New House Ways & Means Chair Introduces Multiemployer Pension Bill

Representative Richard Neal has introduced a bill with bipartisan backers that would take several steps towards solving the union multiemployer pension funding crisis.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, has introduced his first bill of the 116th United States Congress, dubbed the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act.

The legislation is related to efforts undertaken in the previous Congress to address the severe funding shortfall measured among some union multiemployer pension plans.

According to Neal and eight bipartisan co-sponsors, there are currently some 1,400 multiemployer plans in existence in the U.S., covering about 10 million people across the country. The legislation is aimed at supporting the 1.5 million Americans who are in plans that are quickly running out of money.

“Although multiemployer pension plans have been successful historically, today, a significant number of these plans have funding problems, and many are almost certain to run out of money,” Neal said. “If they do, retirees, workers, and their families would lose benefits earned over a lifetime of work, through no fault of their own.”

Representative Peter King, R-New York, is an original co-sponsor of the legislation, which has an additional four Democrat and four Republican co-sponsors.

“These are American workers who planned for their retirement, who year after year chose to contribute to their pensions instead of taking a wage increase,” Neal said. “Now, after working for decades, their planned retirements may be taken away from them. And taken away at a time when they’re no longer able to prepare for retirement because they’re now in retirement.”

Taking a slightly different approach from previous proposals, the bill would establish a Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA)—an entirely new agency within the Department of the Treasury authorized to issue bonds in order to finance loans to “critical and declining” status multiemployer pension plans, plans that have suspended benefits, and some recently insolvent plans currently receiving financial assistance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). According to Neal, the PRA would be headed by a director, who will have a term of five years and be appointed by the U.S. President.

In introducing their bill, the lawmakers said this approach is “not a bailout.” Under the terms of the proposed bill, plans receiving financial aid would be required by law to pay back the loans they receive from the PRA—although the federal government would ultimately be backstopping the risk.

“Importantly, my bill does not allow for any cuts to the benefits these workers and retirees earned through years on the job,” Neal emphasized. “Americans need our help, and it’s time to answer that call.”

Additional original co-sponsors of the legislation are Bobby Scott, D-Virginia; Don Young, R-Alaska; Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan; Chris Smith, R-New Jersey; Donald Norcross, D-New Jersey; John Katko, R-New York; Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio; and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska.

Read the full text of the legislation here.