The House on Thursday approved a sweeping retirement bill that would save electric cooperatives more than $30 million a year in pension insurance premiums paid to the federal government.
Lawmakers voted 417-3 to pass the bipartisan SECURE Act.
The bill, by Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., Ron Kind, D-Wis., Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., adjusts the formula that determines what certain co-ops and other nonprofits must pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
The legislation would "immediately and permanently reduce pension premiums of cooperatives and charities," Kind said. The change reflects the extremely low risk that co-ops would ever default on their pension plan payments.
The Senate is expected to vote soon on similar legislation. That bill, the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, was introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the committee's senior Democrat.
About 2,000 co-op leaders came to Washington in April to lobby Congress on the pension issue as part of NRECA's 2019 Legislative Conference.
The PBGC is an independent federal agency that was created by Congress in 1974 to guarantee that American workers would receive their retirement benefits even if their employers went bankrupt. It is funded by employers who pay premiums to insure their workers' pensions.
However, co-ops and charity groups are forced to subsidize large Fortune 500 corporations that have pensions at much greater risk of insolvency, said NRECA lobbyist Christopher Stephen, who has been working with lawmakers for years to change the formula. More than 880 co-ops participate in the NRECA Retirement Security Plan, which covers more than 56,000 employees in 47 states.
"Electric co-op pension plans pose nominal risk of default, yet co-ops continue to pay PBGC premiums as if they were Fortune 500 companies with higher risk profiles," NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said. "I applaud the House for recognizing these important differences and passing this bill to save electric co-ops more than $30 million annually. Our pension plan helps co-ops attract and retain qualified employees for the future, while promoting economic security for retirees."