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1 month ago · by · 0 comments

When Your Electricity Goes Out

Nearly 13,900 PG&E customers in Santa Cruz County woke up today to a dark Monday morning, as the utility shut-off power to over 350k customers in 36 counties beginning Sunday night.This is a preventive/safety measure to reduce the chances of utility equipment sparking a wildfire as the State of CA is experiencing unprecedented strong winds and low humidity levels.

The next time you experience a power disruption, take these steps to protect your home, valuables and family.

Call the power company. Report the outage and any downed lines, and sign up (online) to receive alerts when the power returns.

Check the circuit breakers. Be sure they’re turned to the “on” position so the power will automatically turn on when it’s restored.

Never touch downed lines. They’re deadly.

Use battery-operated flashlights or lanterns. Candles or oil lamps can be fire hazards, so rely on battery-operated light sources.

Stay warm during winter power outages. Bundle in layers, gather your family and pets in one room and shut the doors. You can also use your wood stove as a heat source if it’s clean and functions properly.

Stay cool during summer outages.
 Dress in lightweight clothing and hang out in the basement. You’ll also want to stay hydrated. If the power outage lasts for an extended time, drive to a mall, movie theater or other cool location.

Preserve foodIn general, food will stay safe in the refrigerator for up to four hours and in the freezer for up to 48 hours, but try to avoid opening these appliances. Wrapping these appliances with blankets might provide further insulation and food protection during short outages.

Fill your water jugs if possible. Grab your spare containers and fill them with water to sustain you during the outage.

Turn on the water. Let your spigots drip to prevent freezing water pipes during winter outages.

Unplug major appliances. Your appliances could be damaged by the surge that sometimes occurs when the power comes back on, so unplug all your appliances and electronics except your fridge or freezer. Consider keeping a single lamp or other electric device plugged in so you know when the power is restored.

Use your generator with caution. Only turn on your generator if it’s installed outdoors, properly connected to your home and fueled properly.

Don’t grill indoors. The carbon monoxide could kill you.

Check on your neighbors. Verify that your neighbors are safe, especially if they’re elderly or disabled, and share any water or food with them.

Stock an emergency supply. After the power returns, prepare for the next outage. Stock non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, a first aid kit, and pet and baby supplies, if necessary.

Review your homeowners insurance coverage. Your policy may cover food losses, power surge damages, burst pipes, and even hotel expenses that you incur because of a power outage. Contact your insurance agent for more details.

A power outage can occur at any time, so be prepared. These steps help you protect your home and your family.

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4 months ago · by · 0 comments

The Summertime Heat Is On!

3Whether you are outdoors — on the job or at play this summer — or working indoors in a hot environment, you need to know how to cope with hot and humid conditions that can pose serious dangers to yourhealth that the heat brings.

The human “cooling system” uses perspiration and blood vessels to regulate body temperature. However, when someone is working hard in the heat, especially when it’s also humid, this system can break down, raising the person’s temperature and heart rate. Although people who are past middle age or have health problems are especially vulnerable, the young and healthy can also suffer from heat-related conditions.

Overheating also affects the brain. A temperature hike as little as 2 degrees can impair mental functioning, which makes heat an underlying cause of job accidents, as diminished ability can lead workers to overlook hazards and make mistakes.

In order of seriousness, heat hazards — and their remedies — include:

  • Heat rash — Can be irritating: Take a shower and use a little talcum powder.
  • Heat stress — Symptoms include thirst, vision problems and/or feeling woozy or tired: Drink a cool, non-alcoholic beverage in a shady place.
  • Heat cramp — Involves pain from twitching muscles caused by losing salt from perspiration: Get into the shade and take cool fluids.
  • Heat exhaustion — Look for heavy perspiration, fatigue, queasy stomach, and chilly, clammy skin: Put the person in the shade, with their feet slightly elevated, provide a cooling beverage (unless the victim is nauseated), and be prepared to seek medical assistance.
  • Heatstroke — Can be a fatal condition, characterized by a lack of sweating, a temperature elevated by up to five degrees, hot skin, mental confusion, and loss of coordination: Call paramedics immediately — and then get the victim to a shaded spot and keep him or her cooling down with cold water sponges or ice packs until help arrives.

To help keep your workers protected from the heat, we’d recommend that you advise them to: (1) Wear sunglasses for protection against exposure to UV rays; (2) Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more to minimize the risk of cancer or sunburn: (3) Keep hydrated with plenty of cool — not cold — water and beverages free of alcohol or caffeine; (4) Minimize exposure to the sun by going indoors or staying in the shade during the heat of the day; and (5) Eat light meals with small servings of fruits and vegetables (which are rich in fluids).

For valuable information on dealing with heat-related issues, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web page, Heat: A Major Killer.

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1 year ago · by · 0 comments

The power of positive thinking.

Although you might not be aware of it, there are far-reaching benefits to positive thinking that can improve your health and help you with stress management. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that the personality traits of optimism and pessimism can have a direct impact on your well-being.

The good news is that, even if you are a pessimist by nature, you can take steps to improve positive thinking techniques in your life, and reap the resulting health and well-being benefits. Health Benefits of Positive Thinking. Over time, researchers have explored the effects of optimistic thinking on health, and have found many correlations between well being and positive thought processes. These include:

  • Longer life span
  • Better resistance to the common cold
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Reduced rates of cardiovascular disease
  • Improved coping skills during times of stress and hardship
  • Better physical and psychological well-being


Get on the Road to Positive Thought Processes. 

There are some simple steps to take to move away from negative thinking, and create a new habit of positive self-talk. Monitor yourself: During the day, stop and take note of your thoughts. If thoughts are mainly negative, make a conscious effort to put a positive spin on things.

Be open to good humor: Give yourself permission to be happy, to smile, and to laugh, even when the chips are down. Seek humor in everyday events.

Lead a healthy lifestyle: Follow a healthy diet and exercise at least three times per week. Eating right and exercising both have positive effects on mood and stress management.

Surround yourself with people who focus on the positive: Choose to spend time with family and friends who are cheerful, supportive, and offer helpful feedback. Avoid spending time with negative people who have a “glass half empty” attitude.

Practice positive self talk:
 Be gentle and encouraging with yourself, and never tell yourself something that you would not say to another person. If a negative thought enters your mind, try to think about it rationally, and follow up with positive affirmations about yourself and your circumstances.

Practice Every Day! 

If you have had a past tendency to have a negative outlook on life, don’t despair. While you may not become an optimist overnight, with everyday practice, you will begin to replace negativity with productive, positive thoughts.

You may find that you become, not only less critical of yourself, but more accepting of the world around you. As your general attitude improves, you will begin to reap the physical and emotional benefits of a positive outlook on life!

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2 years ago · by · 0 comments

UPCOMING ACA REPORTING DEADLINES

Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting under Section 6055 and Section 6056 for the 2018 calendar year is due in early 2019. Specifically, reporting entities must:

  • File returns with the IRS by Feb. 28, 2019 (or April 1, 2019, if filing electronically, since March 31, 2019, is a Sunday); and
  • Furnish statements to individuals by March 4, 2019.

Originally, individual statements were due by Jan. 31, 2019. However, on Nov. 29, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2018-94 to extend the furnishing deadline by 32 days. Notice 2018-94 does not extend the due date for filing forms with the IRS for 2018.

Despite the delay, the IRS is encouraging reporting entities to furnish statements as soon as they are able. No request or other documentation is required to take advantage of the extended deadline.

Section 6055 and 6056 Reporting

Sections 6055 and 6056 were added to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) by the ACA.

  • Section 6055 applies to providers of minimum essential coverage (MEC), such as health insurance issuers and employers with self-insured health plans. These entities will generally use Forms 1094-B and 1095-B to report information about the coverage they provided during the previous year.
  • Section 6056 applies to applicable large employers (ALEs)­­—generally, those employers with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, in the previous year. ALEs will use Forms 1094-C and 1095-C to report information relating to the health coverage that they offer (or do not offer) to their full-time employees.

Generally, forms must be filed with the IRS annually, no later than February 28 (March 31, if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which the return relates. In addition, reporting entities must also furnish statements annually to each individual who is provided MEC (under Section 6055), and each of the ALE’s full-time employees (under Section 6056). Individual statements are generally due on or before January 31 of the year immediately following the calendar year to which the statements relate.

Extended Furnishing Deadline

The IRS has again determined that some employers, insurers and other providers of MEC need additional time to gather and analyze the information, and prepare 2018 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to be furnished to individuals. As a result, Notice 2018-94 provides an additional 32 days for furnishing the 2018 Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C, extending the due date from Jan. 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019. The extended deadline is March 4, rather than March 2 as in prior years, because March 2, 2019, is a Saturday.

Despite the delay, employers and other coverage providers are encouraged to furnish 2018 statements to individuals as soon as they are able.

Filers are not required to submit any request or other documentation to the IRS to take advantage of the extended furnishing due date provided by Notice 2018-94. Because this extended furnishing deadline applies automatically to all reporting entities, the IRS will not grant additional extensions of time of up to 30 days to furnish Forms 1095-B and 1095-C. As a result, the IRS will not formally respond to any requests that have already been submitted for 30-day extensions of time to furnish statements for 2018.

Filing Deadline

The IRS has determined that there is no need for additional time for employers, insurers and other providers of MEC to file 2018 forms with the IRS. Therefore, Notice 2018-94 does not extend the due date for filing Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C or 1095-C with the IRS for 2018.

This due date remains:

  • Feb. 28, 2019, if filing on paper; or
  • April 1, 2019, if filing electronically (since March 31, 2019, is a Sunday).

Because the due dates are unchanged, potential automatic extensions of time for filing information returns are still available under the normal rules by submitting a Form 8809. The notice also does not affect the rules regarding additional extensions of time to file under certain hardship conditions.

Employers or other coverage providers that do not meet the due dates for filing and furnishing (as extended under the rules described above) under Sections 6055 and 6056 are subject to penalties under Section 6722 or Section 6721 for failure to furnish and file on time. However, employers and other coverage providers that do not meet the relevant due dates should still furnish and file. The IRS will take this into consideration when determining whether to abate penalties for reasonable cause.

Impact on Individuals

Because of the extended furnishing deadline, some individual taxpayers may not receive a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C by the time they are ready to file their 2018 tax returns. Taxpayers may rely on other information received from their employer or other coverage provider for purposes of filing their returns, including determining eligibility for an Exchange subsidy and confirming that they had MEC for purposes of the individual mandate.

Taxpayers do not need to wait to receive Forms 1095-B and 1095-C before filing their 2018 returns. In addition, individuals do not need to send the information they relied upon to the IRS when filing their returns, but should keep it with their tax records.

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2 years ago · by · 0 comments

IRS Announces Employee Benefit Plan Limits for 2019

Many employee benefits are subject to annual dollar limits that are periodically increased for inflation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced cost-of-living adjustments to the annual dollar limits for various welfare and retirement plan limits for 2019. Although some of the limits will remain the same, many of the limits will increase for 2019.
The annual limits for the following commonly offered employee benefits will increase for 2019:

  • High deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs);  
  •  Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs);
  • Transportation fringe benefit plans; and
  • 401(k) plans.

Employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits and make sure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new limits in 2019. Employers may also want to communicate the new benefit plan limits to employees.

HSA and HDHP Limits

HSA Contribution Limit
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Self-only HDHP coverage $3,450 $3,500 Up $50
Family HDHP coverage $6,900 $7,000 Up $100
Catch-up contributions* $1,000 $1,000 No change

*Not adjusted for inflation

HDHP Limits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Minimum deductible Self-only coverage $1,350 $1,350 No change
Family coverage $2,700 $2,700 No change
Maximum out-of-pocket Self-only coverage $6,650 $6,750 Up $100
Family coverage $13,300 $13,500 Up $200

FSA Benefits

FSA Limits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Health FSA (limit on employees’ pre-tax contributions) $2,650 $2,700 Up $50
Dependent care FSA (tax exclusion)* $5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately) $5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately) No change

*Not adjusted for inflation

Transportation Fringe Benefits

Transportation Benefits
Limit (monthly limits) 2018 2019 Change
Transit pass and vanpooling (combined) $260 $265 Up $5
Parking $260 $265 Up $5

Adoption Assistance Benefits

Adoption Benefits
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Tax exclusion (employer-provided assistance) $13,840 $14,080 Up $240

Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA)

QSEHRA
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Payments and Reimbursements Employee-only coverage $5,050 $5,150 Up $100
Family coverage $10,250 $10,450 Up $200

401(k) Contributions

401(k) Contributions
Limit 2018 2019 Change
Employee elective deferrals $18,500 $19,000 Up $500
Catch-up contributions $6,000 $6,000 No change

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2 years ago · by · 0 comments

HEALTH FSA LIMIT WILL INCREASE FOR 2019

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a dollar limit on employees’ salary reduction contributions to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) offered under cafeteria plans. This dollar limit is indexed for cost-of-living adjustments and may be increased each year.

On Nov. 15, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2018-57 (Rev. Proc. 18-57), which increased the FSA dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to $2,700 for taxable years beginning in 2019. It also includes annual inflation numbers for 2019 for a number of other tax provisions.

Employers should ensure that their health FSA will not allow employees to make pre-tax contributions in excess of $2,700 for 2019, and they should communicate the 2019 limit to their employees as part of the open enrollment process.

An employer may continue to impose its own health FSA limit, as long as it does not exceed the ACA’s maximum limit for the plan year. This means that an employer may continue to use the 2018 maximum limit for its 2019 plan year.

 The ACA initially set the health FSA contribution limit at $2,500. For years after 2013, the dollar limit is indexed for cost-of-living adjustments.

  • 2014: For taxable years beginning in 2014, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs remained unchanged at $2,500.
  • 2015: For taxable years beginning in 2015, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,550.
  • 2016: For taxable years beginning in 2015, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs remained unchanged at $2,550.
  • 2017: For taxable years beginning in 2017, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,600.
  • 2018: For taxable years beginning in 2018, the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs increased by $50, for a total of $2,650.
  • 2019: For taxable years beginning in 2019, Rev. Proc. 18-57 further increased the dollar limit on employee salary reduction contributions to health FSAs by an additional $50, to $2,700.

The health FSA limit will potentially be increased further for cost-of-living adjustments in later years.

Employer Limits

An employer may continue to impose its own dollar limit on employees’ salary reduction contributions to health FSAs, as long as the employer’s limit does not exceed the ACA’s maximum limit in effect for the plan year. For example, an employer may decide to continue limiting employee health FSA contributions for the 2019 plan year to $2,500.

Per Employee Limit

The health FSA limit applies on an employee-by-employee basis. Each employee may only elect up to $2,700 in salary reductions in 2019, regardless of whether he or she also has family members who benefit from the funds in that FSA. However, each family member who is eligible to participate in his or her own health FSA will have a separate limit. For example, a husband and wife who have their own health FSAs can both make salary reductions of up to $2,700 per year, subject to any lower employer limits.

If an employee participates in multiple cafeteria plans that are maintained by employers under common control, the employee’s total health FSA salary reduction contributions under all of the cafeteria plans are limited to $2,700. However, if an individual has health FSAs through two or more unrelated employers, he or she can make salary reductions of up to $2,700 under each employer’s health FSA.

Salary Reduction Contributions

The ACA imposes the $2,700 limit on health FSA salary reduction contributions. Non-elective employer contributions to health FSAs (for example, matching contributions or flex credits) generally do not count toward the ACA’s dollar limit. However, if employees are allowed to elect to receive the employer contributions in cash or as a taxable benefit, then the contributions will be treated as salary reductions and will count toward the ACA’s dollar limit.

In addition, the limit does not impact contributions under other employer-provided coverage. For example, employee salary reduction contributions to an FSA for dependent care assistance or adoption care assistance are not affected by the health FSA limit. The limit also does not apply to salary reduction contributions to a cafeteria plan that are used to pay for an employee’s share of health coverage premiums, to contributions to a health savings account (HSA) or to amounts made available by an employer under a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

Grace Period/Carry-over Feature

A cafeteria plan may include a grace period of up to two months and 15 days immediately following the end of a plan year. If a plan includes a grace period, an employee may use amounts remaining from the previous plan year, including any amounts remaining in a health FSA, to pay for expenses incurred for certain qualified benefits during the grace period. If a health FSA is subject to a grace period, unused salary reduction contributions that are carried over into the grace period do not count against the $2,700 limit applicable to the following plan year.

Also, if a health FSA does not include a grace period, it may allow participants to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next plan year. This is an exception to the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule that generally prohibits any contributions or benefits under a health FSA from being used in a following plan year or period of coverage. A health FSA carryover does not affect the limit on salary reduction contributions. This means the plan may allow the individual to elect up to $2,700 in salary reductions in addition to the $500 that may be carried over.

Plan Amendments

Plan documents that specify the health FSA dollar limit must be amended if the higher limit will be used in 2019.

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Company information

Scurich Insurance Services
Phone: (831) 661-5697
Fax: (831) 661-5741

Physical:
783 Rio Del Mar Blvd., Suite7,
Aptos, Ca 95003-4700

Mailing:
PO Box 1170
Watsonville, CA 95077-1170

Contact details

E-mail address:
Info@ScurichInsurance.com

(831) 661-5697

Available 8:30am - 5:00pm