Perhaps the most indefensible provision was an $86 billion bailout for unions’ private pension funds. This unprecedented handout could pave the way for a much more expensive bailout of public-sector pensions.
The American Rescue Plan Act creates a new federal grant program to support multiemployer pension funds. There are more than 1,400 of these retirement plans, which are jointly funded by unions and the private companies that contract with them through collective bargaining agreements. All told, this arrangement serves more than 10 million current and retired workers. Most of the funds are doing fine, but 124 of them are in “critical” financial condition, according to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal entity created in the 1970s as a financial guarantor for multiemployer pension plans, which is itself on pace to be insolvent by 2027.
Unlike COVID-19, this crisis didn’t suddenly pop into existence. Democrats in Congress have been seeking federal aid for these retirement plans for years, while Republicans have been pushing for reforms in exchange for new loan or grant programs to prop up the pension system. The American Rescue Plan granted aid with no strings attached.
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