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Shortfalls grow for the insurance fund protecting millions of pensions

Union members and their supporters gather outside the Capitol in D.C. in April to protest a plan by the Central States Pension Fund to reduce payments to retirees. (Drew Angerer/Bloomberg)

The struggles continue for the insurance fund backing millions of multiemployer pension plans, according to a government report released Wednesday.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which insures private pensions, said it is $58.8 billion short of the cash it needs to cover benefits for multiemployer pension funds that are expected to run out of money within 10 years. That is up from the $52 billion deficit seen last year, marking a new high. With roughly $2 billion in assets, the insurance fund is on pace to run out of money by 2025, if not sooner, the agency said.

The growing deficit puts more pressure on Congress to raise the insurance premiums that companies pay into the multiemployer insurance fund or to come up with another solution to keep the insurance fund afloat. In June, the PBGC said premiums need to increase by 360 percent from the current rate of $27 per person to keep the program from running out of money. Any decision to raise the premiums paid by employers needs to come from Congress. The PBGC’s director, Tom Reeder, said Wednesday that the increase needed will become more dramatic if no changes are made.

“The longer they wait to act, the quicker they’ll have to raise premiums,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Treasury Department rejected a proposal to reduce benefits for retirees in the Central States Pension Fund, the largest troubled pension fund that is backed by the PBGC. Without help, the pension fund that provides benefits to former truckers and their families will run out of money by 2025, the same year as the PBGC’s multiemployer fund.

The proposal was made under a 2014 law intended to shore up the PBGC by allowing struggling pension funds to cut benefits for retirees, among other changes. But Treasury has yet to approve any of the requests to cut benefits that were submitted under the program. At least four proposals are currently being reviewed.

The troubles are plaguing the insurance fund for multiemployer pensions, which allow businesses to join together and share the costs of providing pensions to their workers and retirees. The insurance fund for single employer plans, where one company pays for the costs of its pension, is more financially stable. While most of the 10 million people in multiemployer pension plans covered by the PBGC are in plans that are financially sound, up to 1.5 million are in plans that expected to run out of money over the next 20 years.

“Insolvency of PBGC’s multiemployer insurance program would devastate not only the retirement benefits of the 1 million to 1.5 million participants and their families in these at-risk plans but all the participants in multiemployer plans that are currently receiving financial assistance from PBGC as well,” Secretary of Labor Tom Perez wrote in a letter introducing the report.

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The federal insurance fund protecting millions of pensions is running out of cash