The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a vision for the future. While COVID-19 has made the near future uncertain in so many ways, this vision is for the long term: Every minister and employee of the church and everyone working for a PC(USA)-affiliated employer has access to benefits and programs that support their well-being.
The Board of Pensions moved closer to this ideal in early March, when its board of directors approved the 2021 Benefits Plan of the PC(USA). The plan, effective January 1, 2021, introduces the most substantial changes since the plan redesign of 2017. These changes extend support to more ministers, add benefits that close gaps and make the plan more marketable to affiliated employers.
Affiliated organizations – including educational institutions, camps and conference centers, retirement and senior housing communities and human services organizations – are driving growth in the Benefits Plan. The expanding selection of plan benefits has made it possible for these employers to participate, and they have been pleased to be able to provide benefits through the church plan.
Further expanding affiliated participation can only strengthen denominational connections and ensure a healthy church plan. And a healthy plan enables the church to continue to support the well-being of ministers and employees of PC(USA) congregations, mid councils and agencies.
“Active membership in the Benefits Plan has grown over 25 percent since we introduced the redesigned plan in 2017,” says Fairfax Fair, chairperson of the agency’s board of directors. “But we can still serve more. The 2021 Benefits Plan has more benefits and more choice than ever before, including temporary disability and long-term disability offerings.”
Minister’s Choice package added
A big concern of the Board of Pensions is that too many ministers remain excluded from the Benefits Plan, which also means they miss out on programs that have gone a long way in fostering wholeness. For 2021, the plan offers two packages for PC(USA) ministers: the existing Pastor’s Participation and the new Minister’s Choice.
Enrollment in Pastor’s Participation, a comprehensive benefits package with medical coverage and pension participation, is required for installed pastors and may be offered to any minister with a minimum 20-hour workweek. Dues are 37 percent of effective salary, and employers pay 100 percent. In addition to the preferred provider organization (PPO) medical option, pension and the Death and Disability Plan, Pastor’s Participation now includes the new Temporary Disability Plan for 2021.
Minister’s Choice, available for non-installed ministers working at least 20 hours a week, includes pension, death and disability, temporary disability (a new benefit for 2021) and the Employee Assistance Plan. The cost is 10 percent of effective salary, also fully employer paid.
“Pastor’s Participation doesn’t fit the needs of every employer or every minister,” says Board of Pensions president Frank Clark Spencer. “Minister’s Choice is intended to make sure that all ministers have financial protection and pension.”
Minister’s Choice also opens the door to programs that have been available only through Pastor’s Participation: CREDO; Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations; Minister Educational Debt Assistance; and Sabbath Sabbatical Support. It includes eligibility for Emergency Assistance, Adoption Assistance and Transition-to-College Assistance.
“Minister’s Choice makes it possible for Presbyterian employers to affordably provide ministers with an incredible package of financial protection and pension, along with Board of Pensions programs designed to support the well-being of ministers,” Spencer says. “There is no commercially available benefit that can reproduce this package.”
New financial protection programs
The Death and Disability Plan is unchanged for 2021. This robust plan includes a long-term disability benefit, benefits for beneficiaries and eligible survivors in the event of a member’s death, and the options of supplemental death and disability coverage. It will be provided in conjunction with the pension plan in Pastor’s Participation and Minister’s Choice and may be provided outside of those packages, fully paid by employers.
Financial protection is critical to well-being. The drive to see more members with this important protection led the Board of Pensions to add the Temporary Disability Plan and Long-Term Disability Plan and expand the term life benefit for 2021.
Until now, the Death and Disability Plan has provided disability protection, but not for short-term disability. “There’s a gap there,” says Board of Pensions vice president John Matekovic. “When an individual gets sick, there’s a 90-day period where there’s nothing to be paid. It’s a gap that needs to be filled.”
The Temporary Disability Plan fills that gap. It provides 60 percent of effective salary (capped at the IRS maximum) for up to 90 days after a 14-day exclusion period. It will be included in Minister’s Choice and Pastor’s Participation, and employers may offer it outside of those packages to any eligible employee.
The new Long-Term Disability Plan is a more affordable option than the Death and Disability Plan, particularly for employers that provide death and disability coverage but do not offer the pension plan. The new plan kicks in after 90 days of disability, providing 60 percent of effective salary (capped at the IRS maximum).
The Long-Term Disability Plan and Temporary Disability Plan together provide comprehensive financial protection — and term life coverage can enhance that protection for employees’ families. As is the case in 2020, employers will be able to choose to provide a fixed amount of term life coverage: $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, $25,000 or $50,000. But for 2021, they will have the second option of an income-based benefit, one times a member’s effective salary, capped at $50,000.
“Employers who provide long-term disability and term life coverage and also offer temporary disability help build a safety net for employees and their families,” Matekovic says.
Expanded eligibility for assistance programs
The Board of Pensions assistance programs also help provide a safety net, and the Board is stretching it under more people. Growth in the Benefits Plan has made this possible; the agency is better able to control costs and steward the financial resources in its care.
There is more to the expanded assistance eligibility for 2021 than that provided through Minister’s Choice. Adoption Assistance and Transition-to-College Assistance, which have required Medical Plan participation, will be available to plan members enrolled for medical or pension benefits. Retiree medical assistance will be open to retirees enrolled in the Medicare Supplement Plan as well as to eligible pensioners, spouses and surviving spouses.
“We have redefined stewardship as getting the most benefits to the most people while remaining fiscally sound,” Spencer says. “The 2021 Benefits Plan is a fine example of that.”
LEA SITTON is an agency writer at the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Philadelphia.