Archive for the 'Advocacy' Category


Kilgore and Longview Chambers of Commerce Team up for Elected Officials’ Forum

The Longview Chamber has hosted annual elected officials’ forums for a number of years. Due to the successful partnership with Kilgore Chamber on advocacy trips to Austin, it was decided to host joint events when it was in the best interest of the county. This is the FIRST joint elected officials’ forum hosted by the chambers.

This is a county-wide event and all candidates for Gregg County Commissioners Precincts 2 & 4 have been invited to participate. Scheduled for February 11th, the forum will be held at Maude Cobb Convention Center

The program will begin with introductions at 5:30 p.m. The forum will use a structure that has proven successful historically. Moderators will welcome the audience, recognize sponsors, explain ground rules, and briefly introduce candidates. Gregg County Precinct 2 candidates will speak beginning 5:45 and last for one hour until 6:45p.m. There will be a 15 minute break followed by Precinct 4 candidates from 7:00p.m. until 8:00p.m.

For more information, please click on the link below:


Save Money on your Energy Bill

SWEPCO is pleased to offer the Small Business Direct Install Program to eligible commercial customers in its Texas service territory.  The Program offers services and incentives to help small businesses reduce energy usage and lower energy costs.

The Small Business Direct Install program us designed to promote energy efficiency in small businesses.  the primary focus of this program is to maximize the implementation of cost-effective  high-efficiency lighting measures, while also addressing refrigeration and customized technologies.  Customers may sign up to participate.  All projects must be installed by December 1, 2013 to be eligible to receive an incentive in 2013.  FUNDS ARE LIMITED AND AWARDED ON A FIRST-COME, FIRST-SERVED BASIS.

Click below for more details:


Cheyenne Electric, Inc. is available to consult with you regarding energy saving solutions for your organization/commercial properties. We will do a full lighting analysis of any or all of your locations.
Cheyenne Electric, Inc. uses the latest available technology in the design and installation of your lighting systems. We can install or retrofit your existing lighting system to use up to 50 percent less electricity while providing a better illumination of light. We can even save you money in your warehouse by replacing “energy hog” hi-bay gas fixtures with hi-bay T5 and T8 fluorescent lighting systems. Bottom line: better illumination at a lower cost of energy!
Here are some more reasons to upgrade your facility to energy efficient lighting:

  • Longer life on lamps & ballasts – lower maintenance costs.
  • Multiple (4-6) lamps in hi-bay fluorescent fixtures vs. one lamp in hi-bay gas fixture – lower maintenance costs (warehouse)
  • Energy efficient electronic ballasts run cool 24/7 vs. magnetic or gas ballasts which are extremely hot – savings on cooling costs.
  • Labor & material payback usually in 18 to 24 months.
  • Worth mentioning again, better lighting with a savings up to 50%!

Here is a sample of the incredible savings we were able to offer customers using this program:

Big 5 Tire, All 3 Longview Locations

  • Retrofitted (261) 8′ T12 light fixtures to T8 light fixtures
  • Customer Payment for all three projects $130.74
  • Estimated Annual Energy Savings $8,309.69

Contact Information

Cheyenne Electric Inc.
702 McCann Road Longview, TX 75601
Phone: 903-757-7797 Fax: 903-757-5249  Email:
Business Hours: Monday–Friday, 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m. 24-Hour Emergency Service


Leveling the Health Care Benefits Gap Between Large and Small Employers

Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse with employees living in many different stages of life and having varied health benefit needs. Historically, small business owners who wanted to offer health benefits had limited options because of pricey administrative costs and challenges navigating multiple benefit

With a defined contribution benefit plan, small businesses in the Longview Chamber of Commerce can offer their employees more options without adding to the administrative burden. A defined contribution plan also gives business owners more control over managing health care costs.

UnitedHealthcare’s Multi-Choice® is a new product that combines multiple benefit design options; from comprehensive plans to lower cost essential plans; under one benefit package to meet the diverse health and financial needs of employees.

With Multi-Choice, small business employers with 2-99 employees can offer a benefit plan that delivers multiple health care benefit choices for an employees’ diverse health care coverage wants and needs. One plan does not fit all. By offering multiple plans, employees are more satisfied with their benefit package.

Packaged Savings®
Plans are bundled in packages; the employer selects one, two or up to five benefit designs to offer employees and chooses a set contribution amount. Employees then design their own customized benefit plan from health and specialty benefits including dental, vision, life, disability, accident, critical illness, long-term care and more, as well as health savings accounts and telemedicine services. Employees select benefit options that best suit their personal or family circumstances with the option to buy up or buy down additional coverage to fit the health needs of their family.

At renewal, the entire package is available. This gives the employer the opportunity to
contribute at the same level, a different level or offer the same plans or other plans to meet
current business and employee needs.

xrayStreamlined administration
UnitedHealthcare Multi-Choice simplifies the enrollment and renewal process with multiple benefit design options in one easy step, and makes changing the mix of benefit design options from year to year is simple. Small business employers can also save money and lighten their administrative responsibilities by taking advantage of pre-tax premium plans, COBRA administrative services and flexible spending accounts (FSA). And there’s the simplicity and convenience of just one team to administer benefits.

With Multi-Choice, UnitedHealthcare hopes to help small businesses preserve coverage for their employees – and in fact, increase their options – while still controlling costs. We recognize these businesses and their employees are faced with many challenges in today’s economic environment, and Multi-Choice gives them flexible, cost-effective health care options.

United Healthcare

Jeff Sherrod is UnitedHealthcare’s East Texas Account Executive for Small Business and Key Accounts based in Longview. He can be reached at






2012 Healthcare Compliance Checklist





Health care reform brings a number of changes for employers and health plans in 2012. As employers prepare to comply with new requirements, they need to be aware of how health care reform will affect them in the coming year.

This The Ward Agency Legislative Brief provides a compliance checklist for employers for 2012. Please contact your The Ward Agency representative for assistance or if you have questions about changes that were required in previous years.


A grandfathered health plan is one that was in existence when health care reform was enacted on March 23, 2010. Grandfathered plans are exempt from some of the health care reform requirements. A plan’s grandfathered status will continue to affect its compliance obligations from year to year.

□    Determine if you have a grandfathered plan. Contact your The Ward Agency representative if you have questions about whether your plan is grandfathered or not.

□    Determine whether your plan will maintain its grandfathered status. If you make certain changes to your plan that go beyond permitted guidelines, your plan is no longer grandfathered. Contact your The Ward Agency representative if you have questions about changes you have made, or are considering making, to your plan.

□    If you move to a non-grandfathered plan, make sure the plan includes all the additional participant rights and benefits required by health care reform. These rules include first-dollar coverage of preventive care services, an enhanced claim and appeal process, and non-discrimination requirements for insured plans.


Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, group health plans will no longer be able to impose annual limits on the value of essential health benefits. However, until then, certain minimum annual limits are permitted. Unless your plan received a waiver of the annual limit requirements, you should confirm that any annual limit included in your plan is set at least as high as the following amounts for each applicable plan year:

□    $750,000 for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2010, but before Sept. 23, 2011;

□    $1.25 million for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2011, but before Sept. 23, 2012; and

□    $2 million for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2012, but before Jan. 1, 2014.


□    Plans and insurance issuers must provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) to participants and beneficiaries.

  • The SBC is a concise document – no more than four double-sided pages – providing simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage in plain language.

□    A template for the SBC is available, along with instructions and examples for completing the template and a uniform glossary of terms.

□    The final SBC regulations provide that plans and issuers must start providing the SBC as follows:

  • Issuers must provide the SBC to health plans effective Sept. 23, 2012.
  • Plans and issuers must provide the SBC to participants and beneficiaries who enroll or re-enroll during an open enrollment period beginning with the first day of the first open enrollment period that begins on or after Sept. 23, 2012.
  • For participants who enroll in coverage other than through an open enrollment period (for example, newly eligible individuals and special enrollees), plans and issuers must provide the SBC beginning on the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after Sept. 23, 2012.


□    Plans and issuers must provide 60 days’ notice of any material modifications to the plan that are not related to renewals of coverage. Notice can be provided in an updated SBC or a separate summary of material modifications.


□    Effective for plan years starting on or after Aug. 1, 2012, non-grandfathered plans must cover specific preventive health services for women with no cost sharing. These services include well-woman visits, STD screening and contraceptives. Exceptions to contraceptive requirements apply to religious employers.


□    Fully insured plans may receive rebates in August 2012 if they qualify for a rebate from their issuers due to the medical loss ratio (MLR) rules requiring insurance companies to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on health care. The rebates must be used for the benefit of the plan’s enrollees, which may include reducing enrollees’ premium payments.


□    Beginning with the 2012 tax year, employers that are required to issue 250 or more W-2 Forms must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health coverage on employees’ W-2 Forms.

  • The cost must be reported beginning with the 2012 W-2 Forms, which are issued in January 2013.
  • This requirement is optional for smaller employers for the 2012 tax year – and until further guidance is issued. 
  • Reporting is for informational purposes only – it does not affect the taxability of benefits.  TAX CHANGES FOR AGE 26 COVERAGE

□    If your state previously required you to impute income for covering dependents up to age 26, check on changes to your state’s tax code. All states that impose an income tax should now be in conformity with federal tax law, which permits this coverage to be provided on a tax-free basis.


□    Self-funded plans must pay a $1 per covered life fee for comparative effectiveness research. Fees are effective with the first renewal after Oct. 1, 2012. Fees increase to $2 the next year and will be indexed for inflation after that.

SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDIT                                      

□    Small employers that qualify for the tax credit provided by the health care reform law can claim the tax credit by filing Form 8941 (Credit for Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums) with their annual tax filings.

  • To qualify, employers must have fewer than 25 employees and pay average annual wages of less than $50,000.


If you need more information on any of the health care reform topics addressed above, please contact your The Ward Agency representative.

This The Ward Agency Legislative Brief is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.


© 2011-2012 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

11/11; KP 2/12




Health Care Reform: Form W-2 Reporting Requirements

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires employers to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health plan coverage on their employees’ Forms W-2. The purpose of the reporting requirement is to provide information to employees regarding how much their health coverage costs.

This requirement was originally effective for the 2011 tax year and the W-2 Forms that would be provided in January 2012. However, the IRS later made reporting optional for 2011 for all employers. The IRS has further delayed the requirement for small employers (those who file fewer than 250 Forms W-2) by making it optional for these employers until further guidance is issued. For the larger employers, the requirement will be mandatory for the 2012 Forms W-2 (that must be issued in January 2013).

Please note that although the information must be disclosed on the W-2, this requirement does not mean that the cost of the coverage will be taxable to the employee.

This The Ward Agency Legislative Brief describes the Form W-2 reporting requirement, including guidance provided by the IRS in Notice 2011-28. Please read below for more information.


Section 9002(a) of PPACA provides that employers must disclose the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored coverage provided to employees on the employee’s Form W-2. Section 9002(a) specifically adds this information to the list of other items that must be included on the Form W-2. These items include information such as the individual’s name, social security number, wages, tax deducted, the total amount incurred for dependent care assistance under a dependent care assistance program and the amount contributed to any health savings account (HSA) by the employee or his or her spouse.

The inclusion of this information on the Form W-2 does not change the requirements with respect to taxable income, or the tax exclusion for amounts paid for medical care or coverage. Those items are addressed in another portion of the tax law that is not affected by this change. However, this information may be used to determine whether a plan is a “Cadillac plan” for purposes of the excise tax on high-cost health plans that will take effect in 2018.

The IRS has clarified that the reporting rule does not require an employer to issue a Form W-2 including the aggregate cost of coverage to an individual if the employer does not otherwise have to issue a W-2 for that person. For example, an employer would not have to issue a Form W-2 to a retiree or other former employee receiving no reportable compensation.


In general, all employers that provide applicable employer-sponsored coverage must comply with the Form W-2 reporting requirement. This includes government entities, churches and religious organizations, but does not include Indian tribal governments. However, until further guidance is issued, small employers are not subject to the reporting requirements. An employer is considered a small employer if it had to file fewer than 250 W-2 Forms for the prior calendar year. C


Under this new requirement, the information that must be reported relates to “applicable employer-sponsored coverage.” Applicable employer-sponsored coverage is, with respect to any employee, coverage under any group health plan made available to the employee by the employer which is excludable from the employee’s gross income under Code sect. 106.

For purposes of this reporting requirement, it does not matter whether the employer or the employee pays for the coverage – it is the aggregate cost of the coverage that must be reported. The aggregate cost of the coverage is determined using rules similar to those used for determining the applicable premiums for purposes of COBRA continuation coverage. It must be determined on a calendar year basis.

Some types of coverage do not need to be reported on the Form W-2 under this requirement. These are:

  • Coverage under a dental or vision plan that is not integrated into a group health plan providing other types of health coverage;
  • Coverage under a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA);
  • Coverage under a multiemployer plan;
  • Coverage for long-term care;
  • Coverage under a self-insured group health plan that is not subject to COBRA (such as a church plan);
  • Coverage provided by the government primarily for members of the military and their families;
  • Excepted benefits, such as accident or disability income insurance, liability insurance, or workers’ compensation insurance;
  • Coverage for a specific disease or illness; and
  • Hospital indemnity or other fixed indemnity insurance.

Also, salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) under a cafeteria plan are not required to be reported. However, if the amount of the health FSA for the plan year (including optional employer flex credits) exceeds the salary reduction elected by the employee for the plan year, the amount of the health FSA minus the salary reduction election must be reported.

The reporting requirement does not apply to amounts contributed to an Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA) by the employee (or spouse) or amounts contributed to a health savings account (HSA) by the employee (or spouse). Those amounts are already required to be separately accounted for on the Form W-2.

If an employer provides coverage (such as continuation coverage) to an employee who terminates employment during the year, the employer may apply any reasonable method of reporting the cost of coverage for that year, as long as that method is used consistently for all employees. Regardless of the method used, an employer does not have report any amount for an employee who requested a Form W-2 before the end of the year.

Example: Bob is an employee of ABC Company on January 1, and continues employment through April 25. Bob had individual coverage under ABC Company’s group health plan through April 30, with a cost of coverage of $350 per month. Bob elected continuation coverage for the six months following termination of employment, covering the period May 1 through October 31, for which he paid $350 per month. ABC Company will have applied a reasonable method of reporting Bob’s cost of coverage if it uses either of the following methods consistently for all employees who terminate coverage during the year:

  • Reports $1,400 as the reportable cost under the plan for the year, covering the four months during which Bob performed services and had coverage as an active employee; or
  • Reports $3,500 as the reportable cost under the plan for the year, covering both the monthly periods during which Bob performed services and had coverage as an active employee, and the monthly periods during which Bob had continuation coverage under the plan.


Although this requirement is now optional for the 2011 tax year, employers that will have to comply in future years should ensure that they (or their payroll provider) are prepared to gather this information in advance of having to complete the Forms W-2 for 2012. In doing so, they should make sure they can identify the applicable employer-sponsored coverage that was provided to each employee and be prepared to calculate the aggregate cost of that coverage.

Employers may also have to address questions from employees regarding whether their health benefits are taxable under this new requirement. They can assure employees that this reporting is for informational purposes only, to show employees the value of their health care benefits so they can be more informed consumers. The amount reported does not affect tax liability, as the value of the employer contribution to health coverage continues to be excludible from an employee’s income, and it is not taxable.

The Ward Agency will continue to update you if additional information becomes available with respect to this requirement.


Senate Moves Forward on Removing 3% Tax Withholding

November 7, 2011
Contact:        Rob Sawicki, (202) 224-5175

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, made the following comments after the Senate voted to begin debate on H.R.674, the 3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act.  On October 27, 2011, the House of Representatives voted 405-16 to repeal the tax withholding requirement.

“I was pleased to see that the IRS began halting the implementation of this burdensome requirement six months ago,” Senator Landrieu said.  “Tonight, I am even happier that the Senate is taking steps to do away with it completely.  With tonight’s vote, the Senate is closing in on righting the wrongs of this provision in the 2005 Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act.  Our small businesses need to be compensated fully for their work in a timely manner.  In today’s economy, we do not need to constrict any revenue from those struggling to keep their doors open or prevent plans of expansion and hiring new workers.” 

The law mandates that federal, state and local governments, with expenditures of more than $100 million, withhold 3 percent of payments for products and services worth more than $10,000, including non-confidential or classified contracts, grants to for-profit companies and farm and Medicare payments.  The requirement was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2011, but was delayed a year in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. On May 5, 2011, the IRS issued regulations that further delayed the implementation of the withholding provision until January 1, 2013.  On September 12, 2011, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act of 2011, which included a section that would delay implementation of the withholding provision until after December 31, 2013.


US Chamber releases Small Business Outlook Survey

In May of 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released the results of its inaugural quarterly Small Business Outlook Survey. The quarterly surveys are designed to track the small business community’s outlook on their business, the local economy, and the national economy over time. Small business owners are polled nation-wide, and respondents include U.S. Chamber members and non-members.  

Quarter 3

Small Business Outlook Survey – October 2011  
Key Findings
The small business outlook on the U.S. economy continues to decline.
Among executives from small businesses, during the last three months there has been little improvement, and some decline, in overall attitudes about the economy. Nine out of ten small business owners now believe the U.S. economy is on the wrong track.

Compared to findings from Q2, fewer small businesses plan to hire additional employees–
only 17% of small businesses expect to add employees over the next year. After general
economic uncertainty, the greatest obstacles to hiring more employees are uncertainty about
what Washington will do next, lack of sales and the requirements of the new health care law.

Uncertainty continues to be the biggest challenge for small businesses.
The majority of small businesses (52%) still perceives their top issue and biggest challenge as the general economic climate; however, challenges presented by recent legislation and over-regulation continue to elicit concern from small businesses. 

Despite its passage a year and a half ago, the challenges presented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continue to grow, with 41% of respondents citing the bill as a top concern in October (an increase from 39% in July). 

What do small business leaders want Washington to do? More than three-out-of-four say they would rather have Washington stay out of the way than provide a helping hand. 86% say they would rather have more certainty from Washington than more assistance (7%) to deal with the economy.

President Obama’s Jobs Plan Falls Flat.
Small business owners see little to be excited about in the President Obama’s jobs plan. More than three-in-four small business owners have an unfavorable opinion of his plan and two-thirds have a strongly unfavorable view of the proposal. 

Owners of small business rate the individual elements of the Chamber’s open letter as highly effective. Specifically, small businesses think that the individual elements—to produce more American energy, speed up the permitting process, and provide tax incentives that create jobs and the proposal that would expand trade—would all be effective ways to create jobs. 80% of respondents saw increased American energy production as effective for job creation.

In head-to-head tests, executives from small businesses strongly prefer the components of the U.S. Chamber’s plan over President Obama’s, with 85% expressing support for the Chamber’s six point plan and 15% for the American Jobs Act.

July 2018
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