Democrats make low-tax states an offer they should refuse



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.” 


Publication Date: 19 March 2021

Publication Site: The Hill

Keeping promises to pensioners



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.

Author(s): Editorial board

Publication Date: 20 March 2021

Publication Site: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pension Bailouts Begin



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.

Author(s): Editorial Board

Publication Date: 18 March 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Will American Rescue Plan Act Multiemployer Pension Provisions Bring Relief to Employers?



Further, under EPPRA, the interest rate used to calculate withdrawal liability for plans receiving assistance is limited. The interest rate used to calculate withdrawal liability would be capped, in part, by subsections of ERISA, plus 2%, which would currently be approximately 5%. Of course, the lower the interest rate used by a plan for this purpose, the higher the resulting employer withdrawal liability.

Importantly, less than 15% of the 1,400 multiemployer pension plans will receive financial assistance. Accordingly, the bulk of employer obligations to multiemployer plans, even those that are significantly underfunded, will be unaffected by EPPRA. With respect to employers who contribute to plans that receive EPPRA assistance, PBGC is expected to issue guidance that would limit (in whole or in part) the benefit of such assistance to employers.

The impact of EPPRA’s special financial assistance on contributing employers will largely depend on PBGC regulations and guidance. Employers who are currently confronted with an immediate decision regarding withdrawal from a multiemployer pension plan (for example, employers in the middle of labor negotiations) likely will need to exercise patience pending the issuance of PBGC guidance.

Author(s): Paul A. Friedman, Robert R. Perry, David M. Pixley

Publication Date: 15 March 2021

Publication Site: National Law Review

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (4) 9704



Going through the text of the stimulus bill, section 9704 is the meat of the bailout but those 10 pages might be a little hard going so I have added my emphasis.

What struck me on initial reading is that there does not seem to be any cap on those one-time lump sum assistance payments and applicants may be able to value future benefits too. That is, a union with the foresight to sponsor a pension that is almost broke could entice employers to enter their union with the offer of providing their employees with a good pension at a cost that taxpayers will subsidize. Sounds too stupid to be real except if the law were entirely drafted by lawyers for the unions.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 15 March 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

COVID rescue package gives failing pension plans a $86 billion bailout, stirring hope and criticisms



In the shadow of stimulus checks and extra unemployment aid, Democratic lawmakers extended another hand in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package: a long-sought bailout for failing private pension plans.

The union-backed provision, touted for years by Representative Richard E. Neal, was signed into law Thursday by President Biden as part of the larger COVID-19 stimulus bill. It promises to set aside an estimated $86 billion — and some say possibly far more — in grants for multi-employer retirement plans that were careening toward insolvency even before the pandemic hit.

Without it, the multi-employer pension plans for more than a million truckers, warehouse and retail workers, and others could collapse, unions and congressional Democrats warn. In New England alone, the measure could help preserve the promised retirements of at least 70,000 Teamster members, union officials said.

Author(s): Matt Stout

Publication Date: 13 March 2021

Publication Site: Boston Globe

Federal COVID-19 Bailout Prohibits States From Cutting Taxes


Since the federal government is giving states money that they don’t need, there are two things state lawmakers can do: Use the federal money to grow government spending or pass that extra cash along to taxpayers by lowering their tax burdens.

However, the Senate inserted language in the American Rescue Plan expressly telling states that they “shall not use the funds provided…to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue,” or do anything 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.”

That same section of the bill also bans states from depositing the federal bailout into their public pension funds. That’s probably a good idea, but it’s pretty ironic considering that the American Rescue Plan also contains a completely indefensible bailout of some private-sector pension funds run by labor unions.

Author(s): Eric Boehm

Publication Date: 10 March 2021

Publication Site: Reason

Multiemployer Pension Relief Expected by March 14



EPPRA takes a far more direct approach to the problem than prior proposals. Under EPPRA, eligible plans can receive financial assistance from a new Treasury-backed PBGC fund. The available financial assistance will be sufficient for eligible plans to pay all benefits for 30 years. This includes any benefits previously suspended under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (MPRA), which must be restored by plans that apply for assistance under EPPRA. EPPRA’s special financial assistance will not, however, cover adjustable benefits that have been cut under a rehabilitation plan.

The assistance is payable in a single lump sum without any repayment obligation. To qualify for assistance, a multiemployer pension plan must meet one of four conditions:

1. Be in critical and declining status

2. Have previously imposed a benefit suspension under MPRA

3. Be in critical status, have a modified funded percentage of less than 40% on a current liability basis, and have a ratio of active to inactive participants of less than 2 to 3

4. Be insolvent

The PBGC may prioritize plans that are insolvent, that require more than $1 billion of assistance, or that have suspended benefits under MPRA.

Author(s): Timothy P. Lynch, Daniel R. Salemi, Benjamin T. Kelly

Publication Date: 9 March 2021

Publication Site: Morgan Lewis

Bailed Out Multiemployer Plans


According to PBGC, 61 plans filed notices for 2020 that they were in Critical and Declining status.

There have been 32 plans that filed for benefit cuts under MPRA and it may pay off for every other multiemployer plan to rustle up a submission package prior to enactment.

Then we come to other plans who might be (or could make themselves) eligible. Of 1,220 plans who filed Schedule MBs for 2018 there were:

118 in Critical and Declining status

638 with more retired than active participants

1202 with unfunded liabilities

$685 billion in net unfunded liabilities

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 9 March 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

The Politics of Pensions



One of the difficulties faced by some of these pensions is that most of the large employers that were expected to pay into them no longer do so, many of them having ceased to exist. As Elliot Blair Smith put it in a 2016 MarketWatch write-up of the sorry history of the Central States pension fund: “Only three of the plan’s 50 largest employers from 1980 still pay into the plan. And for each active employee, it has 5.2 retired or inactive participants.”

If corporations did nothing but grow and stack up profits, then this would be a pretty good system. But that isn’t how things actually work.

In spite of the sci-fi trope of immortal, galaxy-spanning corporations, the modern business firm is in fact a relatively vulnerable and short-lived thing. In the middle of the 20th century, a big corporation might be expected to stay in business for the better part of a century; today, the average big corporation will not live long enough to legally order a beer. McKinsey has estimated that three-fourths of the companies listed in the S&P 500 in 2017 will disappear within ten years. This is an inconvenient thing for people who expect to be taken care of for all of their adult lifetimes by a single employer, but it is the result of improved business practices rather than defective ones. As businesses become more focused on their core competencies and learn to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, they become ever more temporary partnerships among different kinds of capital: physical, financial, and human.

Author(s): Kevin Williamson

Publication Date: 9 March 2021

Publication Site: National Review

S.F’s budget will be saved from painful cuts thanks to federal stimulus. What about in the next one?



The federal stimulus package likely to be signed by President Biden this week will erase the majority of San Francisco’s projected $650 million budget deficit over the next two years, saving City Hall from having to make painful service cuts and layoffs — for now.

While the federal stimulus is a boon for the economy in the short term, it will not solve all of the city’s financial woes. San Francisco’s ultimate recovery heavily depends on how quickly parts of the local economy bounce back, from tourists visiting the city to employees returning to downtown offices.

Without a substantial comeback in hotel, sales and business taxes, City Controller Ben Rosenfield said that Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors will likely grapple with a fragile budget over the next few years.


The city learned in December it had a $125 million surplus for the current year due to higher-than-expected property tax revenue, increased federal reimbursements and lower expenses. But that was only for the current year.

Breed ordered every city department to propose cuts to trim budgets by 10% over the next two years. Those cuts could have had noticeable impacts, from fewer 911 operators to fewer trial attorneys in the public defender’s office.

Author(s): Trisha Thadani

Publication Date: 8 March 2021

Publication Site: San Francisco Chronicle

MoneyPalooza Monstrosity: It Passed! More on the Multiemployer Pension Bailout




Here are the whole-number ratios if you can’t eyeball the relationships above.

The total MEP unfunded liability is 8 times that of the bailout bill amount

The total public pension unfunded liability is 22 times that of the bailout bill amount (this happens to be the same as the total American Rescue Plan Act of 2021)

The total Social Security shortfall is almost 200 times that of the MEP bailout bill

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 8 March 2021

Publication Site: STUMP on Substack