank offered rates (IBORs) with other referenced rates, while maintaining reliable and comparable information. Statement No. 93 specifically addresses previously issued Statement Nos. 53 and 87 to provide updated guidance on how a change to the reference rate impacts the accounting for hedging transactions and lease arrangements.  Read more in our article The Clock is Ticking on LIBOR. Now What?

GASB 96

GASB Statement No. 96 defines the term Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements (SBITA) as “A contract that conveys control of the right to use another party’s (a SBITA vendor’s) information technology (IT) software, alone or in combination with tangible capital assets (the underlying IT assets), as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.”

GASB Statement No. 96 determines when a subscription should be recognized as a right-to-use subscription, and also determines the corresponding liability, capitalization criteria, and required disclosures. Learn why this matters and what you need to do next: Our Take on SBITA: Making Accounting for Cloud-Based Software Less Nebulous.

GASB 97

GASB Statement 97 addresses specific practice issues that have arisen related to retirement plans. The standard is roughly divided into two parts—component units and Section 457 plans—each of which focus on a different aspect of governmental retirement plan accounting. Help your organization gain an understanding of the standard with our article GASB 97: What's new, what to do, and what you need to know.

If you have questions about these pronouncements and what they mean to your organization, please contact Grant Ballantyne.

Article
Update for GASB-governed organizations: Lease accounting, LIBOR transition, SBITA, and Section 457 plans

Read this if you are at a financial institution.

Feeling stuck, or maybe even frozen, in your CECL readiness efforts? No matter where you are in the process, here are three things you can do right now to ensure your CECL implementation is on track:

  1. Create or re-visit your 2022 timeline
    With just under 12 months to the January 2023 CECL adoption date, it’s important to make every moment count. Consider CECL adoption your Olympic moment and, like every great Olympic athlete, you have interim events—a timeline of major milestones—to ensure you are ready for “Day 1” and beyond. One strategy to ensure you do not “run out of time” is to start at the end of your timeline and work backward.

    Tip: Whether it be 1/1/2023 (“Day 1” adoption), or the first date by which you want to start parallel runs, fix the date of that final must-hit milestone, and work backward. For example, in order to adopt CECL on 1/1/2023, what major milestone has to be achieved before then and how much time will you need for that? Setting milestones from the final date backward will help you fit the remaining major activities into the time you have left—you can’t “run out of time” this way!



     
  2. Assess where you are, tactically, and fill in the gaps
    What would an Olympic athlete be without a training schedule, and coaches, trainers, and other professionals to guide and push them? In order to make the most of each event (or milestone) in the countdown to CECL adoption, let’s fill in our training schedule. What key decisions still need to be made or documented? Who has the authority to approve them? What’s the right time and venue to obtain that approval? Will these be one-to-one, small group, or committee/board meetings? Will meetings be set up as-needed, or is the meeting schedule (e.g. quarterly executive/board) already set? Who are you engaging for model validation and key control review? What is the date of that review work? 

    Tip: Add those key approval, review, and validation dates to your timeline, and make sure the meeting time you need with decision-makers is booked in their calendars now. Scheduling this time in advance is a transparent and tangible sign that you’ve charted the course, helps ensure decision-makers are available to you when needed most, and incremental progress is being consistently made toward your ultimate goal. 
  3. Identify the top three tasks to complete this week, reserve the time in your calendar, and complete them!
    Like any athlete, you are now “in training”, and daily and weekly actions you take will ensure you reach your goal in as strong a position possible. Whether it’s scheduling those meetings, identifying subject matter experts you can rely upon for coaching, or putting the finishing touches on model documentation and internal control mapping, booking that time with yourself to complete these tasks is key to feeling prepared and ready for CECL adoption. 

    Tip: Set aside a few minutes at the end or start of each week to review your timeline/milestones and identify the next key actions to complete.

Would you like assistance with certain aspects of your CECL readiness efforts? Are you ready for some validation/review work, or need guidance on policy, governance, or internal/financial reporting controls?

Contact our Financial Institutions team. We'll help you get your CECL implementation over the finish line. 


 

Article
CECL implementation: Three steps for a medal-winning adoption 

Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

Article
COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

Article
Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?

Read this if you are a division of motor vehicles, or interested in mDLs.

It can be challenging to learn about the technical specifications that must be met to safely acquire, implement, and use emerging technologies. And why wouldn’t it be? Technical specifications are full of jargon only a technical expert can understand, and seem to appear out of thin air. Well, BerryDunn is here to help. When it comes to mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), we’ve got the scoop.

Technical standards are developed by a few large international organizations. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a Swiss-based organization responsible for the development of international standards for technical, industrial, and commercial industries in 165 countries. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is an international standards organization that develops and publishes standards for electronic technologies. The ISO and IEC have been collaborating on international technical standards for mDL technology. Recently, the ISO/IEC finalized and published these standards, which can be purchased on ISO’s website for $198 Swiss francs (about $213 US).

These technical standards cover three key components: 

  • Data exchanged during an mDL transaction
  • Security during online and offline mDL transaction scenarios
  • mDL data model to ensure mDL interoperability 

Data exchange/transaction

Data exchange is the process by which an mDL device is used to provide credentials (e.g., verify age or identity) to an mDL reader. Broadly speaking, data exchange consists of three phases: initialization (activating your device at a store to confirm your identity), device engagement (the mDL device creates a connection with the mDL reader), and data retrieval (the mDL reader requests the appropriate data to continue a transaction). The process can occur when the mDL has an internet connection (online retrieval) or when it does not have an internet connection (offline retrieval). Offline data retrieval can be conducted using a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Near-Field Communication (NFC), or Wi-Fi Aware technologies. These are all methods by which an mDL can connect to mDL readers at short ranges, functionally similar to Apple Pay. Online Data retrieval can be conducted using a web-based application programming interface (WebAPI) or OpenID Connect (OIDC). These are methods by which mDLs connect with the mDL issuer, confirm the mDL holder’s identity, and allow the mDL issuer to transfer data to the mDL reader. In short, an mDL transaction might look something like this:

  1. Initialization: An mDL holder attempts to purchase alcohol from a local store. The mDL holder opens their device, enters their mDL application using a PIN or biometric security feature, and uses NFC or a QR code to initiate a connection between the mDL and mDL reader.
  2. Device engagement: The mDL and mDL reader connect using NFC or a QR code.
  3. Data retrieval: The mDL reader either asks the mDL for data to confirm the holder’s age, or asks the mDL issuer to confirm the mDL holder’s age. Either the mDL or mDL issuer sends appropriate data to the mDL reader to confirm the holder’s age. Once validated, the mDL-reading establishment and mDL holder are free to complete the transaction. 

Security for mobile driver’s licenses 

mDL security aims to protect against four primary threats.

  1. mDL forgery/forgery of data elements
  2. mDL cloning/cloning of data elements
  3. mDL communication eavesdropping
  4. Unauthorized mDL access 

mDL security needs to cover online scenarios, in which an mDL-holder’s device is connected to the internet, as well as offline scenarios, when an mDL holder’s device does not have internet connectivity. Potential mDL security options include: 

  • Authentication of mDL data to protect against data cloning
  • Authentication of the legitimacy of the mDL reader to prevent alteration of communications between the mDL and mDL reader 
  • Session encryption to preserve mDL data confidentiality and prevent mDL data alteration or unauthorized data access
  • Issuer data authentication to ensure the mDL data originates at a legitimate issuing authority

During online retrieval scenarios, mDLs can employ transport layer security (TLS) to preserve the confidentiality of mDL data, or use a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Web Token (JWT) to authenticate mDL data origin.  

mDL technical specifications: Key terms and definitions

Technical specifications are an important, yet confusing aspect of IT system implementations, particularly for emerging technologies where expertise has not yet been established within the market. The same holds true for mDLs. Understanding mDL technical specifications requires understanding the specific terms used to describe the technical specifications along with general mDL terminology. Here’s a list of mDL-related and technical specification terms and definitions.

Key terms and definitions
 

Terms Definitions
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) A form of Bluetooth that provides a wireless connectivity of similar range to traditional Bluetooth at reduced device power consumption.
IEC International Electrotechnical Commission
ISO International Organization for Standardization
JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)  An open standard file format and data interchange format that uses human-readable text to store and transmit data objects.
JSON Web Token (JWT) An object used to transfer information between two parties over the web.
mDL issuer  The department of motor vehicles or bureau of motor vehicles responsible for administering rights to, and overseeing distribution of, mDL data to mDL holders.
mDL holder The person whose data is contained in, and represented by, the mDL.
mDL reader The hardware technology used to consume mDL data from an mDL holder’s device.
mDL-reading establishment The institution consuming mDL data via an mDL reader (e.g., law enforcement, liquor store, Transportation Safety Administration).  
Near-Field Communication (NFC) Communication protocols that allow electronic devices to communicate over distances of 1.5 inches or less (e.g., Apple Pay).
Offline retrieval The mDL holder’s device is not directly connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data, requiring the mDL device to hold some mDL data—behind security features (e.g., PIN, or biometric lock)—and, at a minimum, confirm holder identity, driving privileges, age, and residence.
Online retrieval  The mDL holder’s device is connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data. Upon request, the mDL holder can initiate a transfer of mDL data using a QR code or web token to approve the sharing of mDL data between the mDL issuer and mDL reader. 
OpenID Connect (OIDC) OpenID Connect is an authentication protocol that allows for the verification of end user identity.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) A cryptographic protocol that provides communication security over a computer network (e.g., between an mDL reader and mDL issuer).
Web Application Programming Interface (API)   An interface for a web server or web browser.
Wi-Fi Aware A Wi-Fi capability that allows devices to discover potential Wi-Fi connections nearby without connecting to them. Wi-Fi Aware runs in the background, and does not require users to have current Wi-Fi or cellular connections.


If you have any questions regarding mDLs and technical requirements, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

Article
mDL technical specifications: Background, terms, and topics

Read this if you are at a not-for-profit organization.

There is no question the investment landscape is forever changing. Even before COVID-19 placed a vice grip on all aspects of society, many not-for-profit organizations were looking for ways to maximize the value of their current investment holdings. One such way of accomplishing this is through the use of alternative investments, defined for our purposes as investments outside of standard assets such as traditional stocks and bonds. Alternative investments have become increasingly specialized and are often seen in the form of foreign corporations or partnerships (often times domiciled in locales such as the Cayman Islands where tax laws are more favorable to investors) and are much more commonplace than ever before.

While promises of higher rates of return are received warmly by not-for-profit organizations, alternative investments often carry with them the potential for additional compliance costs in the form of tax filing obligations and substantial penalties should those filings be overlooked.

This article will highlight some of those potential foreign filings, as well as highlight potential consequences they carry and what you need to know in order to avoid the pitfalls. 

Potential foreign filings related to investment activities

Not-for profit organizations should be aware of the potential filings/disclosures required in regards to their ownership of investments located outside of the United States. The federal government uses a variety of forms to track transfers of property, ownership, and account balances related to foreign activity/investments. A list of some of the potential foreign filings are detailed below (not an all-inclusive list):

Form 926 – Return by a US Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation

This form is generally required when a US investor transfers more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, or any other contribution when the investor owns 10% or more of a foreign corporation. The requirement to file this form can be via a direct investment in the foreign corporation, or indirectly through another entity (such as a partnership interest). The penalty for failure to file is equal to 10 percent of the transfer amount, up to $100,000 per missed filing.

Form 8865 – Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships

Similar to Form 926, this filing arises when a US person (which includes not-for-profit organizations) transfers $100,000 or more in a given year, or if they own 10% or more of the foreign partnership. There are different levels of disclosure required for different categories of filers. Filings are also triggered by both direct and indirect investments. The penalty for failure to file varies by category type, ranging from $10,000 to up to $100,000 per missed filing.

FinCEN Form 114 – Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

Commonly referred to as the FBAR, this form tracks assets that US taxpayers hold in offshore accounts, whether they be foreign bank accounts, brokerage accounts, or mutual funds. This form is required when the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Further, any individual or entity that owns more than 50 percent of the account directly or indirectly must file the form. Lastly, individuals who have signature authority over accounts held by the organization are also required to file the FinCEN Form 114 with their individual income tax return. The penalty for failure to file can vary, but can be as high as 50 percent of the account’s value.

Please note: there is a specific definition of the term “foreign financial account” which excludes certain items from the definition. Organizations are encouraged to consult their tax advisors for more information.

Form 5471 – Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations

Form 5471 is required to be filed when ownership is at least 10% in a foreign corporation. There are different disclosures required for different categories of ownership. Organizations required to file Form 5471 are typically operating internationally and have ownership of a foreign corporation which triggers the filing, but this form would also apply to investments in foreign corporations if ownership is at least 10%. The penalty for failure to file is typically $10,000 per missed filing.

Recommendations to avoid the pitfalls of alternative investments

In order to avoid missed filing requirements, exempt organizations should ask their investment advisors if any investment will involve organizations outside of the United States. If the answer is “yes,” then your organization needs to understand any additional filing requirements up front in order to take into consideration any additional compliance costs related to foreign filings. You should review and share all relevant investment documentation and subsequent information (e.g., prospectus and any other offering materials) with your finance/accounting department, as well as your tax advisors—prior to investment.

We also recommend you engage in open and frequent communication with your investment managers and advisors (both within and outside the organization). Those who manage the entity’s investments should also stay in close contact with fund managers who can help communicate when assets are invested in a way that might trigger a foreign filing obligation.

As investment practices and strategies become increasingly complex, organizations need to stay vigilant and aware in this forever changing landscape. We’re here to help. If you have any questions or concerns about current investment holdings and potential foreign filings, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our not-for-profit tax team.

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Alternative investments: Potential pitfalls not-for-profit organizations need to know

Read this if you are an employee benefit plan fiduciary.

Fiduciary risk management

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

If, as part of your involvement with an employee benefit plan, you have decision-making ability; you advise those with decision-making ability; or someone tasks you with decision-making related to the plan, you are more likely than not, a fiduciary. As discussed in the first article of the series, this status comes with responsibilities and, therefore, risks and consequences.

The general approach to handling risk is a cycle of identifying, assessing, controlling, and reviewing controls over risks. Based on the assessment of a given risk, there are four ways to manage it: you can avoid, reduce, transfer, or accept the risk. 

Identifying and assessing fiduciary risk1 

The risks facing a plan fiduciary include, but are not limited to, the following:

Removal of fiduciary

In appropriate cases, a fiduciary may be removed and permanently prohibited from acting as a fiduciary or from providing services to ERISA plans.

Civil penalties

Among other penalties, the DOL may assess a civil penalty equal to 20% of the amounts recovered for the plan through litigation or settlement.

Criminal prosecution

Upon a conviction for a willful violation of ERISA’s reporting and disclosure requirements, a fiduciary may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment for not more than ten years. There is also a provision in ERISA that applies to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, that makes coercive interference with ERISA rights a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment for up to ten years. In addition, outside of ERISA, there are a number of criminal statutes that apply to any person, not just ERISA fiduciaries, including criminal statutes for embezzling from an ERISA plan, making false statements in ERISA documents, and taking illegal kickbacks in connection with an ERISA plan.

Participant lawsuits

Additionally, plan participants may file a lawsuit against the fiduciary for breach of their fiduciary duty. Over the past few years, this has become more common and has generally been related to the fiduciary’s failure to adequately negotiate and monitor plan fees. 

Co-fiduciary liability

ERISA's unique co-fiduciary liability provisions make each fiduciary responsible for the actions of the other plan fiduciaries but only under certain circumstances. As a general rule, fiduciaries aren’t responsible for the breach of another fiduciary unless:

  • They participate knowingly in, or knowingly undertake to conceal, an act or omission of such other fiduciary, knowing such act or omission is a breach;
  • Their failure to be prudent in the administration of their own fiduciary responsibilities enables the other fiduciary to commit a breach; or
  • They have knowledge of a breach by such other fiduciary and don’t make reasonable efforts under the circumstances to remedy the breach.

Controlling fiduciary risk

There are several ways to effectively manage fiduciary risk. When used together, they give you solid controls to greatly reduce your level of risk.

Plan documentation

A fiduciary and/or plan sponsor should reduce their exposure to the risks identified above and their first line of defense is through plan documentation (discussed in depth here). Broadly speaking, the organizers and fiduciaries of the plan should ensure that policies and procedures are laid out to ensure proper oversight and internal controls are in place to prevent any voluntary or involuntary noncompliance with ERISA and the DOL.

Oversight

Fiduciaries should meet formally on a regular basis to review the plan’s offerings, service providers, fees, and other issues that may affect the plan. A single individual who is the sole fiduciary for a plan may not have the knowledge or bandwidth to appropriately fulfill the responsibilities of the plan. Additionally, having an auditor come in and audit the plan can help identify some of the risks identified above, although an audit of the plan does not reduce your responsibility to monitor and review the plan’s activity on an ongoing basis.

Third Party Administrators (TPA) & recordkeepers

Fiduciaries may also be able to mitigate some of the risks identified above through use of a TPA and/or recordkeeper. While TPAs and recordkeepers are not generally considered fiduciaries or co-fiduciaries, TPAs have varying service offerings, including recordkeeping, that are powerful tools to plan administrators to review and operate the plan. For example, depending on the plan sponsor’s existing payroll and HR structure, inclusive of TPAs and recordkeepers, fiduciaries may be able to automate the transfer of contributions to ensure timeliness of deposits. The plan may also be able to add another layer of internal controls by incorporating the TPA’s or recordkeeper’s internal controls into the plan’s control environment assuming the fiduciary has gained an understanding and comfort around the controls present at the TPA and/or recordkeeper.

Professional investment advisors and co-fiduciaries

Employee benefit plans must meet certain requirements with regard to their investment offerings. For instance, the plan must allow participants to invest in a diversified portfolio. The plan may try to transfer some of these risks and employ the help of a professional investment advisor to help ensure the plan’s investment offerings meet such criteria. This could involve hiring either an ERISA 3(21) fiduciary or an ERISA 3(38) fiduciary. The former serves as an advisor and a co-fiduciary, but does not have any authority by themselves, while the latter is an investment manager and therefore authorized to select investments for the plan. Doing so may help demonstrate to regulators that a fiduciary has fulfilled their duty in this regard. Alternatively, a plan may hire a 3(16) Fiduciary. 3(16) Fiduciaries are individuals or organizations that are charged with running plans as the plan administrator. A company may be able to shift most of their fiduciary risk to such a fiduciary. 

In any case, the plan fiduciary must continue to monitor a 3(16), 3(21) or 3(38) advisor to make sure it is still prudent to use that advisor.

Bonding and fiduciary liability insurance

Bonding is required for most EB plans and does not protect the fiduciary from any risk. It does however protect the plan from fraud or dishonesty. On the other hand, fiduciary liability insurance can protect the fiduciary in the case of breach of fiduciary duty. This type of insurance is not required but is another option to transfer fiduciary risk.

As mentioned in our second article, much like owning a car, regular preventative maintenance can help you avoid the need for costly repairs. Plan fiduciaries should periodically refresh their understanding of ERISA requirements and re-evaluate their current and future business activities on an ongoing basis. Doing so will help mitigate any risks associated with non-compliance with the DOL and IRS and keep the plan running smoothly. 

Need help navigating the fiduciary road? Reach out to the BerryDunn employee benefit consulting team today.

1From Fidelity’s Plan Sponsor Webstation: Consequences of breach of fiduciary duties 

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Fiduciary risk: Five ways to control and reduce it

Read this if you are an employer that gives employee gifts.

The holiday season is officially in full swing! Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, many employers are looking for ways to recognize the dedication and hard work of their employees. This gratitude often comes in the form of a holiday gift of some fashion. While this generosity is well-intended, gifts to employees can be fraught with potential tax consequences organizations should be aware of. This article will attempt to demystify the rules surrounding employee gifts to ensure organizations and their employees have a joyous holiday season.

Holiday gifts: Taxable or not?

So, are holiday gifts to employees taxable? The answer, as is so often the case with tax questions, is it depends. The IRS is very clear that cash and cash equivalents (specifically including gift cards) are always included as taxable income when they are provided by the employer, regardless of amount, with no exceptions. This means that if you plan to give your employees cash or a gift card this year, the value must be included in the employees’ wages and is subject to all payroll taxes. Bah humbug indeed!

Nontaxable gift options

There are however, a few ways to make nontaxable gifts to employees. In each instance the gift must be noncash (nor convertible to cash). IRS Publication 15 offers a variety of examples of de minimis (minimal) benefits, defined as any property or service you provide to an employee that has a minimal value, making the accounting for it unreasonable and administratively impracticable. Examples include holiday or birthday gifts with a low market value (a card and flowers, fruit baskets, a box of chocolates, etc.), or occasional tickets for theater or sporting events, among others. Again, cash and cash equivalents never qualify. The key is that the gift must be occasional or unusual in its frequency and must not be a form of disguised compensation. While de minimis benefits can be a gray area, the IRS has generally deemed items with a value exceeding $100 as too large to qualify as de minimis.

Holiday gifts can also be nontaxable if they are in the form of a gift coupon, if given for a specific item (with no redeemable cash value). A common example would be issuing a coupon to your employee for a free ham or turkey redeemable at the local grocery store. Nontaxable employee gifts can also come in the form of achievement awards, either for length of service or for safety achievements. The proverbial gold watch upon retirement is a classic example of such a gift. Here too, the award must always be tangible personal property—never cash or a cash equivalent. There are additional rules and value thresholds on any such gift. Please contact a member of your tax team to discuss these specific details further.

Whether employers are considering supplying gift cards, turkeys, or something in between, we hope all find this guidance helpful and still in the giving spirit! Coincidentally, at the end of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer himself gives Bob Cratchit a turkey on Christmas day. Of course Mr. Scrooge would be aware of the potential tax consequences! We wish you all a very happy and healthy holiday season!

Not-for-profit resources

If you are a not-for-profit organization receiving charitable gifts, read Donor Acknowledgements: We have to file what?

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What employers need to know before making gifts to employees