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Pensioners, Labor Groups Applaud Key $86 Billion Provision in Covid-19 Relief Package

"Millions of Americans can feel confident today knowing that the retirement benefits they have earned and paid for will be there when they need them."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., celebrate signing the American Rescue Plan Act at a bill enrollment ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol after the House passed the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) celebrate the signing of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on March 10, 2021. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images) 

Labor and progressive advocates on Wednesday welcomed the inclusion of $86 billion worth of multi-employer pension plans grants in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the coronavirus relief and recovery bill approved this week by Congress. 

"We salute the U.S. House and Senate for passing this historic legislation and President Biden for his leadership in seeing it through and announcing he will sign it into law soon."
—Robert Roach Jr. 
Alliance for Retired Americans

The need for the funding is acute. Earlier this week, CNBC reported that of the nation's approximately 1,400 multi-employer pensions—which pay retirement benefits to around 10 million people who worked in industries including construction, entertainment, manufacturing, mining, and transportation—124 are in "critical and declining" status, according to the federally chartered Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

Projections show these pensions—which, according to the American Academy of Actuaries, cover around one million people—won't have enough money to pay out full benefits within the next 20 years. Previously, the PBGC was able to intervene in cases of pension benefit shortfalls. However, the entity faces a high likelihood of insolvency during this decade, according to its own forecasts. 

Pension campaigners applauded the financial lifeline. 

"I'm over the moon with pensions getting settled," Mike Walden, a retired truck driver and president of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions, told The Columbus Dispatch. Walden, a member of the Central States Fund—which covers around 400,000 retirees and is among the "critical and declining" pensions—added that "we're getting a bailout like everyone else is getting theirs." 

The Alliance for Retired Americans, a nonprofit advocacy group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, also welcomed the funding's inclusion in the American Rescue Plan, which it said would provide "greatly increased pension security" for more than 10 million people. 

"Millions of Americans can feel confident today knowing that the retirement benefits they have earned and paid for will be there when they need them," said alliance president Robert Roach Jr. in a statement. "Plans experiencing problems will have the resources they need from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to pay benefits for the next 30 years."

"We salute the U.S. House and Senate for passing this historic legislation and President [Joe] Biden for his leadership in seeing it through and announcing he will sign it into law soon," added Roach. The president is expected to sign the legislation on Friday. 

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