Many employers currently offer tuition reimbursement as a component of their employee benefit programs, but this benefit is of limited use for employees who have already completed their education and who do not expect to take further coursework that would be eligible for reimbursement. At the same time, large numbers of prospective employees are burdened with significant student loan debt obligations. This student loan debt can limit the degree to which employees participate in taxdeferred benefit options such as health savings accounts (“HSAs”), dependent care assistance programs (“DCAPs”), and retirement savings programs such as 401(k) accounts.
Currently, an employer cannot make tax-advantaged contributions toward an employee’s student loan debt or offer employees the option to elect a portion of their income to be directed toward student loan debt repayment on a tax-advantaged basis. But in a 2018 IRS private letter ruling, the IRS found that a 401(k) contribution program did not violate the 401(k) “contingent benefit” rule. Under the program, the employer made regular matching 401(k) contributions equal to 5% of the employee’s payroll period compensation if the employee contributed at least 2%. The employer’s proposed amendment to the program, which the IRS addressed in its ruling, allowed employees with student loan debt to voluntarily opt out of the regular matching contributions and earn a similar employer contribution provided that the employee made student loan repayments of at least 2% of their payroll period compensation. This benefit allowed the employer to reward the employee for making student loan payments by increasing the employer’s contribution to the employee’s 401(k).
This letter ruling is not precedential and should not be solely relied upon to adopt a student loan repayment benefit. There are unresolved nondiscrimination, administration, and verification issues that will accompany any student loan repayment plan. Further, pending legislation may dramatically alter the scope of student loan repayment benefits and tax advantages to employers and employees related to these programs. Employers should consult with their legal, accounting, and benefits advisors to consider whether there is a role for a student loan repayment benefit in their broader benefit package and the possible costs and benefits associated with this in-demand benefit option.
This article gives a basic overview of recent regulation as in effect on the date of the article. Please be aware that the determination of the requirements and the application of these rules to each employer may differ due to a number of variables. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.
From PA Chamber of Business & Industry
Gov. Tom Wolf presented his fifth budget address last week to a joint session of the state House and Senate. His 2019-20 proposal calls for a spend amount of $34.1 billion – a 2.79 percent increase over the current year.
Speaking with optimism about the work elected officials achieve when political divisiveness is put aside, Gov. Wolf focused much of his speech on a bipartisan issue on which the PA Chamber is heavily engaged – workforce development. During the address, the governor announced the formation of the new Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center that will be co-chaired by PA Chamber President Gene Barr and PA AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and will engage state agencies that are involved in workforce efforts to develop a multi-tiered, public-private strategy to close the jobs skills gap and build a competitive 21st century workforce in Pennsylvania.
What the governor did not mention during his speech but was unveiled in the days prior to the budget address were several proposals about which the PA Chamber has already voiced opposition: first, an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour with gradual increases until it reaches $15 an hour and elimination of the tipped wage; another severance tax on the natural gas industry that would help to pay for a bond that would fund Gov. Wolf’s new “Restore Pennsylvania” initiative; and a move to combined reporting in exchange for a reduction in the state’s Corporate Net Income Tax. The PA Chamber wholeheartedly supports a reduction in the CNI, which is among the nation’s highest and raises a red flag for would-be investors to come to the Commonwealth; but has long argued that combined reporting would bring unnecessary complexity and economic hardship to many Pennsylvania companies.
Despite areas of disagreement between the Wolf administration and pro-business lawmakers, the general takeaway from the governor’s budget address was that both sides should work on areas on which they can agree. The more positive outlook can certainly be attributed in large part to a strong economic year which has seen revenues coming in higher than expected. In a statement following the budget address, PA Chamber President Gene Barr also embraced a positive tone – particularly in regard to prospects for greater collaboration on workforce – while warning of the elements of the proposal that would end up hurting the state’s competitiveness.
“We commend the governor for using his budget address to shine a spotlight on the need for the private sector and government to work together to ensure Pennsylvania’s workforce is equipped to meet the needs of the state’s evolving jobs market,” Barr said. “We are, however, concerned with some components of the governor’s proposal – including an aggressive mandated increase to entry level wages …. Additionally, we are disappointed by the administration’s continued call for an additional tax on the state’s natural gas industry. We are at risk of losing our competitive edge in the critical energy arena if state elected officials continue to look at higher energy taxes as a way to generate more revenue for government spending.”
Member businesses and individuals of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce were recognized during the organization’s Annual Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Barn at Frosty Valley in Danville, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities.
More than 240 people attended the dinner meeting which celebrated outstanding member achievements, elected members to the Board of Directors, highlighted Chamber activities of the past year, and previewed the year ahead.
The Chamber’s four annual awards were presented to businesses and individuals for their significant contributions to the community. The following awards were presented to the following recipients:
Small Business of the Year
(Sponsored by First Columbia Bank & Trust)
For The Cause
Large Business of the Year
(Sponsored by DRIVE)
Knoebels Amusement Resort
Community Progress Award
(Sponsored by Commonwealth Health-Berwick Hospital Center)
Community Strategies Group
(Sponsored by Berwick Industrial Development Association)
Linda Brown, Service 1st Federal Credit Union
The Small Business of the Year award goes to a member business or organization of 30 employees or fewer than has done one or more of the following: demonstrated business or community leadership evidenced by diversification and creativity in the development of new products, services and/or markets; demonstrated staying power and positive response to adversity; or demonstrated community involvement.
Founded in 2009 during the height of the recession by Marc, Jon and Josh Nespoli, For The Cause has a mission to make the greater Berwick area a region of pride, where the communities thrive as they live, work and play. What For The Cause has been able to accomplish in its first decade is nothing short of remarkable.
The annual Speedo Run has raised over $100,000 to date for the fight against breast cancer, for which For The Cause received the 2011 Friends in the Fight Award from the local Susan G. Komen Foundation chapter. Its Run for the Cause raises money to support its various youth and food-related initiatives. Through that and other various campaigns, For The Cause has been able to distribute over 200,000 meals to local families in need, including sending nearly 1,700 snacks and meals home to elementary students with identified needs each Friday during the school year.
The nonprofit’s latest venture, the 3,500 square-foot Teen Center, opened in September 2017. In just over a year, it more than quintupled its membership and successfully partnered with about a dozen local businesses and the Berwick Area School District to create a successful extension of home and school for over 300 local teens per month on average, which including more than 700 engagement last September alone. Its Youth Action Board has given its participants a chance to learn about leadership and the importance of giving back to their community, and it recently partnered with the ThinkBig Pediatric Cancer Fund to raise over $6,000 to support families battling pediatric cancer.
While For The Cause has very ambitious plans to accomplish even more as it enters its second decade, it has made a notably positive impact on the greater Berwick community in just 10 short years, while also positioning itself to make even larger positive contributions to the community and its youth over the next 10 years and beyond.
The Large Business of the Year Award, goes to a business with 31 or more employees, and the criteria is the same as for the Small Business of the Year honor.
For those that live in this area, especially those whose families have gone to
Knoebels Amusement Resort for generations, it can be easy to take it for granted and not recognize just how much of a jewel and driver of economic activity is right here in our own backyard. Now in its third and fourth generations of family ownership and operation, Knoebels welcomes nearly 1.5 million guests per year – many of whom come from beyond a day’s drive. This is significant because of the numerous nights of local hotel room occupancy during the summer and the accompanying hotel tax revenue, which benefits many. One local hotel sales director estimates that during any given week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 70% of its occupancy is due to Knoebels.
At the park, campground, golf course, restaurant and cottages, Knoebels has been delivering family fun for generations. America’s largest free-admission amusement park has consistently been recognized by the amusement industry. Its grand carousel has received Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Award for best carousel every year the award has been presented, and Knoebels annually ranks among the top five parks in the country in several categories with other well-known amusement parks such as Disney World and Busch Gardens.
During the peak of its season each summer, Knoebels employs over 2,300 people, ranging from teenagers working their first job, to retirees looking to keep busy. In the last two decades, it has given away more than $100,000 in scholarships to its school-aged team members, and through its educational partnership program, is able to encourage students in their educational journey while assisting schools with certain programming. Perhaps most impressive is the way Knoebels is able to quickly mobilize these 2,300-plus employees and with military-like precision, prepare for, manage and clean up following floods. They flawlessly executed this flood preparedness plan once again this past summer, ensuring that this economic engine and family fun wasn’t closed for more than a couple of days.
The Community Progress Award goes to a member business or organization that showed improvement in the internal or external appearance of a commercial property through either new construction, renovation, restoration or remodeling, and completed that construction within the last three calendar years or by December 2018.
An offshoot of the Columbia County Housing & Redevelopment Authority, Community Strategies Group is a comprehensive community, economic and housing development organization serving Columbia County and surrounding areas. While it is receiving this award for a pair of housing projects, its services go beyond just housing development. For example, it offers qualified first-time homebuyers up to $5,000 of matching funds to put towards down payment or closing costs. It has also partnered with the United Way of Columbia and Montour County and First Columbia Bank & Trust to establish the revolving car loan program, which aims to assist individuals and families in need of transportation in order to gain or keep employment. In the 20 months since this program’s inception, it has helped eight families with their basic transportation needs.
Community Strategies Group’s most significant accomplishments of late have been the completion of the Bloom Mills apartments in Bloomsburg, and several single-family homes in Berwick. The Bloom Mills apartments, completed in 2016, were built on the site of the former Bloomsburg Mills silk and textile mill. When it shut down in 2009, the property sat vacant and deteriorating, and the mill was demolished in 2013. Community Strategies Group purchased the property in 2016 and by the end of that year, turned the property into a dynamic 40-apartment community that provides much-needed affordable housing for seniors, as well as a boost to the property tax base in the Town of Bloomsburg. Later this year, the second phase of this project will be completed when the 64-apartment Silk Mills opens across the street.
Just as significant is Community Strategies Group’s work on the LaSalle St. neighborhood in Berwick. Formerly a vibrant neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century, the area fell into decline. In 2005, the neighborhood was designated a Blueprint Community, a designation and initiative that has helped nearly 60 similar communities across Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia revitalize toward a brighter future and gain access to the resources needed to make it a reality. Community Strategies Group has led and managed this revitalization, which included purchasing and demolishing several blighted properties, and replacing them with new, energy-efficient homes that were sold or rented to working families. The latest group of 24 homes was completed in late 2018, and will be rented to more working families, who will have the option to buy them. Since this project began in the last decade, reported crime in the neighborhood is down by over 30 percent, children regularly play in the neighborhood park, and there is an overall sense of pride not seen in the neighborhood in a generation.
The Outstanding Citizen Award is presented to an individual that is an employee or volunteer of a member organization who is involved in civic activities beneficial to the Columbia Montour region and who projects a positive community image.
Linda Brown has worked in the financial services industry for over 30 years, including the last 22 and counting at Service 1st Federal Credit Union as the chief administrative officer. She began her career in marketing and human resources and has since expanded her scope of knowledge to include member service, training, security and information systems. She is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the credit union in these areas. Linda is an inaugural member of the Filene Research Institute’s i3 group that focuses on ideas, innovation and implementation to advance the credit union movement.
A former direct report of Linda’s commented that “Linda’s leadership and forward thinking have really added to the growth and stability of Service 1st.” Another current colleague remarked that “her leadership has spurred aggressive growth for Service 1st and she continually seeks out ways to improve the experience for our members and employees. I am lucky to have her as the phenomenal mentor she is.”
When not helping Service 1st reach achievements, Linda spends a good portion of her time volunteering in the community and lending her expertise to several other organizations. She is a member of the board at Leadership Susquehanna Valley and Rural Business Innovation, as well as a member of the steering committees for the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Circle and Bridges Out of Poverty. She also is a member of Soroptimist International of Montour County, the Montour County Industrial Development Authority and the Greater Susquehanna Valley Toastmasters.
Linda also serves as the treasurer on the board for the Ronald McDonald House of Danville, where her commitment was described in one simple word: awesome. She has on more than one occasion enlisted the help of her Service 1st co-workers to prepare meals for the families at the house. She attends every event and if she isn’t there, the staff knows that she is out of town or has to be sick.
One might think with all of this volunteering that Linda doesn’t have much free time. Yet, nearly 25 years after she earned her undergraduate degree from Bloomsburg University, she recently returned to BU to earn a Master’s degree as a way to sharpen her skills and keep pace with technology and instructional design. Linda resides outside Danville with her husband, Terry.
The 2019 – 2020 Board of Directors of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce was announced at the organization’s Annual Meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the Barn at Frosty Valley in Danville, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities.
following individuals were elected to the Board of Directors:
Nominated to serve a 3-year term on the Chamber Board:
Nominated to serve a 1-year term on the Chamber Board:
Nominated to serve as Chamber Officers
- AGAPE is in desperate need of warehouse and driver volunteers. Even if you might only be able to help one day per month, that would be of tremendous value to AGAPE as it works to ensure it serves those in need. If interested, or for questions, please contact AGAPE at 570-317-2210 or stop in their office at 19 East 7th St. in Bloomsburg and fill out an application.
- Beginning this week and running through April 4, the United Way of Columbia and Montour County will once again offer free basic tax help to low and moderate-income residents in the community. This program will be held Tuesdays and Wednesday from 2-6 p.m. and Thursdays from 4-8 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, located at 130 W. 3rd St., Bloomsburg (use the rear entrance). No appointments are necessary, only drop-offs and walk-ins will be accepted. For questions, call the United Way at 570-784-3134 or email, and see the flyer for additional information.
- Mexican folk music will be performed by Sonia De Los Santos and her multicultural band on Monday, Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. at theWeis Center. Note that this takes place on a school holiday, President’s Day. This performance is free and tickets are not required. It is suggested for ages 4 and older and the run time is 60 minutes, no intermission. Attendees are asked to bring a canned food item, which will be distributed to local families in need. This unique concert is filled with original songs, Latin American party tunes and new bilingual versions of American classics. De Los Santos has been hailed by Billboard as “one of the Latin children’s music artists you should know,” and her music has been featured on NBC’s Visiones, Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live and WXPN’s Kids Corner, among others.
- A free job fair will be held at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds on Feb. 21, 22 and 23 in the Industrial, Arts & Crafts and Educational buildings. Any business interested in booking a space should complete the one-page vendor application. For questions, please call Diane Considine at 570-479-0636 or Barb Belles at 570-387-4144.
- The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit is seeking professionals in the business community to serve as judges in specific categories at its PA Media and Design Competition (formerly called the PA State Computer Fair). There will be separate regional competitions, one for middle school students on Monday, March 4, and one for high school students on Monday, March 25, both at CSIU #16 located at 90 Lawton Lane, Milton. If interested in participating in these events as a judge, please email Bill Herald by Feb. 22. For more information about the event, including a list of categories, visit the event’s website.
- Knoebels Amusement Resort will hold its annual job fair on Saturday, March 2, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., at the Elysburg Fire Department, located at 1 East Mill St., Elysburg. There are seasonal positions available in games, ride operations, food service, gift shops, grounds crew, security & first aid, admissions, crystal pool, campground, guest services, and more. If you have a particular interest or skill set, Knoebels has a job for you. Visit the Facebook event for more information.
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Latest from the Newsroom
- Student Loan Repayment BenefitsFebruary 17, 2019 - 1:18 pm
- Governor’s Fifth Budget Proposal Focuses on Workforce Goals; Contains Elements Employers OpposeFebruary 16, 2019 - 4:01 pm
- Businesses and Individuals Recognized at Columbia Montour Chamber Annual MeetingFebruary 14, 2019 - 10:32 am
- Columbia Montour Chamber Announces 2019-20 BoardFebruary 14, 2019 - 8:05 am