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.
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.
(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.
The first round of aid for state and local governments is set to go out next week, but with no guidance yet on the spending rules, leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) included $350 billion in direct aid to states and localities and the law requires the U.S. Department of Treasury to distribute the first tranche by May 10. Since it passed on March 11, the department has been developing guidance on the spending rules with input from government organizations. The ARPA law says governments can use the money for public health crisis expenses and for budget deficits, but more specifics are needed because governments are required to track and report on their spending.
Now, with just days to go until the first round of aid is to be delivered, the rules still aren’t out and frustrations are mounting. This is particularly true for those governments who are receiving direct federal aid for the first time since the pandemic began.
Embedded below are a set of searchable databases that provide the estimated allocation of the $360 billion in direct government aid to states, counties and cities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The remaining stimulus includes funding for schools and other programs, for which detailed data is not yet available.
The $360 billion is split as follows: State governments are set to receive $230 billion in direct and capital project grants, county governments will receive $65 billion, and municipal governments will receive the other $65 billion.
Author(s): Ted Dabrowski, Mark Glennon, John Klingner
Seyfarth Synopsis: On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”), the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. ARPA includes various forms of multiemployer and single employer pension plan relief, as well as certain executive compensation changes under Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”), which are discussed further below. Please see our companion Client Alert on the other employee benefit items of interest in ARPA here.
Author(s): Seong Kim, Christina M. Cerasale, Kaley M. Ventura, Alan B. Cabral
While state and local governments cannot put their stimulus directly towards pensions, depending on how the federal government enforces this restriction, they will still have the leeway to free up money that can then go towards pensions (or be spent on budgetary items that have been cut in recent years due to growing pension obligations).
Public pensions will continue to use overly optimistic assumptions about how their investments will perform, accounting tricks that mask the true size of their pension liabilities, and underreport how much money is needed to fund them.
They will also continue to expose themselves to risky investments in order to attempt to shore up funding gaps. In fact, as the fiscal health of pensions plummeted following the 2008 financial crisis, pension plans only doubled down on the practice.
• The American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden allocates state and local aid based on the extent of unemployment in a state in late 2020. Critics say this punishes states that opened their economies earlier, under the assumption that their unemployment levels were lower.
• It’s not so clear-cut. Preliminary academic research shows that government policies on reopening had only a modest impact on unemployment. States that depend on especially hard-hit industries like tourism and oil and gas show high unemployment regardless of the government policy.
• Experts say that no method for targeting aid to the states is perfect; each has pluses and minuses.
Forty-three states and the District of Columbia have now published revenue data for all 12 months of 2020; in those states, revenues are up $3.2 billion in aggregate compared to the previous calendar year, thanks to robust gains in financial markets and federal assistance that has kept businesses afloat and provided benefits to individuals. Some of those are, indeed, taxable benefits, in the case of enhanced and expanded unemployment compensation benefits. For the remaining seven states, it is necessary to project revenues through the end of the calendar year based either on U.S. Census Bureau data through the three quarters, or, in Nevada and New Mexico, state data running through October and November respectively.
These adjustments yield an aggregate $1.7 billion decline in state revenues. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, states would receive $195.3 billion in aid, divided according to each state’s share of national unemployed workers. Under Senate amendments, a further adjustment is made to ensure that each state receives, at minimum, the amount it was allocated for purposes of the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act. While some conservative lawmakers have criticized this allocation model (which benefits states with steeper job losses) on the grounds that different state policies and approaches may yield some of this variation and that the federal government should be neutral to these decisions, we have argued previously that using the change in unemployment is a more efficient targeting method than allocating aid per capita. Far less defensible, however, is the notion that aid to states should be 116 times the decline in state revenues—especially since the federal government has already provided over $200 billion in fungible aid to subnational governments.
States are discovering and news outlets are reporting some surprising features of the new law. For starters, the President Biden-approved American Rescue Plan tweaks the funding formula to distribute funding based on average unemployment during the three final months of 2020 — rewarding Democratic-controlled states like New York, California and Illinois for their draconian COVID policies that resulted in the nation’s highest levels of unemployment. And it offers states billions more in Medicaid funding if they agree to boost their own Medicaid spending.
Perhaps the most troubling is a legislative rider barring states that accept the aid from using the funds “to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue” derived “from a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit, or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.”
In 2018, administrators of the Western Pennsylvania Teamsters and Employers Pension Fund announced it would cut benefits by 30% for 17,000 Pittsburgh-area retirees or their beneficiary survivors. The cut was needed to avoid insolvency and an accompanying collapse of the pension structure. Now, it is expected that those cuts will be restored.
Pension protection is critical, both for its morality and for its necessity. Pensions are a lifeline for older citizens. They should not lose their retirement money at the time they are depending on it — when they are no longer able or intending to work. The alternative reasonably could be poverty.
Were it not for the language in the new federal law, many people who spent decades toiling in union jobs would be in jeopardy of losing their benefits through no wrongdoing on their part. Forces conspired to put their retirement plans at risk. These are plans that were negotiated. These are plans that were promised. Nonetheless, many of the employers have gone out of business and have left their pension liabilities inadequately funded.
It was perhaps inevitable that Congress would bail out multi-employer pensions for the Teamsters and other private unions after doing so for coal miners in 2019. But the Democrats’ spending bill does nothing to fix the structural problems that have made these union pensions funds so sick.
Unions like the plans because workers continue to accrue benefits if they switch employers. If one business goes bankrupt, others must pick up the cost for worker benefits. Workers also don’t lose benefits—at least not immediately—if union-driven costs contribute to putting employers out of business.
But the plans are riddled with perverse incentives that make them risky. Employers award generous benefits and make paltry contributions so they can pay higher wages. Pension funds invest in riskier assets to achieve higher returns to support generous benefits and low contributions, but their investments often underperform. As a result, 430 or so multi-employer plans are now at risk of failing.