Sherrod Brown on protecting pensions: ‘This is not a handout’

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Pension checks are declining, leaving thousands of Ohioans grappling with how to make ends meet as their retirement funds no longer pay the bills.

In a room full of retired laborers at the Teamsters Local 413 union hall on Monday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the special joint Senate and House committee that he co-chairs is coming up with a plan to fix the dwindling pensions that many such retirees rely on.

Brown reiterated that his proposal, under which the Treasury would sell bonds and make 30-year low-interest loans to the struggling multiemployer pension plans in an attempt to make them financially sound, is not a government bailout.

“This is not a handout,” Brown said to a room of roughly 100 Teamsters. “Everybody in this room gave up wages 20, 30, 40 years ago … You gave up money then to put money aside for the future.”

Now, that money that so many put away is in jeopardy.

The Wall Street and economic collapse in 2007-08 that bankrupted several companies severely diminished some pension funds, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans and roughly 60,000 Ohioans.

“We know what happens if we don’t solve this. A whole lot of you lose a whole lot of pension money that you have earned, that you deserve, and that you were promised,” Brown said.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. is the only thing keeping many pensions afloat. It is the arm of the federal government that insures pension plans. Brown said the government, and the retirees, can no longer merely rely on the guarantee. A collapse of the PBGC would jeopardize pensions everywhere and the economy, Brown said.

“I heard the PBGC director say, ‘If we don’t do something, there are serious problems with PBGC overall,’” Brown said. “That’s going to undermine pensions across the board.”

John Fowler, a retired diesel mechanic from Detroit, has seen his pension check slashed from $3,400 to less than $1,000, and he said that if the PBGC collapses, it could shrink further.

“Like everyone else here, I made life changes relying on this pension,” Fowler said. “I never thought that after working so many years, Social Security is going to be the only thing I get because my pension will go down under $100.”

The Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans, which Brown co-chairs with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, comprises eight Republicans and eight Democrats. For the proposal to go before the full House and Senate for votes, it needs the approval of five committee members from each party, not just a simple majority. Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman, also serves on the committee.

Brown said a vote on the proposal, titled the Butch Lewis Act, is scheduled after the November election, most likely in early December.

By Owen Daugherty