PBGC Multiemployer Pension Bailout – The Weeds

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) on July 9, 2021 announced an interim final rule implementing a new Special Financial Assistance (SFA) Program for financially troubled multiemployer defined benefit pension plans.

What struck me:

…..

It is expected that over 100 plans that would have otherwise become insolvent during the next 15 years will instead forestall insolvency as a direct result of receiving SFA. Section 9704 of ARP amends section 4005 of ERISA to establish an eighth fund for SFA from which PBGC will provide SFA to multiemployer plans under the program created by the addition of section 4262 of ERISA. The eighth fund will be credited with amounts from time to time as the Secretary of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Director of PBGC, determines appropriate, from the general fund of the Treasury Department. Transfers from the general fund to the eighth fund cannot occur after September 30, 2030. (page 6)

Unlike the financial assistance provided under section 4261 of ERISA, which is in the form of a loan and provided in periodic payments, a plan receiving SFA under section 4262 has no obligation to repay SFA, and PBGC must pay SFA in the form of a single, lump sum payment. (page 7)

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 10 July 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

PBGC to Provide Special Financial Assistance to Troubled Multiemployer Plans

Link: https://www.pbgc.gov/news/press/releases/pr21-05

Released rule pdf: https://www.pbgc.gov/sites/default/files/sfa/4262-ifr-final-posted.pdf

Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) today announced an interim final rule implementing a new Special Financial Assistance (SFA) Program for financially troubled multiemployer defined benefit pension plans.  

“The American Rescue Plan provides funding to severely underfunded pension plans that will ensure that over three million of America’s workers, retirees, and their families receive the pension benefits they earned through many years of hard work,” said PBGC Director Gordon Hartogensis. “These benefits are critical to the economic security of so many retirees and their families.” 

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2) — a historic law passed by Congress and signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021 — contains provisions to provide an estimated $94 billion in assistance to eligible plans that are severely underfunded. Additionally, it assists plans by providing funds to reinstate previously suspended benefits. ARP also addresses the solvency of PBGC’s Multiemployer Insurance Program, which was projected to become insolvent in 2026.  

The interim final rule sets forth what information a plan is required to file to demonstrate eligibility for SFA and the formula to determine the amount of SFA that PBGC will pay to an eligible plan. ARP authorizes PBGC to prioritize SFA applications of plans in specified groups, and the interim final rule identifies the priority order in which such plans are permitted to apply. The interim final rule also outlines a processing system, which will accommodate the filing and review of many applications in a limited amount of time. In addition, it specifies permissible investments for SFA funds and establishes certain restrictions and conditions on plans that receive SFA. 

The interim final rule is posted on PBGC’s website today, July 9, 2021. The rule is also on public inspection today at FederalRegister.gov and is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on July 12, 2021. PBGC has included a 30-day public comment period in this rulemaking from the date of publication in the Federal Register. All interested parties may submit their comments, suggestions, and views on the rule’s provisions here: reg.comments@pbgc.gov or https://www.regulations.gov

Additional information, including Frequently Asked Questions, is available at PBGC.gov/arp

Author(s): PBGC press release

Publication Date: 9 July 2021

Publication Site: PBGC

PBGC Rules on Multiemployer Pension Bailout

Excerpt:

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) today announced an interim final rule implementing a new Special Financial Assistance (SFA) Program for financially troubled multiemployer defined benefit pension plans.

Pertinent excerpts coming over the weekend but, for now, it looks like the bailout number moved from $86 billion to $94 billion per the PBGC press release:

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 9 July 2021

Publication Site: burypensions

Update On The Multiemployer Pension Plan Bailout: New Regulations Finally Unveiled

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/07/11/update-on-the-multiemployer-pension-plan-bailout-new-regulations-finally-unveiled/?sh=29d66f215bb2

Excerpt:

The PBGC’s decisions here are not what organizations such as the NCCMP would have liked, although, clearly, it is the PBGC’s job to interpret the law, not to try to fix a poorly-written law.

At the same time, no multiemployer pension plan is worse off with this legislation than without it, even if it isn’t as generous as they would have liked. And nothing prohibits those plans from boosting contributions and using additional contributions to fund future accruals — which would mean that pension plans which express their contributions as fixed dollar amounts, rather than a percentage of pay, will be better positioned to provide for existing employees as well as retirees. What’s more, the calculation of future contributions is based on a one-time open group projection, without being revised from year to year, so that, in principle, if more workers join a plan, the plan will be better off. (Of course, if the projection is too optimistic about the number of future workers, the opposite will be true.)

But, of course, this is $86 billion that could have been spent for other needs, or not spent at all. And, however much advocates profess that they still hope for a more comprehensive revision of funding rules for multiemployer pensions, the poorly-conceived nature of this bailout makes it less, rather than more, likely that both sides of the aisle will come together to repair multiemployer pensions and prevent future bailouts.

Author(s): Elizabeth Bauer

Publication Date: 11 July 2021

Publication Site: Forbes

Judge: Pension fund can’t claim Harvey, Illinois’ federal ARPA aid

Link: https://www.bondbuyer.com/news/judge-pension-fund-cant-claim-harvey-illinois-federal-arpa-aid

Excerpt:

A state judge refused to block distribution of Harvey, Illinois’ share of American Rescue Plan Act federal coronavirus aid relief funds after rejecting a pension fund’s claim to the money.

The financially stressed Chicago suburb, which has battled over the last decade with its public safety pension funds, Chicago, and bondholders over its obligations, settled a legal dispute in 2018 with its police and firefighters’ pension funds over past due payments. The settlement gives the funds a share of various funding that flows through the state government.

The firefighters’ fund recently sued Harvey to stake a claim to the ARPA money, arguing it is subject to the 10% claim on city tax and aid funds that are sent directly to the pension fund under the 2018 settlement. The fund asked the court to enjoin Comptroller Susana Mendoza, whose office manages the state’s pension intercept program, from distributing any funds until the case was argued.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 28 June 2021

Publication Site: Bond Buyer

Illinois Budget Leaves Billions in Federal Rescue Funds on the Table

Link: https://www.centerforilpolitics.org/articles/illinois-budget-leaves-billions-in-federal-rescue-funds-on-the-table#new_tab

Excerpt:

The federal government will soon give the cash-strapped state of Illinois $8.1 billion to cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but next year state officials plan to use less than a third of the windfall.

That means that some $5.5 billion in unspent federal cash will remain in state accounts until lawmakers figure out how they want to use it. The state treasurer’s office will invest the money, along with the $38 billion it is already responsible for investing. 

Ironically, Illinois is supposed to get its money faster than many other states because of its urgent need. Most states will get their money from the American Rescue Plan Act in two payments, a year apart. But Illinois is expected to get its full share all at once in the coming months, because it has a high unemployment rate. 

The fact that Illinois is letting so much money sit in the bank, even when it has a long list of pressing financial needs, has a lot to do with the rules the federal government wrote for how states can use the Rescue Act money. 

Author(s): Daniel C. Vock

Publication Date: 6 June 2021

Publication Site: Center for Illinois Politics

Unprecedented federal borrowing floods state budgets

Link: https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/556660-unprecedented-federal-borrowing-floods-state-budgets

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Once per calendar quarter, the state of Michigan conducts a Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference that provides updates on both the national and state economies and the state’s fiscal outlook. The May conference each year is especially significant because it sets the official revenue targets for the next fiscal year’s state budget. 

The May meeting packet contained a broad range of data points, but a few jumped out.

….

Another chart broke down the components of personal income. Over the previous four quarters, personal income was nearly $3,000 higher than pre-pandemic forecasts had expected. However, employee compensation actually declined by about half that amount. The entire increase is the result of the 53 percent increase in federal transfer payments that have floated U.S. households over the past year.

Author(s): DAVID GUENTHNER

Publication Date: 5 June 2021

Publication Site: The Hill

Cities are getting a bailout from Washington. What should they do with the money?

Excerpt:

Transparency is not just a good thing for the public. A study of the 2012 Recovery Act (ARRA) showed that the biggest users of publicly available data were government officials, who used the information to track spending. Cities that do not already issue comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) should adopt them for the benefit of policymakers and the public. Meet or exceed Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and Government Accounting Services Board (GASB) statements in your reporting. Clearly account for liabilities such as pensions, retiree health benefits and infrastructure maintenance and replacement. Have that accounting independently verified.

…..

According to a January 2021 report from Truth in Accounting, the top 75 US cities have a combined unfunded public pension obligation of more than $180 billion. Cities often underfund these obligations to cover budget shortcomings elsewhere, an irresponsible game of whack-a-mole.

Treasury guidance forbids using ARPA money in pension funds to cover unfunded liabilities from before the COVID emergency. It does allow spending on current payments for either defined benefit or defined contribution plans. Cities could use ARPA funds to provide additional payments to those plans to encourage employees to switch from their traditional pension to a defined contribution plan—which is a much more financially sound position for cities to be in.

Author(s): Patrick Tuohey

Publication Date: 31 May 2021

Publication Site: Better Cities Project

Hutchins Center Fiscal Impact Measure

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Fiscal policy boosted U.S. GDP growth by 8.5 percentage points at an annual rate in the first quarter of 2021, the Hutchins Center Fiscal Impact Measure (FIM) shows. The FIM translates changes in taxes and spending at federal, state, and local levels into changes in aggregate demand, illustrating the effect of fiscal policy on real GDP growth. GDP rose at an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter, according to the government’s latest estimate.

The boost to economic growth in the first quarter from fiscal policy is largely the result of two rounds of rebate checks (the $600 per person from legislation enacted in December that was paid in January, and the $1,400 per person from the American Rescue Plan Act that was paid in the last few weeks of March). An uptick in purchases by the federal government, reflecting in part spending on vaccines and processing of Paycheck Protection Program loans, also boosted economic activity.

Author(s): Manuel Alcala Kovalski, Sophia Campbell, Tyler Powell, Louise Sheiner

Publication Date: 1 June 2021 (most recent data update)

Publication Site: Brookings

Illinois looks to its own coffers to pay off MLF loan

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202105211243SM______BNDBUYER_00000179-8fa2-d80e-a97d-8fa3c5720001_110.1#new_tab

Excerpt:

Illinois will dip into its growing pot of tax revenues to pay off the remaining $2.175 billion of outstanding debt borrowed through the Federal Reserve?s Municipal Liquidity Facility to manage last year?s COVID-19 tax blows.

The Treasury Department?s interim guidance, released May 10, barring debt repayment as an eligible use of American Rescue Plan dollars threw a wrench ? at least temporarily ? into Chicago’s and Illinois? plans to pay down debt issued last year. Illinois borrowed through the MLF and Chicago issued notes ahead of a planned scoop-and-toss borrowing to stave off deep cuts and layoffs as tax revenues plummeted. Both planned to pay off the debt with ARP funds.

Both planned to lobby the Treasury Department for a guidance change during a 60-day comment period, but Illinois was under the gun to make repayment plans ahead of a May 31 deadline to pass a fiscal 2022 budget. The state is receiving $8.1 billion from the ARP.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 21 May 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

Treasury Rescue Won’t Bail Out Chicago, New Jersey From Debt

Link: https://news.yahoo.com/treasury-lifeline-won-t-bail-190632365.html

Excerpt:

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Treasury Department is sending a message to states and cities that the billions in aid from the American Rescue Plan should provide relief to residents, not their governments’ debt burdens.

The department on Monday released guidance on how state and local governments can use $350 billion in funding from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package. The funds are intended to help states and local governments make up for lost revenue, curb the pandemic, bolster economic recoveries, and support industries hit by Covid-19 restrictions. In a surprise to some, these funds can’t be used for debt payments, a potential complication for fiscally stressed governments that had already etched out plans to pay off loans.

…..

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker had suggested using some of the state’s $8.1 billion in aid to repay the outstanding $3.2 billion in debt from the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending facility and to reduce unpaid bills. Illinois was the only state to borrow from the Fed last year, tapping it twice. On Tuesday, Jordan Abudayyeh, a Pritzker spokesperson, said the administration is “seeking clarification” from the Treasury on whether Illinois can use the aid to pay back the loan from the Fed.

…..

The rule could also affect New Jersey, which sold nearly $3.7 billion of bonds last year to cover its shortfall during the pandemic. Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, a Republican, in April had called for Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, to use some of the federal aid to pay down the state’s debt.

Author(s): Shruti Date Singh, Amanda Albright

Publication Date: 11 May 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo Finance

States, cities to receive first chunk of $350 billion in aid this week from COVID stimulus passed in March

Link: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/05/10/local-governments-receive-billions-covid-stimulus-plan-may-11/5019387001/

Excerpt:

State, city and county governments this week will receive their first infusion of direct aid from $350 billion in emergency funds approved in the American Rescue Plan, two months after President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 relief package into law. 

The Biden administration launched an online portal Monday that will allow local and state governments to access their share of funds from the Treasury Department. The amount allocated for each state and municipality was determined by unemployment data.

Most will receive money in two tranches – one this year, the second in 12 months – but states that have seen their unemployment rates increase by 2% or more since February will receive funds in a single payment. Payments will begin within days. Money must be spent by the end of 2024.

…..

The Treasury Department also provided long-awaited guidelines on how funds can be used. State governments and territories are prohibited from using funds to offset tax cuts that were enacted after March 3, limitations that have already prompted the Republican attorney general from Ohio to sue the Biden administration. In addition, recipients cannot use funds to make a deposit to a pension fund or pad reserves.

Author(s): Joey Garrison

Publication Date: 10 May 2021

Publication Site: USA Today