PROGRAM OPERATIONS MANUAL SYSTEMPart RM – Records MaintenanceChapter 032 – Pension Information Processing SystemSubchapter 01 – ERISA - General InformationTransmittal No. 2, 10/01/2019
We revised these Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) instructions to reflect current policies and procedures related to our role as well the role of other government entities in processing this workload. We revised existing sections as necessary and updated the instructions to meet the Agency’s plain language requirements.
Summary of Changes
RM 03201.001 ERISA — Introduction
We changed the heading to “ERISA-Overview and Glossary” for specificity and expanded this subsection to include parts A. and B. in order to fold the glossary into the beginning of the chapter.
RM 03201.002 ERISA — Background
We renamed this section for specificity, calling it “Description of IRS Role,” added bullets for clarity, provided updates to this process, and added a note stating the Schedule SSA is obsolete
RM 03201.003 Terms Used in Pension Plans - Glossary
We deleted this section and folded it into RM 03201.001 to improve organization
RM 03201.005 SSA's Role in Assisting Private Pension Plans
We expanded the heading to include SSA’s role regarding separated participants. In addition, we provided an introductory remark that was formerly a part of subsection A.
Subsection A- We renamed it for specificity, incorporated the prior subsection B, and made editorial changes from passive voice to active voice.
We provided more details on the ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST) and explained it is no longer in use. We added a number four to reference the Filing Information Returns Electronically System (FIRE), which is the current IRS process for transmitting electronic ERISA data to SSA.
Subsection B – We moved the content from the prior subsection C to this section and, in the first paragraph, elaborated on who gets the “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” notice. We added a note explaining we are not the source of the information on the notice and individuals with specific questions we cannot answer should call Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Employee Benefits Security Administration.
Subsection C – We eliminated subsection C because we moved the prior content to subsection B.
RM 03201.007 Overview of ERISA Information Processing System
We changed the heading for specificity.
Subsection A – We retained most of the prior information and made minor changes to the first line and the last bullet for clarity.
Subsection B– We updated the chart to reflect the current process and eliminated the prior stages six and eleven because they related to outdated processes, thereby leaving nine remaining stages in the chart.
Security Act, as amended, Section 1131 (42 U.S.C.1320b-1) and Internal Revenue Code, Section 6057
This section describes the interrelationship under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) between SSA and other federal agencies in providing information on potential private retirement income to workers who may have deferred vested retirement benefits.
This section provides general information on SSA’s ERISA workload for all concerned SSA components.
Association of two or more employee organizations; or
Other person designated in a pension plan as having responsibility for maintaining the plan.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collects data submitted by pension plan administrators on individuals who may have deferred vested retirement benefits and then submits that data to SSA. SSA uses this IRS data to send claimants “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” notices informing them they may have potential private retirement benefits. The IRS has used various methods to provide SSA with potential private retirement benefit information and we describe those methods below.
Prior to December 2000, IRS provided SSA with ERISA data they received from pension plan administrators on paper forms. The form the pension plan administrators were required to fill out was the Schedule SSA, Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.
Effective with the 1999 plan year reports and until June 2010, IRS, utilized the Department of Labor (DOL) Electronic Filing Acceptance System (EFAST) to scan paper Schedule SSA forms and transmit the data electronically to SSA; DOL sent paper forms they were unable to scan to SSA’s Wilkes-Barre Direct Operations Center (WBDOC) for processing.
As of June 2010, the IRS no longer uses the DOL contractor to process the ERISA data on individuals with deferred vested retirement benefits due to changes in DOL processing and personally identifiable information (PII) concerns. In addition, IRS replaced the Schedule SSA form completed by plan administrators with Form 8955-SSA.
Currently, the IRS processes the Form 8955-SSA data via their Files Information Returns Electronically (FIRE) System and then shares this FIRE data with SSA Systems. The IRS ships any paper Forms 8955-SSA to SSA’s WBDOC for scanning and processing.
The Schedule SSA is obsolete; in March 2011, the IRS published Announcement 2011-21 designating IRS Form 8955-SSA, Annual Registration Statement Identifying Separated Participants With Deferred Vested Benefits, as the form plan administrators should use to report individuals with deferred vested benefits to the IRS.
SSA furnishes needed information to private pension plan administrators and to the workers participating in those plans. Department of Labor (DOL) data reflects that in 2015 there were over 693,925 pension plans.
Since 1948, SSA has provided information from its earnings records to private pension plan administrators. Pension plans use the detailed annual earnings amounts of participants in the specific pension plan to determine each worker's eligibility and pension amount. In plans where more than one employer contributes, the pension plan may use the earnings information to allocate pension costs among the employers.
RM 01407.003 provides further discussion of how, and under what conditions, we provide a worker's earnings history to pension plans.
On September 2, 1974, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 — commonly referred to as ERISA — was enacted. ERISA introduced provisions to protect the pension benefit rights of workers. These included special reporting requirements concerning funding, investment, and accrued benefits due participants. ERISA also required SSA to:
Obtain information reported to IRS by pension plan administrators about participants who have left work covered by a plan but who have earned a right to future pension benefits under the plan. Such benefits are called “vested benefits.” The information reports must include the name and address of the plan administrator, name of the plan, name and SSN of terminated employees with vested benefits, and the amount and type of benefit.
Notify claimants for monthly title II benefits, the lump-sum death payment, or hospital insurance benefits under title XVIII of any information SSA has on file about their vested pension benefits or about the vested pension benefit of the NH upon whose record the claimant filed application.
Provide to number holder (NH), upon request, information SSA has on file about NH's vested pension benefits; or if NH has died, provide requested information to individuals entitled to any underpayment due the deceased NH.
Starting it June 2004,the DOL, via their ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST), scanned and electronically transferred to SSA the Form 5500 Schedule SSA. The IRS used EFAST for scanning and sending SSA electronic data until June 2010. The Wilkes-Barre Direct Operations Center (WBDOC) processed any EFAST fallout. The ERISA data transmitted by EFAST and the WBDOC all went into the ERISA database maintained by SSA Systems
The IRS could no longer use DOL’s EFAST to send SSA the Form 5500 Schedule SSA due to the requirement to post 5500 data on a public website. The Schedule SSA could not be included with the rest of the 5500 data on the public website as it contained personally identifiable information. The IRS did the following:
Developed Form 8955-SSA to replace the Schedule SSA.
Gave filers use of their FIRE System to submit Form 8955-SSA to them electronically. In turn, the IRS submits that electronic data to SSA.
The IRS also receives paper 8955-SSA forms and then ships them to the WBDOC where they are scanned and transmitted to SSA’s ERISA database.
For several years (from about 2013 through 2016) SSA used a contractor to scan paper Forms 8955-SSA, although WBDOC continued to process problem Forms during that time.
SSA maintains the IRS data from plan administrators who provided information on their separated plan participants who have private retirement benefits due. As a result, when individuals apply for social security benefits, our Systems checks our ERISA data from the IRS to see if they may have deferred vested pension benefits. If our records show they have ERISA data on file, we mail them a “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” notice advising them they may have potential private retirement money due (Form SSA-L99-C1). We mail these letters on a monthly basis.
In providing notification to claimants and others upon request, SSA is to:
Provide clear, accurate, and prompt ERISA notices.
Reply promptly to inquiries about SSA ERISA notices, SSA's role in ERISA matters, or general non-technical aspects of ERISA that can be answered by general information available in POMS or other available public information materials.
Refer inquiries, where appropriate, to proper source for technical information about ERISA provisions. (See RM 03270.005 – RM
Safeguard the privacy rights of all workers for whom SSA has pension information on file. For rules governing access to an individual's record maintained by SSA, see GN 03301.005.
SSA is not the source of the information on the “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” notice. Therefore, generally we are not able to address specific questions about the individual’s plan or related benefits. The “Potential Private Retirement Benefit Information” notice directs the individual to call DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA); therefore, please direct the individual making specific inquiries to EBSA if necessary.
The private pension plan information processing system established under ERISA has interrelationships between the following government agencies:
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) which is responsible for determining whether an employer's plan qualifies for favorable tax treatment as an employee pension plan; and is responsible for receiving annual pension plan informational returns and sharing pertinent return data with other concerned agencies.
Department of Labor (DOL) which is responsible for enforcing ERISA laws on the management, investment, and accounting for the assets of pension plans and for protecting the pension rights of participants in these plans.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) which is responsible for insuring “defined benefit” plans so that employee benefits can be paid at retirement even if the plan terminates before then (the insurance is paid by premiums paid by the employer).
PBGC does not insure “defined contribution” plans.
SSA, which receives certain pension plan data IRS provides for both “defined benefit” and “defined contribution” plans and then stores it for later use in notifying individuals of their pension plan eligibility.
Plan administrator files with IRS a Form 8955-SSA, “Annual Registration Statement Identifying Separated Participants With Deferred Vested Benefits",” identifying employees who left employment covered by the plan but who are entitled to a deferred vested benefit under the plan.
Under ERISA, IRS transmits Form 8955-SSA data filed electronically to SSA Systems and also ships paper Forms 8955-SSA filed to SSA's Wilkes Barre Direct Operations Center (WBDOC) in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
The WBDOC screens, images, and keys data from the Forms 8955-SSA as necessary.
SSA Systems receives Form 8955-SSA data processed at the WBDOC where they verify the name and SSN data with the NUMIDENT, and add the data entered on the Employee Master file.
SSA Systems receives Form 8955-SSA data from the IRS Files Information Returns Electronically (FIRE) System whereas Systems processes the paper forms on a separate track as noted in Stage 3 above.
SSA receives quarterly files from IRS under ERISA that identifies plan changes such as moving the administration of one plan to another plan or any other plan changes
On a monthly basis , SSA identifies claimants applying for Social Security benefits who have ERISA data on the Employee Master File and notifies them of potential pension plan eligibility by mailing them an ERISA notice (Form SSA-L99-C1).
Correspondence received in Central Office concerning ERISA is directed to an OCO correspondence group for handling.
Data about the termination or mergers of pension plans is provided to Central Office by PBGC for SSA's pension plan address files.
For field office instructions on handling ERISA correspondence or inquiries, see RM 03270.000.