Butch Lewis Act Passes In House of Representatives With Congressman Cleaver's Support

Jul 26, 2019
Press Release

(Washington, D.C.) – This week, United States Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) voted to support H.R. 397, the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, otherwise known as the Butch Lewis Act. The bill addresses the multiemployer pension crisis facing over one million Americans across the nation, serving as an important backstop to ensure that retirees do not lose the pensions they earned through decades of hard work. Congressman Cleaver was an original cosponsor of the bill, which passed the House with a vote of 264-169 and will now go to the Senate.

“To say I’m happy for these workers and retirees would be the understatement of the year,” said Congressman Cleaver. “This has been a years-long battle to rectify a wrong that has devastated American workers in my district and across the country. Today, we took another important step in solving the multiemployer pension crisis and ensuring over a million Americans get the benefits they earned through years of dedicated work and cannot live without.”

Since 2015, over 400,000 workers and retirees within the Central States Pension Fund (CSPF) have been forced to deal with the uncertainty of whether or not their pension will be funded in the years to come. These individuals have invested millions of dollars into their pension funds, only to be told that their benefits would be drastically cut, some by as much as 60%. While most multiemployer pension plans are adequately funded, according to the Pension Rights Center, roughly 150 plans are projected to run out of money in the next two decades, including the CSPF, which is expected to become insolvent by 2026. A study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed the shortfalls are due to several factors, including investment losses from the 2008 financial crash, company bankruptcies, and retirees outnumbering active workers in some industries.

The Butch Lewis Act would address the pension crisis by creating a new office within the Treasury Department called the Pension Rehabilitation Administration (PRA). The PRA would allow pension plans such as the CSPF to borrow money needed to remain solvent and continue providing security for retirees and workers for the decades to come. In order to do this, the PRA would sell Treasury-issued bonds in the open market to large investors, such as financial firms. The PRA would then lend the money from the sale of bonds to the financially-troubled pension plans with long-term, low-interest loans, buying time for the pension plans to continue providing benefits while refocusing their investments for long-term health.

Congressman Cleaver has worked diligently to address the crisis facing the CSPF since issues arose in 2015. In February of 2016, Cleaver held a town hall with Ken Feinberg of the U.S. Treasury Department to discuss the problems facing the CSPF and to hear from the nearly 1,000 individuals that attended. Also in 2016, Cleaver joined a letter requesting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study the causes and potential fixes of the pension shortfall. The GAO delivered this report to Congress last June. Additionally, Cleaver has cosponsored and pushed for a vote on the Butch Lewis Act since it was introduced in 2017.

“This isn’t just about keeping the promises made to workers who gave up wage increases in order to fund their pension plans, it’s about providing stability to over a million workers and the pension funds for decades to come. If we do not sign this bill into law, retirees could see their pensions eliminated and be forced to turn to government assistance to make ends meet, overwhelming state governments and our economy,” Congressman Cleaver said. “This is why the Senate must act on this bill immediately and provide the relief that these workers deserve and our financial system desperately needs.”

The Butch Lewis Act is endorsed by major groups such as AARP, AFL-CIO, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Association of Police Organizations, National Retiree Legislative Network, United Steelworkers, Pension Rights Center, and many more.

Emanuel Cleaver, II is the U.S. Representative for Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, which includes Kansas City, Independence, Lee's Summit, Raytown, Grandview, Sugar Creek, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Oak Grove, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Claycomo, and all of Ray, Lafayette, and Saline Counties. He is a member of the exclusive House Financial Services Committee; Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy; member of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress; member of the Committee on Homeland Security; and a Senior Whip of the Democratic Caucus. For more information, please contact Matthew Helfant at 202-225-4535 or Matthew.Helfant@mail.house.gov A high-resolution photo of Congressman Cleaver is available here.