Biden in Ohio highlights his efforts to save union pensions | Economic news

By AAMER MADHANI and JOSH BOAK, Associated Press

CLEVELAND, AP — Reassuring frustrated blue-collar voters, President Joe Biden visited ironworkers in Ohio on Wednesday to highlight federal action to shore up funding for struggling pensions for millions of people currently at home. working or retired – and to make a political case that he was a champion of workers in the White House.

Biden’s speech at a Cleveland high school laid out a final rule tied to his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from last year. The rule allows multi-company pensions in difficulty to be financially complete, guaranteeing full benefits to 2 to 3 million workers and pensioners.

Politically hurt by inflation at its highest in 40 years and the damage caused by the pandemic, the president chose to deliver his message in a state with a strong Republican leaning, Donald Trump easily carrying it twice. During his sixth visit as president, Biden sought to personally turn that election tide, touting the rule to help multi-company pensions as one of the most significant efforts to bolster union workers’ retirement funds in the country. over the past 50 years.

“A lot of politicians like to talk about how they’re going to do something about this,” Biden said. “Well, I’m here today to say we did something about it.”

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“We turn a broken promise into a kept promise.”

The approximately 200 assisted pension plans risked insolvency without government assistance. And without all the benefits, workers and retirees could struggle to afford housing, food and other essentials. The financial support is expected to maintain the solvency of pension funds for around 30 years until 2051.

This is important, said several retirees.

Bill DeVito, who introduced Biden, said “it was devastating” when his pension was cut by 40% in 2017 after his life as an ironworker.

“The thing is, we’ve had a lot of politicians over the years who said, hey, we’ll try to help you, we’ll do whatever we can, and nobody’s ever done anything for us until ‘until Joe Biden happens,” DeVito, 73, said. He said other Democrats from Ohio to Washington were also continuing to push.

Jeffrey Carlson, 67, from the Cleveland suburb of North Ridgeville, said a year before retiring in 2017 he learned his pension would also be cut.

“I’m grateful for everything we were able to recover,” he said. “I know I earned it. I worked hard.”

Multi-employer plans are created by agreements between companies and a union, and are insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). In 2014, Congress passed the Multi-Employer Pension Reform Act which, for the first time, allowed plans to cut benefits for workers and retirees to ensure pensions that should run out of money stay solvent.

The U.S. bailout passed in March 2021 included a special financial relief program that allows struggling multiemployer pension plans to apply for help from the PBGC. The final rule unveiled by the Biden administration is designed to make it easier for pension investments to receive a higher rate of return.

The effort to highlight a program to help unionized workers comes as Democrats hope to land a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, where a strong presence of working-class voters could play a pivotal role.

Republican Rob Portman leaves the Senate after two terms. Democratic Representative Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance, the author of the “Hillbilly Elegy” memoir who won an endorsement in Trump’s primary, are vying to replace him. Ohio voters backed Trump in 2016 and 2020, with his margin of victory each time around 8 percentage points.

In a sign of Biden’s standing in the state, Ryan did not appear with him at Wednesday’s event, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration was “in close contact with Congressman Tim Ryan in particular”. Biden in his speech noted Ryan’s absence and called him a “future” U.S. senator from Ohio.

A veteran Democratic lawmaker who participated, Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, praised Biden for watching over American workers’ pensions.

“People say, ‘Marcy, why are you staying Home?’ That’s why,” Kaptur said. She added: ‘The former president – the Donald – did nothing.

Biden, too, has been highly critical of his predecessor, as well as “Trumpers” in Congress who continue to support the former president’s agenda. He blamed them for stalling efforts to lower prescription drug prices and tackle soaring inflation, and assailed them over proposals to force Congress to reauthorize Medicare and safety welfare and raise taxes on some low-income Americans.

“That’s why elections have consequences,” Biden said, ahead of November’s midterm elections. “That’s why they’re important. And that’s why what we’re doing here is so important.

As Biden boasts of steady job growth – unemployment sits at 3.6% – Americans are widely unhappy with the Democratic president’s handling of the economy as inflation continues to rise , interest rates rise and the stock market falters. Just 28% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, down from 51% a year ago, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last week.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who was present with Biden, gave his own speech the president delivered for American workers.

“I just want you to understand that this president we have right now…is the most pro-working class president in the history of America,” he said.

Biden closed his remarks by appealing to working-class voters who helped send him to the White House.

“There is no other place I want to be than here with the workers in this room and the workers who built America,” Biden said. “I see you. I hear you and I will always have your back.

Josh Boak reported from Washington; AP reporter Julie Carr Smyth contributed from Columbus, Ohio.

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Robert M. Larson