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July 13, 2012

Congress establishes PBGC Office of Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate
For years one of the Pension Rights Center’s legislative priorities has been the creation of a participant Ombuds office within the federal government. This goal was partially realized with the creation of an Office of Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate within the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). This is one of several pension provisions included the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act  that was signed into law on July 6, 2012. The Office of Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate will identify problems that pension plan participants and employers have with the PBGC and help resolve disputes between individuals and the agency. The Office of Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate was established at the urging of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and is a great victory for workers and retirees. See our blog for a discussion of other pension provisions in this legislation.
Pension Counseling and Information Program expands to cover 30 states
The team behind the New England Pension Assistance Project at the Pension Action Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston has received funding from the Retirement Research Foundation to expand its services to Illinois. The new Illinois Pension Assistance Project joins six regional Administration on Aging-funded counseling projects that provide free legal assistance to individuals who have questions or problems with their retirement plans. Since it was launched in 1992, the Pension Counseling and Information Program has recovered more than $140 million in retirement benefits for thousands of current and future retirees. PRC serves as the technical resource center for the Program.
General Motors and Ford lump-sum offers could threaten retirement security
In recent weeks, both General Motors and Ford have announced plans to offer certain groups of retirees the option of receiving their lifetime monthly pensions in the form of one-time lump-sum payments. In addition, GM retirees who choose lifetime payments rather than lump sums will have their pensions paid by Prudential insurance company. By reducing their pension obligations to make their companies look more attractive to investors, Ford and GM could be placing the financial security of thousands of retirees at risk. A PRC fact sheet, Deciding Between a Lump Sum and an Annuity, includes questions that retirees should ask themselves before making these critical decisions.
States move to create state-sponsored retirement plans for private-sector workers
Massachusetts recently passed a law authorizing the State Treasurer to establish a retirement plan for private-sector employees working for nonprofit organizations in the state. In California, the State Senate passed a bill that would create a state-administered retirement system for all private-sector workers who earn less than $50,000 per year. The bill is now under consideration by the California State Assembly. Read about these and similar initiatives in other states.

PRC report highlights need for lost pension plan registry
A PRC report, Lost Pension Plan Registries in the U.K. and Australia, compares the often difficult and time-consuming process of locating lost pension plans in the U.S. with the centralized lost pension registries that are used to locate pensions in the United Kingdom and Australia. Retirees can lose track of their pension plans when their former employers move, change names, or merge. This is the second in a series of reports proposing solutions to common problems encountered by the staff of the Pension Counseling and Information Program. Also see Unfair Pension Takebacks: What Can Be Done to Protect Retirees.
PRC joins with other organizations to comment on regulatory initiatives
The Center joined with eight women’s organizations to comment on proposed Treasury Department rules aimed at encouraging lifetime payments from retirement plans. The Center, together with six other organizations, also commented on proposed Labor Department rules relating to electronic disclosure of retirement plan information. In addition, PRC Executive Vice President Karen Friedman spoke about the electronic delivery of retirement plan information and other issues at forums sponsored by Latinos for Retirement Security and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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