Proposed rule clarifies employer mandate calculations
On Jan. 2, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published in the Federal Register a proposed rule, “Shared Responsibility for Employers Regarding Health Coverage,” that provides details regarding the requirement that employers with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalents offer employees health care coverage with “minimum value,” beginning in 2014. The proposed rule has a comment period that ends on March 18, 2013.
Relatedly, on Dec. 28, 2012, the IRS posted online new questions and answers regarding the employer mandate to provide health care.
The proposed rule and Q&As closely track the requirements outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which states that the “shared responsibility provisions” (that is, the employer health care mandate) applies to employers with 50 or more full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that is equivalent to at least 50 full-time employees.
As defined by the statute, a full-time employee is an individual employed on average at least 30 hours per week, so half-time would be 15 hours per week, and 100 half-time employees equals 50 full-time employees. In another example, 40 full-time employees employed 30 or more hours per week on average plus 20 half-time employees employed 15 hours per week on average are equivalent to 50 full-time employees.
Among other points, the proposed rule and Q&As clarify the following:
• Employers will determine each year, based on their current number of employees, whether they will be considered a large employer subject to the shared responsibility provisions for the following year. For example, if an employer has at least 50 full-time employees/equivalents (FTEs) for 2013, it will be subject to the shared responsibilities provisions in 2014.
• Employers average their number of employees across the months in the year to see whether they meet the threshold of 50 FTEs. The averaging can take account of fluctuations that many employers may experience in their work force across the year.
The proposed rule applies a calculation method for FTEs that was included in IRS Notice 2011-36, issued in June 2011. Under that method, all employees (including seasonal workers) who were not full-time employees for any month in the preceding calendar year are included in calculating the employer’s FTEs for that month by 1) calculating the aggregate number of hours of service (but not more than 120 hours of service for any employee) for all employees who were not employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week for that month, and 2) dividing the total hours of service in step 1 by 120. This is the number of FTEs for the calendar month.
In determining the number of FTEs for each calendar month, fractions are taken into account. For example, if for a calendar month employees who were not employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week have 1,260 hours of service in the aggregate, there would be 10.5 FTEs for that month. After adding the 12 monthly FTE totals and dividing by 12, however, all fractions would be disregarded. For example, 49.9 FTEs for the preceding calendar year would be rounded down to 49 FTEs (and thus the employer would not be an applicable large employer in the current calendar year).
Determining ‘minimum value’
According to the new Q&As, a minimum value calculator will be made available by the IRS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The minimum value calculator will work in a similar fashion to the actuarial value calculator that HHS has made available. Employers can input certain information about the plan, such as deductibles and co-pays, into the calculator and get a determination as to whether the plan provides minimum value by covering at least 60% of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred under the plan.
The proposed regulations provide additional information about how to determine the average number of employees for a year, including information about how to take account of salaried employees who may not clock their hours and a special rule for seasonal workers.
Regarding seasonal workers, the PPACA provides that if an employer’s workforce exceeds 50 FTEs for 120 days or fewer during a calendar year, and the employees in excess of 50 who were employed during that period of no more than 120 days were seasonal workers, the employer is not an applicable large employer subject to the shared responsibility provisions.
The term seasonal worker under the PPACA is not limited to agricultural or retail workers.
The proposed rule states that until further guidance is issued, employers may apply a reasonable, good-faith interpretation of the statutory definition of seasonal worker, including a reasonable good-faith interpretation of the standard set forth under the U.S. Department of Labor regulations at 29 CFR 500.20(s)(1).
For those employers that may be close to the 50-FTE threshold and need to know what to do for 2014, special transition relief is available to help them count their employees in 2013. For instance, rather than being required to use the full 12 months of 2013 to measure whether it has 50 FTEs, an employer may measure using any six-consecutive-month period in 2013. For example, an employer could use the period from Jan. 1, 2013, through June 30, 2013, and then have six months to analyze the results, determine whether it needs to offer a plan and, if so, choose and establish a plan.
Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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Market Recap: RISI Crow’s Construction Materials Cost Index
A price index of lumber and panels used in actual construction for Jan. 11, 2013
*Western – regional species perimeter foundation; Southern – regional species slab construction.
Crow’s Market Recap — A condensed recap of the market conditions for the major North American softwood lumber and panel products as reported in Crow’s Weekly Market Report.
Lumber: Trading activity in the SPF lumber market was stagnant, leading to generally flat pricing. Producers showed order files still out into the weeks of Jan. 21 and 28, extending beyond the expiration of January’s futures contract. Southern Pine lumber mills and secondaries both reported good sales activity for most items. Solid demand, decent weather in most part of the Southeast and limited offerings from mills all contributed to higher prices. Buyers reentering the Coastal species lumber market on a consistent basis, having to purchase for the next round of buyers they will sell to, continued to place upward pressure on prices. Rising log prices remained a concern. Inland species lumber producers reported a modest start, but activity improved as the week progressed. Limited offerings and good order files helped producers move prices up. Secondaries sold off previous purchases at or slightly above replacement costs. Activity for Radiata Pine Mldg&Btr was steady, with supplies limited and prices firm. Improved activity for blanks sent those prices higher. Ponderosa Pine Mldg&Btr sales remained steady but uneventful. Buyers only bought what they needed and then only after shopping to find the best price. Others relied on their contracts to keep them in stock. Ponderosa Pine producers reported an increase in activity for boards, especially narrows. Eastern White Pine producers reported a good week of sales, with Industrial leading the way. Standard sales were also good. Limited supplies of ESLP and Idaho White Pine kept sales volumes light but prices firm. Western Red Cedar pricing continued to creep higher, mostly due to tight supplies available for the first quarter. Constricted fiber supplies are creating spotty production cutbacks.
Panels: The market for OSB remains tight, although buyer resistance is increasing as prices escalate. A two-tier market was present in some regions, as wholesalers sold off positions at below replacement costs. The Southern Pine plywood market remained fluid, keeping lead times at mills extended and pushing prices higher. Wholesalers sold at various price levels below replacement costs and were able to match mill prices for the quickest shipping volumes. Western Fir plywood producers experienced lackluster sales activity, while secondaries sold quicker shipping volumes below replacement prices. Buyers were both satisfied with volumes purchased previously and skittish over high price levels. Buyers of Canadian plywood who measured the need for additional purchases against robust pricing and extended mill order files often found themselves on the fence. Particleboard and MDF mills in both the East and West experienced increases in market activity. Various market segments, including moulding manufacturers, stepped up their purchases.
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Retail imports to increase while longshoremen strike looms
Import cargo volume at the nation’s major retail container ports is expected to increase 2.3% in January over the same month last year, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
Meanwhile, port workers say they’re ready to strike at East Coast and Gulf Coast docks.
“The strike deadline came and went at the end of December, but the threat of closing down nearly half our nation’s port capacity has only been postponed, not eliminated,” said Jonathan Gold, VP supply chain and customs policy for the NRF. “The uncertainty of what will happen in February has retailers implementing expensive contingency plans yet again and is a burden our economy cannot afford.”
The latest extension of contract talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance runs through Feb. 6 and comes after previous strike deadlines in September and October. The union and management are scheduled to meet next week under the supervision of federal mediators, but the ILA walked away from local talks affecting the Ports of New York and New Jersey earlier this week. A strike would close 14 ports from Maine to Texas where nearly 15,000 dockworkers handle 40% of the nation’s ocean cargo.
U.S. ports followed by Global Port Tracker handled 1.25 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) in November, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. With most holiday merchandise already in the country, that figure was down 8.6% from October, and down 2.8% from November 2011. One TEU is one 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent.
December was estimated at 1.3 million TEU, up 6.5% from last year. January is forecast at 1.31 million TEU, up 2.3% from January 2012. February is projected at 1.15 million TEU, up 6%, and March at 1.25 million TEU, up 0.5%. April and May are expected at 1.33 million TEU (a 1.7% rise) and 1.42 million TEU (3.4% increase), respectively.
The first half of 2012 totaled 7.7 million TEU, up 3% from the same period last year. For the full year, 2012 was estimated at 15.8 million TEU, up 2.9% from 2011.
Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett said there were signs that retailers brought merchandise into the country early as the ILA’s Dec. 29 strike deadline approached.
“We have seen a rise in the level of the retail inventory-to-sales ratio,” Hackett said. “This may be a reflection of importers stocking up ahead of the East Coast/Gulf coast port strike that was expected, though the run-up came well ahead of that.”
Global Port Tracker, which is produced for NRF by the consulting firm Hackett Associates, covers the U.S. ports of Long Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades and Miami on the East Coast; and Houston on the Gulf Coast.