Conference Treasurer Provides Financial Update

By Pam Braden

The business of the West Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church ensures that the missions and ministries of the church are funded, pastors have retirement and health insurance, and that budgets are prepared and monitored.

Jamion Wolford stepped into the position of Conference Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services on July 1, 2019, when he was presented with a collection of ties by his predecessor, James Berner.

Wolford works with the Council of Finance and Administration (CF&A), the Board of Pensions, and the conference staff. 

Overall, the Conference’s financial health is in good, Wolford said in an interview.

He said he continues to take a hard look at finances. Expenses are being monitored to ensure that the missions and ministries continue. Activities continue to be held at local churches, in the districts and at the conference level under the state’s social-distancing guidelines.

Wolford said he appreciates the difficult financial times which all local churches are confronting, and he is especially grateful to those churches that continue to meet their fair-share commitment. 

Since many churches have begun providing online ministries, Rev. Bonnie McDonald, Director of Leadership Formation and Ministries, and Ken Willard, Director of Discipleship, Leadership, and Congregational Vitality, have worked with the United Methodist Foundation of W.Va., Inc., to provide matching grants of up to $500 to local churches to help them purchase technology.

This year’s Annual Conference session will meet as a specially called Annual Conference on August 1, 2020, and it will only cover necessary items included in the agenda.  The session will be broadcast to multiple in-person locations throughout the Conference and be available to livestream for those not needing to vote.  Many items including the recommended budget will be very similar to what was approved by the body in 2019. 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wolford addressed the following questions about the conference’s finances:  

Health Care 

Asked if there will be an increase in health-care premiums for 2021, Wolford said no changes in premiums are recommended for 2021. The health-care premium increases that were approved last year were implemented in 2019.

Wolford also was asked if there will there be any changes in the availability of accepted health care providers and whether members will need to change doctors or other providers.

There is no anticipated need for participants to change providers.  However, the Board of Pensions approved a move from 4Most network to the Cigna PPO network for medical coverage effective July 1, 2020.  Even though Cigna’s network includes over 97 percent of all WV providers, the Board also approved a grace period in which providers included in the 4Most network and not in the Cigna network will be paid as “in network” until December 31, 2020.  The move is expected to provide better coverage and larger discounts for participants and cost savings for the local churches and the Conference.  This change will not affect Medicare primary participants or dental coverage.

When asked about expected changes for Medicare-eligible participants, Wolford said the Board of Pensions approved the adoption of the small employer exception which allows employers with fewer than 20 employees to make Medicare the primary coverage for Medicare-eligible persons.  This amendment to the Conference’s health plan will be effective January 1, 2021.  Benefit Assistance Corporation, the Conference’s third-party health claims administrator, estimates this change will save the Conference and churches $300,000 to $400,000 annually, Wolford said. In addition, he said the premiums for ministers and their churches would be reduced.

Wolford said the change would affect approximately 20 to 30 people.  Benefit Assistance and the Treasurer’s Office will contact each individual to guide him or her through the process. By switching to Medicare as the primary insurer, each participant may then choose to use the conference’s supplemental insurance or get their own supplement.

If approved, the effective date would be January 1, 2021. For those ministers who are moving to a different church, changes will be made six months after their move.

Retirement Plans

Because General Conference will not be held until 2021, no retirement plan changes are projected for 2020 or 2021, Wolford said.

The 2020 Budget. 

Wolford was asked to discuss the financial impact the shutdown of in-person church services has had on the WV Conference.  He said year-to-date apportionment payments at the end of June were approximately 6 percent behind 2019 collections. Although apportionment payments are behind historical year-to-date expectations, Wolford said he is optimistic that no changes will be made in the current 2020 budget year due to payments increasing significantly in the last month and reduced expenses by the Conference.

The ministries of the Conference will continue. No furloughs of Conference staff have occurred nor are any anticipated. To help prevent furloughs and put the Conference in a stronger financial position, CF&A took advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program with the goal of getting the entire loan forgiven, Wolford said.