Last updated on 08/11/2021

    Financial Assistance Through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA)

  1. How do the pension relief provisions in ARPA work?
    ARPA allows certain troubled multiemployer pension plans to obtain financial assistance from the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). The assistance is intended to provide these plans with the additional funding they need so that they are projected to be able to pay benefits due through 2051, without reductions to participants' benefits. The AFM-EPF qualifies for assistance because it is in "critical and declining" status.

    Following the PBGC's approval of a plan's application, financial assistance under ARPA will be paid to the plan in the form of a lump-sum grant that does not need to be repaid.
  2. Would accepting financial assistance under ARPA require benefit reductions?
    No. ARPA does not impose any reductions to participants' benefits in plans that receive financial assistance. In fact, plans that receive the financial assistance are no longer permitted to apply for such benefit reductions under the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (MPRA).
  3. What is the process and timeline for the AFM-EPF to apply for and receive financial assistance under ARPA?
    On July 9, the PBGC released preliminary details of the application process for the special financial assistance. This interim guidance states that PBGC will accept applications in priority order, generally focusing first on plans in the worst financial condition. The PBGC estimates that about 80 plans are in the higher priority groups. Because the AFM-EPF is still over a decade away from insolvency, it is among the more than 120 plans that are not in the higher priority groups, so it may not be able to apply until March 2023. Regardless of when it applies, the Plan will still receive the funding it needs so that it is projected to be able to pay benefits due through 2051.

    Once we do apply for assistance, there is a fairly quick turnaround - the PBGC has 120 days to review the application and expects to make the requested payments within 60 to 90 days of approval.
  4. How much special financial assistance will the Plan receive?
    We will not know how much special financial assistance the AFM-EPF will receive until we prepare and submit our ARPA application. This is because the amount of financial assistance is based on the Plan's financial status on the last day of the calendar quarter immediately preceding the application date.

    The special financial assistance under ARPA is intended to provide plans with the additional funding they need so that they are projected to be able to pay benefits due through 2051, without reductions to participants' benefits. The calculation to determine the amount of financial assistance the Plan receives will start with the assets and liabilities of the Plan at the time of the application, then factor in the expected income and outflows between the date of the application and 2051.
  5. Could the PBGC deny the Plan's request for financial assistance under ARPA?
    ARPA requires the PBGC to approve an eligible plan's request for special financial assistance unless the application is incomplete or includes "unreasonable" assumptions. Denied or withdrawn applications can be corrected or amended without requiring a full resubmittal. If the PBGC has issues with any aspect of the Plan's application, we will address them promptly.
  6. How will the Plan invest the financial assistance provided under ARPA?
    ARPA requires plans to keep the financial assistance separate from other plan assets. According to current PBGC guidance, generally, plans must invest the special financial assistance in investment-grade bonds (or commingled vehicles investing in those bonds), although the PBGC may in the future decide to allow other types of investments for the financial assistance. Neither ARPA nor the current PBGC guidance dictates how the Plan's other assets can be invested.
  7. Will ARPA financial assistance include conditions on future benefit accruals or employer contributions?
    Yes. If a plan receives financial assistance under ARPA, participant benefit increases will not be permitted unless they are prospective and fully paid for with new contribution increases.

    In general, a plan receiving ARPA assistance will also not be permitted to reduce employer contributions. More specifically, the employer contribution rate in each collective bargaining agreement cannot be any lower than it was on March 11, 2021 - the date that ARPA was signed into law.

    These restrictions on benefit increases and contribution reductions will expire after the plan year ending in 2051.

  8. Status of the Plan

  9. What is the Plan's funded status today?
    As of March 2021, the Plan had roughly $2.0 billion in assets and about $3.4 billion in liabilities, which is the value of all the benefits that have been earned by participants for services already performed and that will be paid in the future. That means that the Plan is about $1.4 billion underfunded.

    Our actuaries determined that the Plan entered "critical and declining status" in April 2019. It remains in that status today. This means that the Plan is currently projected to run out of money to pay benefits (or become "insolvent") within 20 years.

    Under ARPA, the AFM-EPF and other troubled multiemployer plans that are critical and declining or meet other criteria may obtain special financial assistance from the PBGC. This financial assistance is intended to provide these plans with the funding they need so that they are projected to be able to pay benefits due through the plan year ending in 2051, without reductions to participants' benefits.

    Plans that receive special financial assistance are deemed to be in critical status through 2051. So, you will receive annual notices of critical status after the Plan has received financial assistance. (See FAQs 1 through 7 for more information on ARPA.)
  10. Are there any plans to lower the benefit multiplier for future service?
    No. The Trustees do not plan to lower the current $1.00 multiplier for future service.

  11. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

  12. What is the PBGC?
    The PBGC is a government insurance agency that provides financial assistance to plans that no longer have enough money to pay benefits on their own. Pension plans pay annual premiums to the PBGC. This financial assistance is independent of the new special financial assistance for troubled multiemployer plans created by ARPA as described above.

    Although the PBGC provides financial assistance to insolvent plans, it does not necessarily "cover" the full benefit amount. Rather, it insures and pays benefits up to a maximum amount set by federal law, which is known as the PBGC "guarantee."

    The PBGC's website has more information on how the guarantees are calculated.

    The PBGC is also charged with administering ARPA's special financial assistance program for troubled multiemployer plans. (See FAQs 1 through 7 for more information on ARPA.)
  13. How much does the Plan pay the PBGC?
    All defined benefit multiemployer pension plans pay annual, per-participant premiums to the PBGC. These premiums are mandated by law and are not based on a plan's funded status. PBGC premiums are indexed each year for inflation, so they increase over time. In 2020, the Plan paid $1.5 million in PBGC premiums.

    For 2021, multiemployer plan premiums are $31 per plan participant. ARPA increases the per participant annual PBGC premium to $52 in 2031. This represents a 33% increase over the previously projected 2031 premium. Plans must continue to pay PBGC premiums after receiving the ARPA special financial assistance, the amount of which will include the projected PBGC premiums through 2051.

  14. General

  15. What are the advantages of participating in a pension plan such as the AFM-EPF versus a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, if the benefit multiplier remains at $1.00?
    Even though the current $1.00 multiplier is lower than multipliers in the past, the AFM-EPF still has important advantages over a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. A retired participant receives pension benefit payments monthly for the rest of their life (and a reduced amount is received by the participant's beneficiary, if the participant elects a joint and survivor benefit). In contrast, payouts from a 401(k) or 403(b) plan are much less insulated from market downturns, and therefore provide less predictability and stability. And, unlike a pension benefit which is payable for your lifetime, you risk outliving your 401(k) or 403(b) retirement income.
  16. What can I do as a participant and AFM member to help the Plan?
    AFM members can help the Plan by continuing to pursue work engagements covered by a union collective bargaining agreement requiring contributions to the Plan and to ensure that those engagements are reported to the Plan. All such covered employment, including single engagements covered by an LS-1, not only adds to your accrued retirement benefit - it provides more contributions into the Plan, which can improve the Plan's financial outlook through 2051 and beyond.
  17. How are the Trustees selected? What is the role and structure of the Board of Trustees?
    Under federal law, multiemployer pension funds like the AFM-EPF are administered by union and employer trustees with equal voting power. The Plan has sixteen Trustees - eight Union Trustees and eight Employer Trustees.

    The AFM President appoints the Union Trustees. According to the AFM bylaws, at least three of the Union Trustees must be rank-and-file working musicians. Employer Trustees are appointed by the rest of the Employer Trustees or by the employers.

    While the Trustees receive ongoing education and training, they are not professionals in investing or actuarial analysis. This is typical across the other 1,400 multiemployer pension funds because most recognize the importance of having trustees who are stakeholders that understand the industry and act in the best interest of participants. In the case of the Plan, the Union Trustees are working and retired musicians - just as ironworkers, actors and machinists serve as union trustees of their respective funds. The AFM-EPF Employer Trustees are current or former executives from the film, recording, symphonic, television and theatre industries.

    The Trustees retain a wide range of experts to provide them with guidance and make certain investment decisions within parameters the Trustees establish. These experts include:
    • The actuary, Milliman, which evaluates the funded status of the Plan and makes financial projections to inform the Trustees' decisions.
    • The outsourced chief investment officer (OCIO), Cambridge Associates, which oversees day-to-day decisions for the Plan's investment portfolio—including the selection of asset managers - acting within established parameters.
    • The independent monitoring fiduciary, Opus Investment Advisors, which assists the Trustees in monitoring the OCIO's performance.
    • The law firms of Proskauer Rose LLP and Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP, which provide legal counsel.
    • The certified public accountants, WithumSmith+Brown, which advise the Trustees on accounting and financial reporting issues. Withum also conducts an annual independent audit.
    Additionally, Andrew Irving, Manager of Blakeman Crest Advisors, serves as the Neutral Independent Fiduciary Trustee. He is a non-voting member of the Board's Investment Committee and an advisory resource to the voting members of the Investment Committee.
  18. What Kind of Training and Education Do New Trustees Receive? (Previously FAQ #32)
    New Trustees meet for several hours with each of the Plan's professional advisors, i.e., Counsel, Actuary, Auditor and the Plan's Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO), to review matters within each advisor's and professional's expertise. They also meet with the Fund's Executive Director and such of her Directors as she may designate to review basic operations of the Fund and the Fund's various Committees, as well as the Trustees meeting schedule.

    New Trustees each receive the Trustee Handbook, which, among other things, contains critical documentation, including the governing Trust Agreement and Plan document, the Summary Plan Description, certain administrative guidelines and procedures, contact information and the Fund's Investment Policy Statement. In addition, new Trustees receive the previous year's meeting minutes, the most recent audited financial statements and actuarial valuation, and the most recent investment performance report.

    Each year, all Trustees have the opportunity to attend up to two educational conferences, seminars, and similar programs and events sponsored by, among other groups, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP). There, the Trustees obtain important insights and knowledge relevant to performing their roles on behalf of the Fund prudently and for the benefit of the Fund's participants, including foundational principles of fund management and governance, current legislative and regulatory developments under ERISA, and other laws affecting the Fund, employee benefit plan administrative issues, economic and investment matters, and other issues relevant to the Fund. Trustees receive periodicals, newsletters, client bulletins and memoranda, and other relevant updates from the educational organizations and the Fund's professional advisors.

    The Fund's advisors also provide ongoing education and training at regular Trustee meetings and at special educational Trustee meetings as the Trustees may schedule in their discretion from time to time.

    While the Union and Employer Trustees do not receive compensation for performing their Trustee duties, they are reimbursed for expenses actually incurred in attending Trustee and Committee meetings, educational conferences and otherwise performing their duties.
  19. What does the Fund Office do?
    The primary function of the Fund Office is to administer the pension benefits defined by the Plan Documents, including compliance with regulatory requirements. In addition, the Fund Office receives and processes contributions and related engagement reports from employers and performs recordkeeping of investment transactions, along with all other accounting transactions, which are audited by the Plan’s independent Certified Public Accountants. The Fund Office does not make plan design or investment decisions – those responsibilities rest with the Trustees and the Outsourced Chief Investment Officer.

    The following may give a sense of the degree of support required for a large, complex Plan like ours. In the fiscal year ending prior to the effects of the pandemic, the Fund Office:
    • Maintained current databases for over 5,500 employers, 3,700 collective bargaining agreements and historical databases back to the AFM-EPF’s inception in 1959.
    • Processed over 25,000 contribution checks (representing approximately 51,500 engagements with total contributions of more than $68 million). These contributions result in over 640,000 engagement records to be included in the earnings accounts of approximately 40,000 participants.
    • Completed over 550 pension estimates and processed 1,700 new pensioners. Pension benefits were paid to over 17,800 pensioners and beneficiaries monthly.
    • Maintained participant data so accurate that less than 1% of the over 53,000 Annual Funding Notices, etc. distributed were returned with bad addresses.
    • Fielded approximately 11,000 phone inquiries and responded to approximately 2,000 emails.
    The Fund Office prides itself as a responsive, well-run, professional organization.

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