Columns

Next Coronavirus Relief Bill Should Prioritize at-Risk Pensions for Elderly Americans Over More Nonsense

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

When we last met in this space, I was trying to move beyond the coronavirus here and now, but I need to get back to it for a minute. It’s important.

Congress is going to pass another coronavirus relief plan likely called ‘Phase 4’ or ‘CARES Act 2.0’. One problem with this bill-to-be is that it might will get loaded up with issues that have nothing to do with the coronavirus relief, much like what we continue to discover happened with the CARES Act. Congress needs to address issues directly impacted by the coronavirus and systemic economic dangers that are worsened by the current crisis and might hurt economic growth as a result. And then stop.

Multiemployer pension reform and relief is one big thing impacted by the coronavirus that should be part of this conversation. These pensions are in trouble and all of us need to care. If you aren’t directly impacted by this looming threat, someone you love or like is for sure.

A multiemployer pension plan is a bargained plan for workers that are maintained by more than one employer in a related industry backstopped by a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). One of the biggest challenges is that the PBGC is facing insolvency in the next five years without reform and aid.  These plans had big problems before the current crisis, but the crisis today is making the pension problems urgent. They will likely move up a critical breaking point date for these plans that impact 1,400 plans and 10 million participants.

These plans include many of the people who launched Donald Trump into the presidency. Hard-working Americans in the truck driving, retail, and service industries as well as carpenters and delivery people who are, right now, working in essential jobs while many Americans are at home benefitting from their efforts, rely on and trust in these plans. If Congress allows these pension plans to collapse, that will hurt the very people keeping the economy running today. Severely. In many cases, the damage done by such a calamity would be irreparable.

As previously mentioned, the $2 trillion CARES Act that set up a small business relief plan and authorized direct aid to middle- and low-income Americans ended up getting loaded up with items completely unrelated to the coronavirus economic impact that quickly bankrupted it. Rachel Bovard of the Conservative Partnership Institute wrote in American Greatness that these included “extension of $48 million in sex-ed funding,” “$25 million in ‘salaries and expenses’ for the House of Representatives,” and “$500,000 for a water project in Central Utah.” Congress also included millions in special funding for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

This is so typical, and it is fully understandable why Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) pitched a fit because Congress refused a recorded vote and Members likely didn’t read the bill before the voting started. There are good guys like Massie, but they’re few and far between.

Back to the multiemployer pension plans. Prioritizing them in this next round of aid packaging has the support of both Pelosi Democrats and Republicans of the MAGA bent (I know, right?).  President Trump supports some relief and reform to these plans, as do Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Speaker Pelosi included a provision to address multiemployer pension plans in her version of a Phase 3 relief bill, but those provisions never made it into the final package due to lack of support from Senate Republicans. If some version can be negotiated that bridges the gap between Speaker Pelosi and the Grassley-Alexander plan, then President Trump can help provide some relief to the elderly recipients of these pensions, and future recipients, in a way that is bipartisan and has deep impact.

Again. It’s important.

Christian Josi is a veteran communications advisor and political operative, a proven non-profit management expert, and a frequent opinion columnist for a variety of publications on a variety of subjects. He is the Founder and Managing Director of C. Josi & Company, a global public affairs resource organization based in Virginia Beach and Washington.

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