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PBGC Blog: Retirement Matters

With recent news of the Detroit bankruptcy, more people are asking about PBGC's role in public pensions. However, by law, PBGC doesn't insure state, county, or city plans.

While we insure most private-sector (non-governmental) pension plans, Congress has also defined exceptions that PBGC does not insure. But for more information about public pensions, please contact the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems

Informational graphic with silhouette of call center representative on the right. The graph describes the responsibilities of the 70 team members mentioned in the article and the call volume received over the past two years, also mentioned in the article.

When retirees and workers wish to contact PBGC, they first turn to the Customer Contact Center, which does its best to answer every call.

The center is nestled in Kingstowne, Va., outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington. Its representatives are the agency's first responders, making sure no call goes unanswered.

The team of 70 comprised of two federal managers, 13 contact center leadership team members, and 55 customer service representatives, regularly communicate with the Corporation's Field Benefit Administrators (FBA), transferring participants' calls to the FBAs to ensure questions on benefit entitlement are answered. The center also transfers calls to the Corporation's lawyers when participants have inquiries regarding legal matters.

The number of calls received fluctuates each month. From 2010 to 2012, the center received an average of 521,000 calls yearly or about 2,000 every business day.

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PBGC will pay retirement benefits for more than 2,400 current and future retirees of KidsPeace Corporation, a private charity dedicated to serving the behavioral and mental health needs of children, families, and communities.

KidsPeace Corporation is headquartered in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania with operations in Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The agency stepped in because the charity organization can't pay its pension obligations and remain in business.

PBGC will pay all pension benefits earned by the hospital's retirees up to the legal limit of almost $56,000 per year for a 65-year-old.

Retirees will continue to get benefits without interruption, and future retirees can apply for benefits as soon as they are eligible.

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How PBGC is changing the narrative on Retirement Security

From J. Jioni Palmer, Director, Communications and Public Affairs:

Photo of J. Jioni Palmer, Director of Communications & Public Affairs, CPAD

J. Jioni Palmer
Director of Communications & Public Affairs

I've always been fascinated by storytelling: The Harry Potter series, This American Life, Grimm, The Twilight Zone, The New Yorker and just about anything by Walter Mosely. Books, movies, radio, print or online periodicals, fact or fiction, it doesn't matter. Interesting characters and a compelling narrative rivet me.

I also particularly like watching commercials and I'm constantly amazed by the brilliance of ad writers who can develop the scene, introduce relatable characters and tell a complete story in 30 or 60 seconds. Beyond hawking products or pushing ideas, I find commercials offer interesting insights on the zeitgeist of a particular demographic, culture or society.

Today, in almost any hour of evening television, sandwiched between myriad commercials for insurance companies and the latest solution to make housecleaning a breeze, you'll see spots about encouraging the viewer to plan for retirement.

One really resonates with me because it echoes a true story we at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation tell a lot lately: people are living longer but retirement security isn't keeping pace. In the commercial, the narrator asks people to place a blue sticker along a timeline next to the age of the oldest person they've ever known. Not surprisingly, there are many dots ranging between 80 and 110. The spot closes with, "How do you make sure you have enough money to enjoy all of these years?"

Disclaimer: Neither the author nor PBGC endorses the products or services of the sponsor.

Since its inception in 1974, PBGC has been at the forefront of protecting the retirement security of the American people in defined-benefit pension plans offered by private companies. Now, most people probably don't know the agency exists, let alone think about us until the business they work for goes belly-up and they hear talk that the pension they've been looking forward to is about to evaporate.

Fortunately, PBGC does exist, and the safety net it provides allows most workers and retirees to keep the full promised benefit they've earned over many years.

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‘What is a Pension?’

  |   April 17, 2013

PBGC protects pensions. So, what is a pension? To most people, a pension is a retirement arrangement in which your employer promises you a regular payment from the day you retire, for as long as you live. The amount of your pension usually depends on how long you worked for an employer and your salary with that employer. Ask a retiree, "What is a pension?" and they may say,

"A pension is the $400 per month I receive for my many years of service at Acme Widgets. My pension helps to supplement the $600 per month I receive from Social Security and my retirement savings."

Normally, employees must work for an employer for a certain time period before the benefits they have earned belong to them. After they have done so, they are considered "vested" in those benefits. Today, in some pension plans, you are fully vested after five years on the job. In others, it takes you seven years to become fully vested - but you become vested in increasing portions of your benefit starting at three years. If you've worked for more than one company long enough to become vested in multiple pension plans, you can receive more than one pension payment.

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Surveys: Tell Us the Truth

  |   April 15, 2013

So far, in fiscal year 2013, PBGC has surveyed around 10,000 folks, but what does it mean?

When PBGC comes into someone's life, it may be at a time when everything is broken. Customers have lost jobs, insurance, promise of a comfortable retirement. Death, disease, and disability may bring these trials to a crisis.  While the Corporation can't solve every customer's every problem, it can provide compassionate and responsive service to those who may feel cheated, abused, or simply discarded by the trusted employer who terminated a promised pension.

PBGC can and does measure how many benefit determinations we send out and how fast we issue benefit estimates, which is just part of the story. We won't know about our success in providing information through online sources and by delivering checks, until we hear from the person on the other end. Was it on time by your definition? Was it what you needed? Did we help you understand?

When you tell us the truth, you reveal the opportunities for a process that flows well and makes sense, a graphic that makes a complicated matter clear, a few words that provide assurance and restore a little bit of faith in humanity.

PBGC welcomes your feedback, your questions, and especially your ideas on how we can all work together to make those moments of beauty a more frequent reality for you the customer.