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ECONOMICS REPORT - Strengthening the U.S. Agency that Protects Pensions

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I'm Phoebe Zimmermann with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

The Bush administration is seeking changes to strengthen the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. This federal agency protects the retirement plans of millions of Americans. It takes over pension plans when employers can no longer guarantee payments. But some recent failures of pension plans have raised questions about its long-term financial health.

Congress created the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation in nineteen seventy-four. The agency protects plans that define the amount that workers will receive each month when they retire from a job. Such plans are required to have enough money to pay workers who have already retired and those who will retire in the future.

The agency does not receive government money. Instead, employers pay the agency in the same way that insurance companies collect payments to protect against financial loss.

Currently, big pensions that are supervised by many employers pay two dollars and sixty cents per worker per year. This program insures the pensions of ten million Americans. Plans offered by a single employer pay nineteen dollars. Almost thirty-five million people have their pensions insured by this program.

When the corporation takes over a plan, it invests the money to meet future demands. On December thirtieth, for example, the agency announced that it was moving to take control of the pension for pilots at United Airlines. This will increase the amount of money the agency has, but also the amount it must pay out in the future.

In November the agency reported that its deficit had reached twenty-three thousand million dollars. That was up from eleven thousand million dollars a year earlier. The agency said the number of people owed payments went over one million for the first time. There are limits on how much the agency can pay retirees, even if their employer guaranteed a higher amount.

Some experts think the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will run out of money by two thousand twenty.

The administration says the current system needs reform. It wants Congress to raise the insurance rates for the first time since nineteen ninety-one. Under the proposed changes, employers would pay thirty dollars per employee instead of nineteen. And financially troubled pension plans would pay more into the program than healthy ones.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. I'm Phoebe Zimmermann.

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