Multiemployer Pension Plan Reform/Bailout May Be Greater Than Expected; Guidance Still Forthcoming
The Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 (EPPRA), enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), contained unprecedented financial relief for the most troubled multiemployer pension plans (MEPPs). The MEPPs community is eagerly awaiting guidance from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) on the requirements for MEPPs to apply for the special financial assistance under the ARPA. New Section 4262(c) of ERISA provides that the PBGC will issue this guidance no later than 120 days after enactment or by July 9, 2021. Also, more guidance is anticipated on the impact of this funding windfall on employer’s obligations for withdrawal liability.
In the interim, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) (Multiemployer Defined Benefit Pension Plans Potentially Eligible for Special Financial Assistance Under the American Rescue Plan Act (congress.gov)) indicated that both the universe of plans potentially eligible for ARPA relief and the amount of such relief may be greater than initially anticipated. For example, just one MEPP, the Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Plan, reported a funding shortfall of approximately $43.6 billion. While there is no specific amount appropriated under the new law, pre-enactment projections estimate expenditures to qualifying plans of approximately $86 billion. The CRS’s report, issued on May 28, 2021, indicates that the $86 billion figure may be overly optimistic. The number of MEPPs eligible for assistance and the actual amount of assistance may well exceed original estimates. We are closely monitoring how this expansive federal assistance program might provide some relief to contributing employers.
As with most aspects of the ARPA multiemployer subsidy, a myriad of questions remains unanswered.