Bots Help Government Tackle COVID-19 Challenges

As many are fighting the battle with various programming software applications, at this time it is helping various agencies with coronavirus data collection. Read this blog post to learn more.


The war against the coronavirus is being fought with science, social distancing, health care … and bots, software applications that run repetitive tasks over the Internet. Public-sector agencies are programming bots to speed the collection and analysis of data about coronavirus infection rates, transform paper-based procurement processes into digital ones, and help employees conduct business when in-person contact is no longer an option.

Robotic Process Automation in the Public Sector

Federal agencies are deploying robotic process automation (RPA) to overcome process or administrative hurdles. The General Services Administration (GSA) used the technology—which automates manual, repetitive tasks through the use of bots—to help track the spread of COVID‑19 in counties across the United States where the GSA has buildings.

Jim Walker, director of public-sector services for UiPath, a New York-based RPA platform provider, said the GSA used bots to gather and update COVID-19 infection data when agency employees became overwhelmed as infection counts rapidly rose. Walker said the GSA has trained about 50 of its employees in the use of RPA to create bots for the agency.

In another case, a government agency in Ireland used RPA to help process the burgeoning number of unemployment benefit claims. When laid-off workers submit an unemployment claim, a bot conducts optical character recognition on data and determines where a person has been employed. When employment and benefits eligibility are confirmed, the bot can deposit benefit funds directly into employee bank accounts.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) deployed a bot to check on employees working from home. "Previously, the CMS would send out e-mails to confirm the health and welfare of its remote workers but would receive many thousands of e-mails a day in return," Walker said. "A small CMS team was tasked with reviewing those e-mails and creating regular status reports, but it became hard to keep up."

CMS deployed a bot that automatically checks the databases employees regularly access to perform their work. If an employee hasn't logged on for a specified period of time, the bot triggers a welfare check, Walker said.

Creating and Deploying Bots

Experts say RPA platforms can often be quickly installed. Because many basic RPA bots are of the "no-code" or "low-code" variety—meaning they require little or no software coding skills but rather, they function in drag-and-drop fashion—they often can be created, tested and rolled out in a matter of weeks, depending on the use case.

But experts say RPA platforms still require enterprise-grade security protections and the oversight of a designated team to manage bot development and deployment across the organization.

"If the automation challenge is COVID‑19-related, you don't have months or in some cases even weeks to get automation in place," said Keith Nelson, senior director of public-sector services for Automation Anywhere, an RPA platform provider in Arlington, Va. "Organizations often need immediate relief. In the case of HR, once a bot is created, users often simply have to send an e‑mail with a specified subject line to a certain address to activate it. In many cases, there's no need for any coding."

Automation Anywhere recently partnered with Microsoft to create a bot to help process COVID‑19 case forms for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Nelson said the initiative was in response to a directive from the World Health Organization to collect clinical data and case forms for coronavirus patients to identify infection trends more quickly.

Expanding Uses of RPA

Some government agencies have turned to bots to help them with onboarding. In this use, RPA can be programmed to verify a candidate's information, fill in and process new-hire forms, transfer that information into HR databases, send required paperwork to new hires, and help provision equipment such as laptops.

HR and IT functions are using automation for such tasks as creating and distributing remote-working agreements for employees, and transforming emergency funding requests from paper to digital formats.

"Many government agencies didn't have work-from-home agreements or support response agreements until COVID‑19 hit," said Steve Witt, director of public sector for Nintex, a Seattle-based automation and process management company. "Many procurement and other processes had been conducted on paper before, where people would sign forms and hand them off to HR or to a manager."

HR functions are also using no-code automation platforms to quickly create digital forms for such tasks as tracking essential employees coming to and leaving work. For example, to track exposure and risk to employees, the forms might sit on a kiosk at a reception desk and request details about where employees have recently traveled.

"If HR needs to quickly build out a digital form, they can do it without requiring support from IT," Witt said. "That's helpful during the COVID crisis because IT is often scrambling to keep up with the technical-support demands of employees now working from home."

Companies are using RPA with popular collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, and there are concerns that RPA will replace HR or IT jobs after the COVID‑19 crisis begins to recede. Experts say that, to date, the technology more often has replaced tasks, not entire jobs.

"A government employee might have 50 things to do every day but can only get to 40 of them," Walker said. "If you can automate those 10 tasks with bots, you haven't taken a job away but rather helped that worker do his or her job more efficiently."

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (27 April 2020) "Bots Help Government Tackle COVID-19 Challenges" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/bots-help-government-tackle-covid19-challenges.aspx


Employer health plans could suffer in ACA repeal

From BenefitsPro by Marlene Satter

Although Congress may feel as if it has the bit in its teeth on repealing the Affordable Care Act, some experts are warning that it might not be all that easy—or even beneficial—particularly for employer-sponsored health plans.

In a Bloomberg report, Greta E. Cowart, a shareholder at Dallas-based Winstead PC, warned that an ACA repeal or major overhaul might put employers in the crosshairs; they could end up having to return money they previously received from the federal government for some initiatives, such as the early retiree reinsurance program, which provided financial assistance to employer-sponsored health plans.

In addition, Cowart said in the report that many of the mandates on what should be included in employer-sponsored health plans that were neither exempted nor grandfathered in will be hard to take out of employers’ plans, because employees would see that as a benefit reduction. And that, of course, would not make the employer look good.

In its report on the matter, HRDive.com warned employers to “keep an eye on” HHS secretary nominee Tom Price, a determined opponent of the ACA. His “empowering patients first” plan calls for complete repeal of the ACA—and that could lead to just such problems for businesses’ health plans.

Employers who have been calling for the repeal of the ACA might want to rethink their strategy, particularly since it could not only cost them money in the form of give-backs but also cost them employee loyalty if they take away health plan features once they’re no longer mandated by the ACA.

HRDive suggested that “employers should be prepared for all outcomes,” and perhaps consider offering their employees high-deductible health plans or health savings plans as cost-saving measures.

In addition, tracking prescription drug prices could help them keep an eye on costs.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Satter M. (2016 December 1). Employer health plans could suffer in ACA repeal[Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2016/12/01/employer-health-plans-could-suffer-in-aca-repeal?ref=mostpopula


Compliance Calendar 2015

 

The following are important compliance due dates and reminders for 2015. The laws and due dates apply based on the number of employees, whether or not someone does business with the Government, and on benefits offered. Other state-by-state laws may also apply.

1/1/2015 - Minimum Wage changes: Although no federal minimum wage increase goes into effect, many states and/or cities may have a scheduled minimum wage increase. Jan. 2015 state minimum wage increases include: Alaska $8.75, Arizona $8.05, Arkansas $7.50, Connecticut $9.15, Florida $8.05, Hawaii $7.75, Massachusetts $9.00, Missouri $7.65, Montana $8.05, Nebraska $8.00, New Jersey $8.38, New York $8.75, Ohio $8.10, Oregon $9.25, Rhode Island $9.00, South Dakota $8.50, Vermont $9.15, Washington $9.47, West Virginia $8.00

1/1/2015 - Social Security Taxable Limit Increases: The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) has been increased for 2015 to $118,500 from $117,000.

1/1/2015 – Retirement Plan Limits: The Internal Revenue Service has adjusted retirement plan limits. If you offer a retirement plan, verify and update your limits.

1/1/2015 – W-2 Reporting of Health Benefits: Employers who issue 250 or more W-2 for the year must continue to track and report premiums paid by the employer on W-2s for health plans. Employers are not required to report contributions for Health FSA, HRA, dental or vision, HAS and Archer MSA, long-term care, on-site medical clinics, church plans or governmental plans.

1/1/2015 – ACA Reporting Provisions go into Effect: Reporting provisions under tax code sections 6055 and 6056 go into effect. Employers must compile monthly and report annually numerous data points to the IRS and their own employees. This data will be used to verify the individual and employer mandates under the law.

Although required reporting under sections 6055 and 6056 will not occur until January 2016 to employees and March 2016 to the IRS, the data being reported is based on what happened during 2015.

1/1/2015 – Flexible Spending Account Limits and Extensions: The employee health flexible spending account (FSA) contribution limit has been increased to $2,550 for 2015, and remains at $5,000 annually for dependent care FSA contributions. A new provision allows plans to offer a $500 health FSA carryover of unused amounts for the next plan year, providing the plan documents are amended and employees are notified prior to the beginning of the plan year. Alternatively, plans can offer a 2.5 month grace period for health and dependent care FSAs, again providing plan documents reflect this grace period and employees are notified.

1/1/2015 – Health Savings Account and High-Deductible Health Plan Limits: Health Savings Account (HSA) and High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) limits have been increased for 2015.

  • The HSA annual contribution maximums increase to $3,350 for individual and $6,650 for family coverage.
  • For HSA-compatible HDHPs, the annual out-of-pocket spending limits are $6,450 (individual) and $12,900 (family). The HDHP minimum deductible increases to $1,300 for individual and $2,600 for family coverage.
  • HSA age 55 catch-up contributions stay at $1,000.

 

1/1/2015 – Retirement Plan Limits: The Internal Revenue Service has adjusted retirement plan limits. If you offer a retirement plan, verify and update your limits.

1/31/2015 – W-2 Employee Reports Due: Employers must provide all employees copies of Form W-2 reporting earnings and taxes for 2014 by January 31, 2015.

2/1/2015 – OSHA Form 300 A Accident Summary Posting: Employers must post OSHA Form 300A Accident Summary in a public area from February 1 through April 30 for previous year’s accidents (repeat annually).

2/15/2015 – Federal Market Place – Open Enrollment Ends: Individuals can enroll until February 15, 2015. After that, they can’t get 2015 coverage unless they qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

3/1/2015 – 6/30/2015 – ACA Employer Assessment: Large employers with 100 or more full-time employees should conduct a detailed analysis of whether any further changes should be made in plan eligibility rules to satisfy the 95 percent threshold in 2016 (up from 70 percent in 2015) under the ACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions.

Employers with 50 to 99 full-time employees who previously qualified for transition relief from the ACA employer shared responsibility provisions should finalize assessment of any eligibility changes and employee premium rates, for purposes of the ACA employer shared responsibility provisions.

Beginning in 2016, those employers are subject to the penalties under the ACA’s “play or pay” mandate.

7/1/2015 – PCORI Fee Due: July 31 is the annual deadline for payment of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute fee (PCORI fee) of $2 per covered life for the preceding plan year.

9/30/2015 – EEO-1 Report: Organizations with 100+ employees are to submit the EEO-1 report by September 30. Repeat annually. Repeat annually.

10/14/2015 – Medicare Part D Notice: Employers are to provide notice to all Part D eligible individuals, or those about to become eligible, prior to October 15 of each year who is covered by an employer health plan with outpatient prescription drug coverage, regardless of whether the employer coverage is primary or secondary to Medicare. The notice must be provided to all Part D eligible individuals, whether covered as active employees, retirees, COBRA recipients, disabled indivdiuals, or as dependents. Plan participants are Part D eligible if they are 65 or more years old, three months before turning age 65, and/or if they are disabled.

Note: If you provided participants with the all-in-one Employee Notification service provided by HR Service, Inc., this notice is included.

Varies, based upon plan year – Form 5500: File Form 5500 annually, by the last day of the 7th month following the end of the plan year (e.g., July 31 for calendar year plans).

 

For additional information, employee notices, links, and renewal reminders, login to our service at

www.HRServiceInc.com.

To download the Compliance Calendar for 2015, click here.

 


Think Anyone Can Prepare Your Tax Return? Think Again!

by Source Blogger

The United States has a complex tax system. Some politicians have even declared that a “flat tax” would work in maintaining a consistent, marginal tax.

In the meantime, it is up to us to do our own taxes. Taxes to me, is another service that is provided that you can probably do yourself. Most tax preparers have software where they can submit the same, simple information you can enter into tax preparation platforms like Turbo Tax or Tax Act  on your own.

Over the last decade, more and more individuals have been either doing their own taxes or having a friend do them (In 2010, professional tax preparers handled only about 60% of those returns)…. and staying away from all the price gouging that companies like HR Block and Jackson Hewitt impose, particularly if you are in financial need and require a rapid return. (Note: as of last year, Rapid Refunds were restricted by federal regulators at HR Block and capped at $1500 for Jackson Hewitt.)

My wife, who is not a certified tax professional, often does the tax returns for about 10-15 of her co-workers and various family members. Does this appear to be the trend now?

While the Mrs. seems to be doing a good job, what are some red flags you should look for when a tax preparer is referred to you? Just because they appear confident and ready to earn your business, should you let them?

5 Red Flags To Look For: Think Anyone Can Prepare Your Taxes? Think Again!

1) Lack Of Availability/Lack Of Integrity — Giving one access to your financial documents and exposing intimate details about your life, family, income, expenses, and deductions is not something you should take lightly. Take some time to meet this person in person and learn about them. You want to know about their background, experience… plus, you want to know what level of support you can expect if something goes wrong now… and 5 years from now!

If I’ve given documents to my tax preparer, I expect, he/she will have questions, need more clarification, or may even request supporting documentation. When that’s not the case, and when the preparer is anxious to rush to a filing, I’d worry!

Another concern is when the tax preparer wants to remain anonymous and your friend who recommended them wants to pick up your W-2′s and deliver them on your behalf.

Also, be weary if someone who works at a tax firm is scraping work on the side for their own benefit  and either misrepresenting their company or misrepresenting what their role is.

2) Big Promises — The reality is many Americans actually end up owing money. If you haven’t evaluated my financial situation, how can you promise… anything?

This type of approach is insulting and a ploy to take advantage of people’s unfortunate naivety.

Sure, anyone can promise a BIG refund if they grossly manipulate the numbers, but the IRS will surely target these miscalculations and audit you!

3) Credentials — Oh, they don’t have any? May I have some references? I want to speak with clients you have worked with in the past.

You can avoid potentially serious issues by checking if your tax preparer has the correct identification. The IRS recently began assigning Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs), and if your tax specialist can’t provide one, you may be courting trouble by using an unlicensed preparer.

4) My Refund Is In YOUR Checking Account?  — If a tax preparer insists that any refund check be made out to his or her company, or deposited directly into a bank account without your name on it, that’s a huge red flag that your refund may not find you when all is said and done.

5) Your Fee Is What Percentage Of My Return? — Reputable tax-prep firms charge a flat fee for their services, based on the size and scope of your tax return. If a preparer bases your fee on a percentage of your tax refund, that should be an immediate deal-breaker. That gives the preparer incentive to pump up your refund by any means possible, which can invite some mishandling of your financial information.

Bottom Line 

Just because someone has done something for a long time, does not mean they do it well.

In the end,  including claiming too many exemptions, failing to claim allowable tax credits and missing tax deductions that could have saved you money is YOUR responsibility. Your good name on the line (literally), it’s best to thoroughly review any tax specialist you’re thinking of bringing aboard.

People take a lot for granted when they are buying a home, a car, giving their money to a Financial Adviser, or getting their taxes done. Don’t be that person.

Source Blogger says: Be Careful!