Not to worry: the Biden administration is coming to the rescue. The town of Palm Beach Gardens is using $2 million in federal money from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to build a $16 million public course, with a two-story clubhouse and driving range that should help at least partially slake the new thirst for golf. The city’s project, one of several golf-course investments that the Biden legislation is funding, is entirely within the spirit of the “rescue” act, which devotes only about 9 percent of its money to public-health causes that fight the virus but allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to local governments and schools for the vague task of providing “support for a recovery” and funding “investments in infrastructure.” As one wag at a South Florida newspaper observed, “If this keeps up much longer, Palm Beach Gardens may get an equestrian center from it.”
Showering local governments with unprecedented federal dollars, ARPA is the last of several emergency packages, totaling more than $5 trillion, to come from Washington in response to the pandemic. Though termed a “rescue bill” to enhance its appeal, the Biden legislation was more of a stimulus, designed to stoke spending by the country’s tens of thousands of local governments to boost economic activity. Signed by the president in March 2021, even as the economy was recovering and tax revenues were rebounding far faster than most analysts had predicted, ARPA allows for wide discretion in how to spend “Biden Bucks.”
The federal money has turned pols into the proverbial kids in the candy shop. They’re using it to restart parades, fund street performers, upgrade high school weight rooms and sports fields, and build bike paths, golf courses, pickleball courts, and other “essential” infrastructure. Billions of dollars are going to illegal aliens. Cities are testing efforts to give low-income residents guaranteed money that supporters say will end poverty. Municipalities are moving to construct their own broadband networks, in competition with the private sector. It’s all part of a program whipped up so quickly that it included billions of dollars for municipal governments that don’t even exist.
To many local officials, ARPA’s allocations seem like free money. But it comes at a cost to the United States. The act’s funds haven’t been generated by taxes or other federal revenues. Instead, they’re financed by “printing” new money (something done mostly via electronic keystrokes these days)—massively expanding the dollars in circulation and thus intensifying our current inflation, the highest in decades. Aside from the pain that the upward spiral of costs is causing ordinary Americans, inflation is also raising the price that governments pay for essential services like police and fire protection, even as politicians rush to spend their one-time Biden Bucks on ephemeral projects and untested programs. With a Federal Reserve–induced recession, sparked by high interest rates to curb inflation, now a distinct possibility, Biden Bucks may soon be remembered as the spending blowout that preceded a local government budget bust-up.
The Biden administration promised nearly $36 billion to stabilize pension plans for Teamsters nationwide after forecasts predicted the system’s default by 2026. Union members would have seen their retirement benefits slashed by 60% if the system defaulted.
President Joe Biden announced Dec. 8 the federal government will use nearly $36 billion to stabilize failing Teamsters union pension plans nationwide, preventing severe benefits cuts for more than 350,000 union workers.
Illinois is home to more than 20 Teamster’s chapters and the nation’s worst pension debt, estimated at nearly $140 billion by state authorities in 2022. Private investor services projected that debt as high as $313 billion, using more realistic assumptions on returns.
In September these state pension funds had just 47 cents for every dollar in promised pension benefits.
Springfield lawmakers cannot routinely rely on federal authorities to bail out overly generous and underfunded state and local pensions. Illinois public servants deserve to receive the retirements they’ve been promised in full – not the 40% that would remain after default.
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has approved $36 billion in federal assistance to shore up a massive union multiemployer pension plan facing steep cuts.
Teamsters Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Fund, Chicago, will receive the funds under the Special Financial Assistance Program. The program, created by the American Rescue Plan Act that Democrats passed in March 2021, was designed to shore up struggling multiemployer pension plans through 2051. The PBGC estimates the total cost of the program will range from $74 billion to $91 billion.
The Central States Pension Fund covers more than 350,000 union workers and retirees who were facing estimated benefit reductions of roughly 60% in the next few years, according to a White House news release.
The pension plan had a funding ratio of 18% with $57.2 billion in projected benefit obligations as of Jan. 1, 2021, according to the plan’s most recent Form 5500 filing. As of Dec. 31, the plan had $10.1 billion in assets, the filing showed.
The PBGC approved the first SFA application in December 2021 and since then has awarded funds to 36 other struggling multiemployer plans. But Thursday’s announcement is by far the largest. As of Dec. 1, the PBGC had approved just over $8.9 billion in SFA funds to cover roughly 193,000 workers, retirees and beneficiaries.
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.
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.
The American Academy of Actuaries presents this summary of select significant regulatory and legislative developments in 2021 at the state, federal, and international levels of interest to the U.S. actuarial profession as a service to its members.
The Academy focused on key policy debates in 2021 regarding pensions and retirement, health, life, and property and casualty insurance, and risk management and financial reporting.
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing ever-changing cyber risk concerns, and analyzing the implications and actuarial impacts of data science modeling continued to be a focus in 2021.
Practice councils monitored and responded to numerous legislative developments at the state, federal, and international level. The Academy also increased its focus on the varied impacts of climate risk and public policy initiatives related to racial equity and unfair discrimination in 2021.
The Academy continues to track the progress of legislative and regulatory developments on actuarially relevant issues that have carried over into the 2022 calendar year.
Quit rates in fields such as education, health care and government are rising, as they are in other industries.
“You can see people moving out of teaching, and fewer teachers being hired,” said Brad Hershbein, senior economist and deputy director of research at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a nonpartisan research organization based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “And this also seems to be the case for health care workers—nurses in particular.”
States employ about 5% fewer people in total than they did when the pandemic hit, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals employ about 2% fewer people today than they did in March 2020.
Unexpectedly high revenues and federal COVID-19 relief funds give state leaders an opportunity to address the problem this year. States can use federal dollars from last year’s mammoth American Rescue Plan Act to offer bonuses to essential workers and grow the public sector workforce by up to 7.5%.
Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor unveiled a new Multiemployer Pension Rescue Tracker to highlight the hard-earned pensions saved and businesses protected under Congressional Democrats’ and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act. The multiemployer pension crisis – which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic – threatened to strip more than a million retirees of the pensions they earned over a lifetime of work, jeopardized tens of thousands of businesses and endangered tens of thousands of jobs.
In response, the American Rescue Plan Act created a Special Financial Assistance (SFA) Program to avert the immediate crisis threatening the retirement security of American workers, retirees, and their families. This solution was supported by a diverse group of stakeholders, including the AFL-CIO, AARP, the United States Chamber of Commerce, UPS and scores of other employers who participate in multiemployer plans.
Yet an analysis by the CT Mirror shows that more than six out of every 10 federal relief dollars built into the new state budget that began July 1 effectively will wind up in public-sector pension accounts.
And while Gov. Ned Lamont and others insist the new state budget — and the billions Congress sent to Connecticut via the American Rescue Plan Act — will be used to heal the state’s wounds, others question whether the administration’s priorities are askew. Pension debt deserves to be addressed after being ignored for decades, they say, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the state’s response to a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis.
Analysts project the newly adopted $46.4 billion, two-year state budget will close in July 2023 with $2.3 billion left over — an amount that exceeds the $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief built into the budget. Because the state’s rainy day fund already is filled to the legal maximum, those dollars must go into either the pension fund for state employees or the retirement system for teachers.
And that’s in addition to the nearly $6 billion in required pension deposits Connecticut already plans to make as part of the two-year budget. That’s a supplemental payment of more than 35%.
If inflation pushes up interest rates and accelerates wage growth, that could take some of the pressure off of public pension plan performance. Since the Great Recession, pension plans have been steadily lowering their assumed annual rate of return to better match the low-interest rate environment. Pension plan actuaries factor that rate when in calculating a government’s annual pension bill. Lowering that rate results in a higher bill because governments have to make up the difference.
More stable returns. Rising inflation can result in higher returns from a pension plan’s fixed-income assets. Unlike the volatile equities market, the nice steady investment return from fixed-income securities is much nicer to rely on from a planning perspective. In fact, bonds used to be pensions’ bread and butter until interest rates began falling in the 1990s.
That could result in lower pension bills for governments with healthy plans. Or in the case of struggling plans like Chicago or Kentucky, it could at least slow the pace of their rising pension bills.
Higher worker contributions. What’s more, noted Brainard, accelerated wage growth also means those workers paying into pension plans will be contributing slightly more. “What wages will do when inflation is 2% is a lot different than when it’s 6%,” he said.
The federal government provided $512 billion in direct financial assistance to help state and local governments cover their expenditures and revenue losses associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So far, about $400 billion of that total has been disbursed. Here are some notable trends showing how lower levels of government have spent some of their relief funds using a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).