In Announcement 2017-11, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) relaxed the rules that normally apply to restrict a plan participant’s access to qualified retirement plan funds. The relief is available to a plan participant who, on August 23, 2017, had a principal residence or work location (or whose lineal ascendant or descendant had a principal residence or work location) in one of the Texas counties identified for assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. These counties are identified on FEMA’s website at http://www.fema.gov/disasters.

A plan may rely on the representations made by a participant as to the need for and amount of a hardship distribution, unless the plan has actual knowledge that the representation is not true. The amount available for a hardship distribution is limited to the amount that would otherwise be permitted for a hardship distribution. However, the reason for taking the distribution applies to any hardship (not just the current ones available for a 401(k) plan hardship withdrawal), and the post-distribution suspension of participant contributions (typically 6 months) does not apply.

If a plan makes Hurricane Harvey withdrawals or loans available, the plan must be amended by the end of the first plan year beginning after December 31, 2017, to permit the withdrawals or loan. In addition, a hardship distribution must be made on account of a hardship resulting from Hurricane Harvey and be made on or after August 23, 2017 and no later than January 31, 2018, and a loan must comply with the rules that otherwise apply to qualified plan loans.

If a Hurricane Harvey loan or hardship withdrawal is made, the plan will not be treated as failing to follow the normal documentation rules, as long as the plan administrator makes a good-faith diligent effort to comply with the requirements and makes a reasonable attempt to secure the required documentation as soon as possible.

These are welcome rules for plans with participants in the path of destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey.