Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise

Pension committee must deliver on retirement promise
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Years of hard work by Teamsters, retirees and other unions to reform the faltering multiemployer pension system finally are paying off. Late last month, congressional leaders announced the members of a bipartisan congressional pension committee, tasked with finding a solution to the nation’s looming pension crisis by this November, and the panel met for the first time on Wednesday.

It’s not a moment too soon. There are about 1.5 million retirees in desperate need of quick action to save the retirement nest eggs they spent decades contributing to, on the premise they would be financial secure in their golden years. There also are hundreds of thousands of workers who are enrolled in these pension plans who deserve assistance, too.

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As it stands, there are about 200 multiemployer plans across the country — including the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund — that are in danger of failing. The House-Senate Joint Select Committee, chaired by pension reform advocate Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE Pa. health secretary: 'Sustainable funding' needed to attack opioid crisis MORE (D-Ohio), needs to find a vehicle that will deliver for these hard-working Americans who are paying, or have paid, into the pension pool and have played by the rules all their lives.

 

Luckily, the panel’s 16 members don’t have to look far to find a vehicle that would fit the bill. This union supports the passage of the Butch Lewis Act of 2017 (H.R. 4444/S. 2147), which has gained bipartisan support since its introduction in Congress late last year by Sen. Brown and Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealPush for NAFTA deal continues as uncertainty increases Overnight Finance: Good economic vibes fail to make GOP tax law popular | AT&T says hiring Cohen was 'big mistake' | Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest overseas Good economic vibes fail to make GOP tax law popular MORE (D-Mass.).

Republicans such as Reps. Peter King and Dan Donovan of New York, Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithOvernight Health Care: Opioid distributors summoned before Congress | Judge sets trial date in massive opioid lawsuit | Senators press DOJ to stop blocking medical marijuana House Republicans urge HHS to add abortion restrictions to family planning program Overnight Health Care: House leaves out ObamaCare fix from funding bill | Trump appointees pushed to end teen pregnancy program | Key Dem raises concerns over potential CDC pick MORE, Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoCongress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE, and Tom MacArthurThomas (Tom) Charles MacArthurOvernight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Three Republicans join climate change caucus Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP MORE of New Jersey, Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickCentrists on cusp of forcing immigration votes as petition grows Republicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Democrats must vote for electable candidates to win big in November MORE and Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan Partisan fractures in Pennsylvania’s primary MORE of Pennsylvania, and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerChao names participants selected for drone pilot program The Hill's Morning Report: Trump’s Cabinet mess Make-or-break moment for EPA chief Pruitt MORE of North Dakota and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungPension committee must deliver on retirement promise Our leaders must end the hate before they burn America down Alaska rep denies suggesting armed Jews could have prevented Holocaust MORE of Alaska understand the value of the bill and should be lauded for supporting this legislation. The measure would boost financially-troubled multiemployer pensions so they don’t fail. It would create an agency under the Treasury Department that would sell bonds in the open market to large investors such as financial firms.

The agency, the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA), would then lend money from the sale of the bonds to the financially-troubled pension plans. Plans that are deemed “critical and declining,” as well as recently insolvent but non-terminated plans and those that have suspended benefits, would be eligible to apply for the program.   

Pension plans borrowing from PRA would be required to set aside the loan proceeds in separate, safe investments such as annuities or bonds that match the pension payments for retirees. For those plans needing additional help to meet retiree obligations, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation would be available to make up the difference. Those applying for loans to the PRA — which would be charged with approving all loans before they could be issued — would have to submit detailed financial projections. And, pension plans that have borrowed money would have to submit reports every three years to the PRA to show that the loans are working.

Last December, Teamsters were among the hundreds of union members who came to Capitol Hill to rally in support of the Butch Lewis Act. There, they joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Schumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' MORE (N.Y.), House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Dems after briefing: 'No evidence' spy placed in Trump campaign Schumer: Call off GOP-only 'sham briefing' on FBI informant MORE (Calif.), Sen. Brown, Rep. Neal and others to push for the legislation. Retirees were on hand to share their stories.

Mike Walden, a former truck driver and Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio, recognized years ago that pensions such as the one he receives from the Central States were in dire straits. Now he is president of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions.

He told those on hand that day that any cut in pensions would devastate the well-being of retirees and force many out of their homes and into a life that, at their advanced age, they cannot handle. “Many of us are old; we can’t go back to work because we’ve had joint replacements, or some of us have lost our eyesight. We have medications that wouldn’t allow us to drive the trucks or work in warehouses like we used to,” Walden said. “Many can’t afford their medications if you reduce their pensions. They’ll die.”

That is what is at stake in this battle for justice. These workers aren’t asking for a handout; they just want what is rightfully theirs. It’s time for the joint committee to get to work and endorse this legislation that will make retirees whole. They’ve waited long enough.

James P. Hoffa is general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and one of the foremost authorities on union issues.