Joint pension committee meets to understand risk of plans collapsing

WASHINGTON — A congressional committee dedicated to addressing funding for multiemployer pension plans met Wednesday to understand how to protect the pensions of more than 1 million retirees.

The Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans was created as part of the February solution ending the government shutdown. The committee has until Nov. 30 to submit a report and legislation regarding how to meet financial obligations.

“A million and a half retirees are at risk of losing the security they earned at the bargaining table over a lifetime of hard work. Small businesses are at risk of collapsing if they end up on the hook for pension liability they cannot afford to pay,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said.

He co-chairs the committee with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.

More than 400,000 workers nationwide contributed to the Central States Pension Fund. If nothing is done to secure funding, the fund would run out of money by 2025.

“Groups as diverse as the Chamber of Commerce and labor unions and AARP are all pushing for a solution because they know what is at stake for them, their businesses, (and) their membership,” Brown also said.

Around 86,000 thousand of the 1.5 million retirees nationwide are coal miners, of which 26,000 are West Virginians.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the United Mine Workers of America pension plan is on track to collapse in 2022, which would be the first plan to go bankrupt.

“The average pension for a miner in West Virginia — the average — $595. Most of that is for widows. The husbands are gone,” he said. “You take any amount of that away from them, they’re done. They can’t make it. I know there are some big pensions, God bless everybody. I’m dealing with necessities now.”

Lawmakers are guaranteed an expedited vote on the related legislative solution without amendments.

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