September 22, 2021

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Transporting over 100 undocumented aliens lands Texan in prison

11 min read
A 46-year-old Dallas resident has been ordered to federal prison for conspiracy to transport 126 undocumented aliens

Read full article at: https://www.justice.gov September 7, 2021

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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks Before Meeting with Qatari Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, Roya Mahboob, CEO and President of Digital Citizen Fund, and Afghan Girls Robotics Team
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    The Justice Department announced a settlement with the City of Killeen, Texas, to provide equal access in its programs, services, facilities and activities to individuals with disabilities, including veterans.
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    A federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia convicted an Arkansas man on Friday for fraudulently arranging for a labor union to provide health plan coverage to his girlfriend, who was never a union employee.
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  • As Courts Restore Operations, COVID-19 Creates a New Normal
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    When coronavirus (COVID-19) cases spiked in March, court practices changed almost overnight, relying on virtual hearings that make it possible to conduct most court-related activities without coming to the building. Now, with courts seeking to restore in-person proceedings, one thing already is clear: Justice in a pandemic environment will have a very different look and feel.
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  • Owner of Michigan Payroll Tax Services Firm Charged With Employment Tax Fraud
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  • 401(k) Retirement Plans: Many Participants Do Not Understand Fee Information, but DOL Could Take Additional Steps to Help Them
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Almost 40 percent of 401(k) plan participants do not fully understand and have difficulty using the fee information that the Department of Labor (DOL) requires plans to provide to participants in fee disclosures, according to GAO's analysis of its generalizable survey (see figure). GAO assessed participants' understanding of samples from several large plans' fee disclosures and other information about fees, and asked general knowledge questions about fees. For example, GAO found that 45 percent of participants are not able to use the information given in disclosures to determine the cost of their investment fee. Additionally, 41 percent of participants incorrectly believe that they do not pay any 401(k) plan fees. Prior GAO work has shown that even seemingly small fees can significantly reduce participants' retirement savings over time. GAO Estimates of 401(k) Plan Participants' Score Distribution on Survey's Fee-Related Assessment Questions GAO's review of selected countries and the European Union (EU) found they have implemented practices to help retirement plan participants understand and use fee information from plan disclosures. For example, stakeholders in those locations said layering data, a technique where information is presented hierarchically, can help participants understand disclosures by providing them key plan information first. Stakeholders also said other tools can help participants understand fee information. In Italy, for example, the government provides a supplemental online tool so participants can compare and calculate fees across plans and investment options, according to stakeholders. This tool also includes a fee benchmark—which is generally an average fee among comparable funds—that helps participants judge the value of an individual investment option. DOL could take additional steps to help 401(k) plan participants improve their understanding and use of fee information, based on GAO survey responses and analysis. DOL regulations require that disclosures present fee information in a format that helps participants compare investment options. However, disclosures are not required to include certain information, such as fee benchmarks and ticker information (unique identifying symbols used for many popular types of investments), that could be helpful for participants. Fee benchmarks can help participants to assess an investment option's value, not only relative to other in-plan options but to options outside the plan. Ticker information can help participants identify many plan investments online to evaluate and compare them to options outside the plan. By requiring such information in disclosures, DOL could help participants better understand and compare their 401(k) plan fees when making investment choices that affect their retirement security. Why GAO Did This Study DOL regulations require 401(k) plans to provide the more than 87 million plan participants with a comprehensive disclosure of the fees they pay. GAO was asked to examine how well participants can understand and use the fee disclosures. This report (1) assesses the extent to which 401(k) plan participants can understand and use fee information in disclosures; (2) describes disclosure practices used by selected countries to help retirement plan participants; and (3) examines any additional steps that DOL could take to advance participant understanding and use of fee information. GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of 401(k) plan participants to assess their understanding of fee disclosure samples from among 10 large plans and of other fee information. To identify and describe disclosure practices used abroad, GAO interviewed stakeholders and reviewed fee disclosure documents from Australia, Italy, New Zealand, and the European Union, chosen because of their documented practices to improve participants' understanding of fee disclosures. To identify any additional steps DOL could take, GAO also reviewed disclosures from 10 large plans, as well as relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed stakeholders in the U.S.
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  • COVID-19 Housing Protections: Mortgage Forbearance and Other Federal Efforts Have Reduced Default and Foreclosure Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Many single-family mortgage borrowers who missed payments during the pandemic used the expanded mortgage forbearance provision in the CARES Act. This provision allowed borrowers with loans insured, guaranteed, made directly, purchased, or securitized by federal entities (about 75 percent of all mortgages) to temporarily suspend their monthly mortgage payments. Use of the forbearance provision peaked in May 2020 at about 7 percent of all single-family mortgages (about 3.4 million) and gradually declined to about 5 percent by February 2021, according to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database. As of February 2021, about half of all borrowers who used forbearance during the pandemic remained in forbearance. In addition, Black and Hispanic borrowers, who were more likely to have been economically affected by the pandemic, used forbearance at about twice the rate of White borrowers. Forbearance was also more common among borrowers at a greater risk of mortgage default—specifically, first-time, minority, and low- and moderate-income homebuyers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration and rural homebuyers with loans guaranteed by the Rural Housing Service (see fig. 1). Figure 1: Estimated Percentage of Single-Family Mortgage Loans in Forbearance, by Loan Type (January 2020–February 2021) A small percentage of borrowers who missed payments during the pandemic have not used forbearance—less than 1 percent of those covered by the CARES Act. Yet, borrowers who have not used forbearance may be at a greater risk of default and foreclosure, according to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database. For example, these borrowers tended to have lower subprime credit scores, indicating an elevated risk of default, compared to borrowers who were current or in forbearance, who tended to have higher prime or near prime credit scores. Federal agencies and the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the enterprises) have taken steps to make these borrowers aware of forbearance options, such as through direct phone calls and letters. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) amended mortgage servicing rules in June 2021 to require servicers to discuss forbearance options with borrowers shortly after any delinquency. Foreclosures declined significantly during the pandemic because of federal moratoriums that prohibited foreclosures. The number of mortgages entering foreclosure decreased by about 85 percent on a year-over-year basis from June 2019 to June 2020 and remained as low through February 2021, according to mortgage data provider Black Knight (see fig. 2). Figure 2: Number of Single-Family Mortgage Loans Entering Foreclosure, by Month (June 2019–February 2021) Note: Foreclosure data were only available through February 2021 at the time of our review. The number of new foreclosures includes vacant and abandoned properties and non-federally backed loans, which the CARES Act did not cover. Federal entities have taken additional steps to limit pandemic-related mortgage defaults and foreclosures. Federal housing agencies and the enterprises have expanded forbearance options to provide borrowers with additional time to enter and remain in forbearance. In addition, they streamlined and introduced new loss mitigation options to help borrowers reinstate their loans after forbearance, including options to defer missed payments until the end of a mortgage. Borrowers in extended forbearances generally have large expected repayments—an average of $8,300 as of February 2021, according to the National Mortgage Database. As a result, delinquent borrowers exiting forbearance have most commonly deferred repayment, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Further, CFPB's amended mortgage servicing rules allow servicers to streamline processing of loss mitigation actions and establish procedural safeguards to help limit avoidable foreclosures until January 1, 2022. The risk of a spike in defaults and foreclosures is further mitigated by the relatively strong equity position of borrowers due to rapid home price appreciation. Home equity—or the difference between a home's current value and any outstanding loan balances—can help borrowers with ongoing hardships avoid foreclosure by allowing them to refinance their mortgage or sell their home to pay off the remaining balance. According to GAO's analysis of the National Mortgage Database, few borrowers (about 2 percent) who were in forbearance or delinquent in February 2021 did not have home equity after accounting for home price appreciation. By comparison, during the peak of foreclosures in 2011 after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, about 17 percent of all borrowers and 44 percent of delinquent borrowers had no home equity (see fig. 3). Figure 3: Estimated Percentage of Single-Family Mortgage Borrowers without Home Equity as of 2020 and 2011, by Loan Type and Status Why GAO Did This Study Millions of mortgage borrowers continue to experience financial challenges and potential housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress, federal agencies, and the enterprises provided borrowers with options to temporarily suspend their mortgage payments and placed a moratorium on foreclosures. Both provisions begin to expire in the coming months. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines (1) the extent to which mortgage forbearance may have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic, (2) federal efforts to promote awareness of forbearance among delinquent borrowers, and (3) federal efforts to limit mortgage default and foreclosure risks after federal mortgage forbearance and foreclosure protections expire. GAO analyzed data on mortgage performance and the characteristics of borrowers who used forbearance from January 2020 to February 2021 using the National Mortgage Database (a federally managed, generalizable sample of single-family mortgages). GAO also reviewed data from Black Knight and the Mortgage Bankers Association on foreclosures and forbearance repayment. In addition, GAO interviewed representatives of federal entities about efforts to communicate with borrowers and limit default and foreclosure risks. To highlight potential risks, GAO also analyzed current trends in home equity among delinquent borrowers relative to the 2007–2009 financial crisis. For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-8678 or PendletonJ@gao.gov.
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  • Employee Benefits Security Administration: Enforcement Efforts to Protect Participants’ Rights in Employer-Sponsored Retirement and Health Benefit Plans
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Labor's (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration's (EBSA) enforcement focuses on encouraging retirement and health plans to comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, and restoring benefits that were improperly withheld from plan participants. To identify violations, EBSA investigates benefit plans and their service providers. Over two-thirds of investigation leads are identified by EBSA staff. EBSA prioritizes investigating cases that may result in large recoveries or affect many participants, such as restored retirement plan contributions or payment for incorrectly denied medical claims. When agreement cannot be reached, investigators can refer civil cases to DOL's Office of the Solicitor for civil litigation. Criminal cases are referred to Department of Justice. In fiscal year 2020, almost 84 percent of investigations were civil and more than 16 percent were criminal, resulting in over $3 billion in payments to participants and plans. EBSA uses a range of strategies to improve its investigative processes and seeks to ensure enforcement quality through training and oversight. For example, EBSA makes efforts to target investigations for greater impact, such as a 2013 change to prioritize cases with the potential to affect many participants and recover significant assets. As EBSA pursued more complex and technical investigations, the number of closed cases decreased, while monetary recoveries increased (see figure). To ensure investigation quality, EBSA provides training, documents procedures, and reviews open and closed cases to evaluate whether investigation procedures have been followed. Number of EBSA Investigations Closed and Monetary Recoveries, Fiscal Years 2011-2020 The COVID-19 pandemic created a number of immediate and long-term challenges for EBSA and benefit plans. For example, according to stakeholders, plans were initially concerned about how to implement provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act, but those concerns were addressed as the agency issued FAQs and notices. Similarly, EBSA officials reported that court closures temporarily slowed criminal cases, but as virtual hearings increased, litigation resumed. Stakeholders and EBSA officials also described potential long-term challenges, including difficulties locating the many participants who may have left a job due to the pandemic and may be unaware they left behind retirement funds. Why GAO Did This Study Millions of Americans rely on employer benefits for their health care and future financial security. Private sector retirement plans are a key source of income for many retirees and employer-sponsored group health plans cover over one-half of all Americans. Consequently, effective oversight and enforcement are critically important to ensure the integrity of the private employee benefit system, especially in light of the economic and health effects of COVID-19 on American workers and their families. EBSA is charged with protecting the rights of participants in employer-sponsored benefit plans. As of fiscal year 2020, this included about 154 million participants in 722,000 retirement plans and 2.5 million health plans with combined assets of over $10.7 trillion. This report examines (1) how EBSA manages its enforcement process, (2) EBSA's strategies to improve investigative processes and ensure enforcement quality, and (3) the immediate and long-term challenges of COVID-19 for EBSA and private sector retirement and health plans. GAO analyzed EBSA data and documents; and federal laws, regulations, and guidance, including the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. GAO interviewed officials from EBSA's national office and three regional offices, selected for variation in investigations, and locations as well as stakeholders from nine organizations knowledgeable about benefits compliance requirements, the employer-sponsored benefit industry, and participants' benefit plan experiences. For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or nguyentt@gao.gov.
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