Helping Workers and Organizations Prepare for the 2022 WELS Retirement Program Changes

Following the 2021 synod convention’s endorsement of the WELS Pension Plan freeze and transition to a defined contribution plan in 2022, WELS has produced the following three videos to help called workers and sponsoring organizations prepare for the upcoming changes.

The first video summarizes the upcoming WELS Retirement Program changes.

The second video provides called workers with an introduction to the WELS Shepherd Plan and how the new defined contributions can be used.

The third video provides sponsoring organizations with the actions to be taken to support their workers and the new defined contribution plan.

The following is a summary of the main actions for organizations and workers to take to prepare for the new defined contribution plan:

  1. WELS sponsoring organizations will need to join the WELS Shepherd Plan as of January 1, 2022 if they have not already;
  2. WELS sponsoring organizations should create participant accounts on the WELS Shepherd Plan website for their eligible workers who do not already have Shepherd Plan participant accounts based on their service at their current organizations; and
  3. Called workers should log in to their WELS Shepherd Plan participant accounts to verify demographic information, select investment allocations for their new defined contributions, and select beneficiaries.

The WELS Benefit Plans Office and the Hahn Financial Group are happy to help with questions that you may have regarding the upcoming changes. For questions regarding the new defined contribution plan and the WELS Pension Plan, including contributions and billing, please contact the Benefit Plans Office by calling 414-256-3299 or emailing bpo@wels.net. For questions regarding the WELS Shepherd Plan and how sponsoring organizations can enroll and create participant accounts, please contact the Hahn Financial Group by calling 1-800-516-4246 or emailing wels403b@hahnfinancialgroup.com.

In addition, a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page, as well as a benefit comparison tool to help workers to compare their potential benefits at retirement under the current and new programs, are available at the links below.

2022 WELS VEBA Health Plan Limited Open Enrollment

WELS VEBA provides health benefits for workers at WELS and ELS calling bodies across the country.  The above video provides information on the important advantages of WELS VEBA.  A flyer highlighting the main points discussed in the video is available for download here.  We encourage you to share this video and flyer with fellow workers and leaders at your organization as you make future health coverage decisions.

The WELS VEBA Commission is pleased to offer a limited open enrollment for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan for the 2022 plan year.  The limited open enrollment is available to eligible workers at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in medical benefits under the WELS VEBA health plan.  Enrollment will open on November 1, 2021 and run through November 30, 2021.

If you would like to enroll in WELS VEBA or make a change to your current WELS VEBA coverage, you can do so via the WELS Benefits Service Center website at www.wels.bswift.com or by calling 1-800-487-8322 (option 1) beginning on November 1, 2021.  Please carefully consider this opportunity to enroll in WELS VEBA, as the VEBA Commission does not hold an open enrollment every year.

Importantly, the 2022 limited open enrollment will include a special enrollment opportunity for eligible workers to enroll for new or increased Group Term Life Insurance, without evidence of insurability, up to the following amounts: $150,000/employee, $25,000/spouse, and $5,000/child. This special enrollment opportunity for Group Term Life Insurance will be available from November 1, 2021 through November 30, 2021. Additional information regarding the 2022 limited open enrollment and WELS VEBA benefits is available in the 2022 WELS VEBA Benefits Guide.

The WELS VEBA Commission has also announced that the 2022 premium rates for WELS VEBA medical benefits will not change compared to the 2021 rates.  The Commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts.  Please consult with your calling body or employer as you make changes in benefit coverage to discuss the impact on its financial resources and any additional financial obligation which you may incur.  WELS VEBA health plan rates for 2022 are available here on the Benefit Plans website.

Proposed changes to WELS retirement program 2021

June 2021 Update:  WELS held two webinars, one on June 3 and another on June 8, to inform 2021 synod convention delegates regarding the proposed changes and allow delegates to ask questions.  A replay of the June 8 webinar is available at this link.

A retirement strategy committee was appointed in 2017 and has done extensive research on the best options for providing future retirement benefits to workers. The committee has completed its work and recommends that some changes be made to the WELS retirement program.

In summary, it is proposed that the WELS Pension Plan be frozen and replaced with a defined contribution plan, wherein all eligible workers would receive contributions to individual accounts in the WELS Shepherd Plan to be used for retirement benefits. The proposed changes have been reviewed and endorsed by both the Conference of Presidents and Synodical Council.

The WELS Retirement Strategy Committee invites you to learn more about these proposed changes by viewing the presentation included above.

In addition to the presentation, a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page is available here: FAQ page.

WELS has also developed a benefit comparison tool, which will help workers to compare their potential benefits at retirement under the current and proposed programs, and is available here: comparison tool.

The proposed changes will be a significant topic on the 2021 synod convention agenda. A resolution will be provided for the delegates to review, discuss, and vote on during the convention.  If the convention approves the resolution, it is anticipated that the proposed changes will be implemented as of January 1, 2022.  Information will be included in the Book of Reports and Memorials leading up to the convention.

It is important to note that, if the proposed changes are approved and implemented, all benefits earned under the WELS Pension Plan prior to its freeze date will be honored and paid according to the plan’s terms.  Benefits earned under the WELS Pension Plan will not be lost as a result of the proposed changes.

WELS is committed to providing detailed, transparent information during this process.  Please refer to the FAQ page which will be updated with additional information.  If you have any questions, concerns, or comments regarding the proposed changes, please submit them to WELS using the feedback form here: feedback form.

Important Advantages of WELS VEBA

WELS VEBA provides health benefits for workers at WELS and ELS calling bodies across the country.  The above video provides information on the important advantages of WELS VEBA.  A flyer highlighting the main points discussed in the video is available for download here.  We encourage you to share this video and flyer with fellow workers and leaders at your organization as you make future health coverage decisions.

The business of health coverage is now more confusing than ever, especially given the uncertainties brought about by health care reform.  As our church’s health plan and trusted resource for health benefits, you can rest assured that WELS VEBA will analyze the complex regulations to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and offer the best coverage at a reasonable price for WELS/ELS pastors, teachers, staff ministers, and lay workers.

By providing WELS VEBA to our workers and their families, calling bodies ensure stable, high-quality health coverage for the duration of our workers’ WELS/ELS ministries, regardless of where the Lord calls them to serve.

WELS Benefit Plans Office, on behalf of the WELS VEBA Commission