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PBGC Celebrates 40 Years of Protecting Pension Benefits: The 1980s

Tuesday August 26, 2014

This entry is part of a series of blog posts that looks back and commemorates the agency's work.

Setting the foundation

What a way to start a decade: Standing in front of the Supreme Court. Yet that is how we began the 1980s, seven days into the year, arguing — and winning — a major decision that upheld the constitutionality of employer liability.

We won a big decision in a battle that was part of a wider, tougher war — and a war where those seeking pensions were losing ground. It was the decade when pension plans sharply turned to become programs at risk.

The decade started with 35.9 million private-sector workers (46 percent of all private-sector workers) being covered by a pension plan. As of Sept. 30, 1980, we were responsible for about 50,000 people.

That decade saw our assets grow along with our responsibilities. We went from being responsible for about 50,000 people to more than 250,000 people. Our assets exceeded $1 billion for the first time.

And the firsts continued.

In June 1981, we used our financial assistance authority under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act reforms for the first time, lending $311,310 to the Anthracite Health and Welfare Fund for retired mineworkers. Almost 17 years later, the Anthracite Fund became the first multiemployer plan to repay PBGC for its financial assistance.

In January 1982, the first PBGC Field Benefit Administration office opened in Cleveland to deliver more personalized service to White Motors/White Farm plan participants. Since then, field offices came and went and as of 2014 there are four FBA offices and one Post Valuation Administration Office.

In June 1984, we won another U.S. Supreme Court case, with the upholding of the constitutionality of the employer liability provisions of MPPAA.

We fought in the field as well. In September 1987 — for the first time — PBGC restored terminated pension plans to active operations, returning three LTV Steel Company plans to LTV to stem abuse of the insurance program.

And in 1988, PBGC was responsible for the benefits of almost 250,000 people. The same year, our total annual revenues (premiums and investment income) surpassed $1 billion for the first time, although our deficit continued to exceed $1 billion as well.