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PBGC Blog: Retirement Matters

Elizabeth Warren (AP Photo/Steven Senne)The retirement crisis is real and growing as millions of workers have less access to employer-sponsored plans and are saving less money. As a result, the opportunity of living a secure and comfortable retirement among many workers is gradually decreasing.

This crisis has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) spoke on the Senate floor about the need to address issues of retirement and social security. Throughout the speech, Warren reaffirmed the fact that the nation does face a retirement crisis, contrary to the belief of the Washington Post's recent editorial. Warren also called on Congress to strengthen Social Security rather than to cut benefits that many retirees depend on for their retirement.

As Warren said, "the conversation about retirement and Social Security benefits is not just a conversation about math. At its core, this is a conversation about our values."

Read the full text of the speech.

PBGC will pay retirement benefits for over 4,100 current and future retirees of Journal Register Company, a leader in local news and information in 10 states.

The agency stepped in because Journal Register Company and its subsidiary Journal Register East, Inc. (plan sponsor) filed voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on September 5, 2012. The companies sold the majority of their assets in bankruptcy proceedings and the buyer did not assume the company's single-employer pension plan.

PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by Journal Register retirees up to the legal limit of about $56,000 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, the Journal Register pension plan is 51 percent funded with $91.5 million in assets to pay $177.7 million in benefits. The agency expects to cover the $86.2 million shortfall.

For additional information, please email us at mypension@pbgc.gov or call 1-800-400-7242 (8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST, Monday – Friday) (TTY/ASCII: call 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 1-800-400-7242).

Line chart: ACSI Index. Retiree Results from 2009 to 2013: 89, 87, 90, 89 and 90. Federal Government Aggregate from 2009 to 2012: 69, 65, 67 and 68.PBGC's FY2013 Annual Report, released Friday, provides a detailed summary of our year — both successes and areas for improvement.

The 125-page review of the agency covers the period beginning Oct. 1, 2012 and ending Sept. 30, 2013.

PBGC's deficit increased to about $36 billion in FY2013, up from about $34 billion last year.

Opening with messages from PBGC Board Chair, Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez and PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum, the report examines ways to improve the agency's financial health and highlights our great scores in customer service.

Retirees receiving benefits continue to rate PBGC as one of the best in government for its commitment to customer service. The agency ranks in the top 3 percent in a survey measuring 154 categories of customer responsiveness. Retirees gave PBGC a score of 90 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), more than 20 points above the government average. A score of 80 or higher is considered excellent, whether for a government agency or a private business.

Aside from our distinguished customer service, the report also discusses three overarching goals:

  • Preserve plans and protect pensioners
  • Pay pension benefits on time and accurately, and
  • Maintain high standards of stewardship and accountability

Since you're a Retirement Matters subscriber, you've been kept abreast of PBGC news as it happens. This report can give you further insight on the year in review at PBGC.

See the full FY2013 Annual Report (PDF).

ERISA at 40 – The past puts pension law in perspective

Photo provided courtesy of Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law

From the Pension Rights Center:

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), the law governing private retirement plans, has changed quite a bit since it was signed into law in 1974. There have been numerous amendments, court cases, regulatory actions and other developments. ERISA has had such an impact on Americans' everyday lives that it has become a field of law unto itself.

ERISA buffs frequently come together to explore the law as it is now and to discuss how it impacts current and future retirees. But an in-depth exploration of ERISA's past is a much rarer occurrence. On October 25, 2013, lawyers, actuaries, and other professionals from all corners of the pension world gathered in Philadelphia for a unique, day-long discussion of the history behind the law. The topic? ERISA at 40 - What Were They Thinking? An Oral History of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.*

The symposium, hosted by Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law and co-sponsored by the Pension Rights Center and the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, was organized by Norman Stein and James Wooten. Norman Stein is a Drexel University law professor and PRC Senior Policy Advisor and James Wooten is a professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of The Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974: A Political History. Participants in the symposium represented a Who's Who of ERISA, including Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Phyllis Borzi, and J. Mark Iwry, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Retirement and Health Policy. The symposium also featured several individuals with ties to the Pension Rights Center: PRC Board members Dan Halperin, Regina Jefferson, and Ian Lanoff; Fellows Dianne Bennett, Bill Bortz, Frank Cummings, Bob Nagle, and Henry Rose; and PRC's Director, Karen Ferguson.

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Maximum Yearly Guarantee. 2012 $56,000. 2013 $57,500. 2014 $59,320.Beginning in 2014, the maximum yearly guarantee for a 65-year-old retiree will be almost $59,320 – a 3.2% increase from the $57,500 rate in 2013.

Most retirees who get their pension from PBGC – almost 85 percent according to a 2006 study  – receive the full amount of their promised benefit. In some cases, retirees can receive more than the PBGC maximum guarantee.

The PBGC maximum guarantee is based on a formula prescribed by federal law. Yearly amounts are higher for people older than age 65 and lower for those who retire earlier or choose survivor benefits.

If a pension plan ends in 2014, but a retiree does not begin collecting benefits until a future year, the 2014 rates still apply. For plans that terminate as a result of bankruptcy, the maximum yearly rates are guided by the limits in effect on the day the bankruptcy started, not the day the plan ended.

The increase is not retroactive and applies only to single-employer pension plans. The maximum guarantee limit for participants in multiemployer plans is $12,870 with 30 years of service, which has been in place since 2001.

For more information, see PBGC's Maximum Monthly Guarantee Tables or a previous blog post "Making Sense of the Maximum Insurance Benefit."

Pennfield Corporation logoPBGC will pay retirement benefits for nearly 580 current and future retirees of Pennfield Corp., an animal feed mill based in Lancaster, Pa.

The agency stepped in because Pennfield sold the majority of its assets in bankruptcy proceedings to agribusiness giant Cargill, Inc. Cargill did not assume responsibility for the pension plan.

PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by Pennfield retirees up to the legal limit of about $56,000 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, Pennfield's plan was 54 percent funded with $15 million in assets to pay $28 million in benefits. The agency expects to cover the entire $13 million shortfall.

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