The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, under the direction of the Biden administration, has published the final rule implementing the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021’s Special Financial Assistance program.
According to supporters of the program, the Special Financial Assistance program, which is already operating on an interim basis, will protect millions of workers in stressed multiemployer union pension plans who previously faced the possibility of significant cuts to their benefits.
Initially, the interim final rule applied a single rate of return included in the statute that is higher than could be expected for SFA funds given that they were required to be invested exclusively in safe, but low-return, investment-grade fixed-income products. The final rule uses two different rates of return for SFA and non-SFA assets, so that the interest rate for SFA assets is more realistic given the investment limitations on these funds.
Another change in the final rule allows up to 33% of SFA to be invested in return-seeking assets that are projected to allow plans to receive a higher rate of return on their investments than under the interim final rule, subject to certain protections. Namely, this portion of plans’ SFA funds generally must be invested in publicly traded assets on liquid markets to ensure responsible stewardship of federal funds. These return-seeking investments include equities, equity funds and bonds. The other 67% of SFA funds must be invested in investment-grade fixed-income products.
The third major change is meant to ensure plans can confidently restore both past and future benefits and enter 2051 with rising assets. PBGC designed the final rule to ensure that no “MPRA plan”—a group of fewer than 20 multiemployer plans that remained solvent by cutting benefits pursuant to the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014—was forced to choose between restoring its benefit payments to previous levels and remaining indefinitely solvent. Instead, the final rule ensures that all MPRA plans avoid this dilemma, supporting them with enough assistance so that these plans can both restore benefits and be projected to remain indefinitely solvent going into 2051.
According to PBGC leadership, these changes collectively ensure that all plans that receive SFA are projected to be solvent and pay full benefits through at least 2051.
Author(s): John Manganaro
Publication Date: 7 July 2022
Publication Site: ai-CIO