How PBGC is changing the narrative on Retirement Security
From J. Jioni Palmer, Director, Communications and Public Affairs:
J. Jioni Palmer
Director of Communications & Public Affairs
I've always been fascinated by storytelling: The Harry Potter series, This American Life, Grimm, The Twilight Zone, The New Yorker and just about anything by Walter Mosely. Books, movies, radio, print or online periodicals, fact or fiction, it doesn't matter. Interesting characters and a compelling narrative rivet me.
I also particularly like watching commercials and I'm constantly amazed by the brilliance of ad writers who can develop the scene, introduce relatable characters and tell a complete story in 30 or 60 seconds. Beyond hawking products or pushing ideas, I find commercials offer interesting insights on the zeitgeist of a particular demographic, culture or society.
Today, in almost any hour of evening television, sandwiched between myriad commercials for insurance companies and the latest solution to make housecleaning a breeze, you'll see spots about encouraging the viewer to plan for retirement.
One really resonates with me because it echoes a true story we at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation tell a lot lately: people are living longer but retirement security isn't keeping pace. In the commercial, the narrator asks people to place a blue sticker along a timeline next to the age of the oldest person they've ever known. Not surprisingly, there are many dots ranging between 80 and 110. The spot closes with, "How do you make sure you have enough money to enjoy all of these years?"
Disclaimer: Neither the author nor PBGC endorses the products or services of the sponsor.
Since its inception in 1974, PBGC has been at the forefront of protecting the retirement security of the American people in defined-benefit pension plans offered by private companies. Now, most people probably don't know the agency exists, let alone think about us until the business they work for goes belly-up and they hear talk that the pension they've been looking forward to is about to evaporate.
Fortunately, PBGC does exist, and the safety net it provides allows most workers and retirees to keep the full promised benefit they've earned over many years.
PBGC will pay retirement benefits for more than 830 current and future retirees of Noble Health Systems Inc., which operates Noble Hospital, a 97-bed acute-care hospital in Westfield, Mass.
The agency stepped in because the hospital can't pay its pension obligations and remain in business.
PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by the hospital's retirees up to the legal limit of $54,000 a year for a 65-year-old.
Retirees will continue to get benefits without interruption, and future retirees can apply for benefits as soon as they are eligible.
According to PBGC estimates, as of April 15, 2011, the pension plan was 61 percent funded with $28 million in assets to pay $46 million in benefits. The agency expects to cover $17.8 million of the $17.9 million shortfall.
PBGC protects pensions. So, what is a pension? To most people, a pension is a retirement arrangement in which your employer promises you a regular payment from the day you retire, for as long as you live. The amount of your pension usually depends on how long you worked for an employer and your salary with that employer. Ask a retiree, "What is a pension?" and they may say,
"A pension is the $400 per month I receive for my many years of service at Acme Widgets. My pension helps to supplement the $600 per month I receive from Social Security and my retirement savings."
Normally, employees must work for an employer for a certain time period before the benefits they have earned belong to them. After they have done so, they are considered "vested" in those benefits. Today, in some pension plans, you are fully vested after five years on the job. In others, it takes you seven years to become fully vested - but you become vested in increasing portions of your benefit starting at three years. If you've worked for more than one company long enough to become vested in multiple pension plans, you can receive more than one pension payment.
PBGC will pay retirement benefits for more than 1,500 current and future retirees of Metavation LLC, an auto parts supplier based in Southfield, Mich.
The agency is stepping in because the company's parent, Revstone Transportation LLC, is selling its ownership interest. The transaction will further compromise Metavation's underfunded pension plans, which will be unable to pay retirement benefits.
Formally known as Hillsdale Automotive LLC until 2008, Metavation sponsors two pension plans: the Hillsdale Salaried Pension Plan and the Hillsdale Hourly Pension Plan. Both plans will end as of March 1, 2013.
PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by the company's retirees up to the legal limit of about $57,500 a year for a 65-year-old.
Until PBGC becomes trustee, the plan remains under Metavation's control. Plan participants will be notified by letter when the agency takes responsibility. At that time, retirees will continue to get benefits without interruption, and future retirees can apply for benefits when eligible.
Metavation makes powertrain and chassis components for the automotive industry. The company also provides other parts for engines, drivelines, and transmissions.
According to PBGC estimates based on information provided by Metavation, the plan is 50 percent funded with $47 million in assets to pay $93 million in benefits. The agency is expected to cover most of the $46 million shortfall.
Participants with questions about their pension benefits should contact the plan administrator. The agency won't be able to address concerns about benefits until it takes responsibility for the plan.
From Sandy Rich, Chief of Negotiations and Restructuring:
Beechcraft, previously known as Hawker Beechcraft, emerged from bankruptcy February 21. Despite the company's original plan to terminate three pension plans, we at PBGC were able to work with the company, its employees, and company creditors to preserve one of the three plans while providing the safety net of PBGC trusteeship to the two terminated pension plans.
Beechcraft will continue a pension plan that will provide benefits to 8,300 participants. PBGC will provide guaranteed level benefits to the 9,500 beneficiaries of the terminated plans. In addition, PBGC supported a $2.5 million settlement with Beechcraft that will provide salaried retirees additional benefits exceeding those paid by PBGC under rules set by Congress.