In a recent Pension and Investments opinion column, former PBGC executive director Bradley Belt addressed what needs to happen to keep PBGC from a federal bailout. Belt cited PBGC's Projections Report, which notes the improved condition of the single-employer program. However, the multiemployer program has "deteriorated alarmingly," Belt said.
A federal bailout is avoidable, according to Belt, provided three changes are made to current law: An overhaul to the premium structure, a change in the agency's governance, and a greater ability to determine financial solutions.
Disclaimer: This column does not necessarily represent the views of PBGC or any of its executive leaders and managers.
PBGC runs two insurance programs that safeguard retirement benefits in different ways.
Lately, you may have heard about multiemployer plans and the financial troubles that some of them are having as described in our Projections Report. Currently, PBGC insures more than 10 million workers and retirees in about 1,400 multiemployer plans.
PBGC doesn't take responsibility for multiemployer plans; instead, we send financial assistance to plans that have run out of money to pay promised benefits. During FY 2013, PBGC paid $89 million in financial assistance to 44 multiemployer pension plans covering the benefits of nearly 50,000 retirees. An additional 21,000 people in these plans will receive benefits when they retire.
The news isn't good for 1.5 million people across the country in a swath of multiemployer plans. According to PBGC's Projections Report, released last week, these plans are likely to fail putting the retirement benefits of current and future employees in jeopardy. Not only that, but if those plans fail it may bring down the entire system and with it the retirement security of the 10 million people within it.
Right now, there are more than 10 million people and their families covered by about 1,400 multiemployer plans in industries like construction, mining, supermarkets, transportation, and hospitality. Massive losses during the economic slowdown in 2008-2009, left many plans seriously underfunded. The economy has improved significantly, but for the plans most in trouble, the improved economy was not enough. These plans responded by increasing contributions and reducing future benefits but it still wasn't enough.
Despite substantial economic and market gains, multiemployer pension plans covering about 1.5 million people are severely underfunded, threatening benefit cuts for current and future retirees, according to the FY 2013 Projections Report released today by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. By comparison, the financial situation for private single-employer plans, which cover about 30 million participants, is projected to improve.
As required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, PBGC annually provides an actuarial evaluation of its future expected operations and financial status. The FY 2013 Projections Report (formerly called the "Exposure Report") released today provides a range of estimates of the future status of private pension plans and their effect on PBGC's financial condition, drawn from hundreds of economic scenarios.
In the recently published article "Thought Secure, Pooled Pensions Teeter and Fall," New York Times reporter Mary Williams Walsh gets candid commentary from PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum on the crisis facing the multiemployer pension system.
Gotbaum was quoted saying, "If Congress allows the PBGC to get the money and the authority it needs to do its job, then these plans can be preserved," he added. "If not, the PBGC will run out of money, too, and multiemployer pensioners will get virtually nothing. This is not something that can wait a few years. If people kick the can down the road, they'll find it went off a cliff."
Read the full article and find out more about multiemployer pension plans.
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.