Pension De-Risking State Legislative Update

With interest rates low and the corporate desire to reduce liabilities high, pension de-risking transfers continue at a rapid pace.  While Verizon was one of the first, since 2012 many companies including GM, J.C. Penney, United Technologies, PPG Industries and Lincoln Electric have de-risked by transferring their pension liabilities to an insurance company.  These pension de-risking transfers have impacted hundreds of thousands of retirees nationwide.

Since retirees in de-risking transactions lose all of the uniform protections intended by Congress under ERISA, including the PBGC back-stop, the enactment of legislation at the state level to replace what was lost is essential.

In 2015, Connecticut became the first state to pass legislation protecting retirees in pension de-risking transfers by restoring creditor protections to retirees whose pensions were replaced by group annuities issued by insurance companies. In 2016, legislation that would have provided additional critical protections stalled despite an insurance committee vote of 17-2 in favor of this legislation. In January of 2017, ProtectSeniors.org headed back to the drawing board and worked with Senator Carlo Leone to introduce a new bill.  Senator Leone introduced Proposed Bill 493 and a public hearing was held on February 16th. The Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate voted 16-5 in favor of Proposed Bill 493.  On March 10, 2017 the bill was filed with the Legislative Commissioner’s Office – the next stop will be the Senate floor.

In New York, legislation introduced in 2015/2016 stalled in New York’s politically charged insurance committee. Dedicated members of ProtectSeniors.org are working to move things along in New York.

In Massachusetts, House Bill 476, introduced by Representative James Arciero would provide creditor protections, limitations of subsequent transfers, and financial disclosures to retirees impacted by pension de-risking transfers. The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Financial Services.  

And finally, in Pennsylvania, House Bill 324 providing creditor protections to retirees was introduced by Representative Warren Kampf.  This bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee on February 3, 2017.

A version of this post appeared in the ProtectSeniors.org recent newsletter.

Favorable Vote for Connecticut Pension De-Risking Bill

In January of 2017, ProtectSeniors.org  worked with Senator Carlo Leone to introduce a new bill providing expanded protections for retirees affected by pension de-risking transfers.  In January, 2017 Senator Leone introduced Proposed Bill 493 and a public hearing was held on February 16th. The Joint Committee on Insurance and Real Estate voted 16-5 in favor of Proposed Bill 493 and on March 10, 2017 the bill was filed with the Legislative Commissioner’s Office – the next stop will be the Senate floor.

Public Hearing on Connecticut De-Risking Bill

Edward Stone, as special counsel to ProtectSeniors.org provided testimony at a Public Hearing in Hartford, Connecticut on February 16, 2017 in support of Proposed Bill No. 493 “AN ACT CONCERNING THE PURCHASE OF AN ANNUITY TO FUND PENSION AND RETIREMENT BENEFITS”.  Jack Cohen, Chairman of the Association of Bell-Tel Retirees, Inc. and Bill Jones, Co-founder and Chairman of ProtectSeniors.org also submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill No. 493.  This bill, sponsored by Senator Carlo Leone (D-27) will provide additional protects to retirees by requiring reasonable restrictions on subsequent transfers and annual financial disclosures to retirees. Senator Leone also submitted a written statement in support of Senate Bill 493. In 2015 ground breaking legislation was passed in Connecticut providing protections to retirees in pension de-risking transfers when the Connecticut legislature unanimously passed H.B. 6772 providing creditor protections to retirees in pension de-risking transfers.  On July 2, 2015 Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D) signed Public Act 15-167 into law  restoring creditor protections to Connecticut retirees impacted by  pension de-risking transfers. Without this legislation, creditors were able to garnish annuity payments designed for retirement.

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Edward Stone Speaking at SSP Annual Meeting

Edward Stone will be a guest speaker at the Society of Settlement Planners Annual Conference in Las Vegas on March 2, 2017.  Edward Stone and John Darer will participate in a panel discussion on current developments in the structured settlement secondary market.

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New Proposed Pension De-Risking Bill in Connecticut

Connecticut State Senator Carlo Leone (D – 27) has introduced Proposed Bill No. 493 “AN ACT CONCERNING THE PURCHASE OF AN ANNUITY TO FUND PENSION AND RETIREMENT BENEFITS”. This proposed bill requires an insurance company to provide certain annual disclosures to employees and retirees impacted by pension de-risking transfers involving the purchase of a group annuity contract to fund retirement benefits and would limit subsequent transfers of those annuity contracts. Edward Stone Law will be working with ProtectSeniors.org to educate legislators and retirees about the benefits of this important legislation. For more information please visit our website at www.edwardstonelaw.com or call (203) 504-8425.

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CFPB Files Suit Against Access Funding

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has filed suit in federal court in Baltimore accusing Access Funding of violations of the federal Consumer Protection Act.  Access Funding (now Reliance Funding) is a purchaser of structured settlement payment streams whose alleged predatory business practices involving people who had been poisoned by lead paint as children were exposed by investigative reporter Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post last summer.  Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY); Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md); Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md); Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) all praised the CFPB effort to protect consumers who may have been victims of financial fraud by companies in the structured settlement industry.

This federal lawsuit follows on the heels of a similar lawsuit filed by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in May, 2016.  The state court action filed by Attorney General Frosh is pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Frosh has pledged to work to “prevent vulnerable Marylanders from having their money taken from them through illegal practices.”

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Litigation follows close behind cost of insurance increases

Over the past few years a number of life insurers have raised annual cost of insurance charges (COI) in ways that many consumers once thought impossible.  For the most part, COI increases have targeted flexible premium universal life policies – the kind of life insurance policies that the insurance industry marketed as retirement savings vehicles.  Now, it turns out that flexible premiums are not so flexible after all.  Life insurance companies such as AXA, Voya Financial, Tranamerica, and William Penn/Banner have increased COI charges on universal life policies by as much as 200% sending shock waves through retirement communities across the nation and irking the life settlement industry, the secondary market purchasers of life insurance policies.

While the insurance companies point to contractual provisions in their policies permitting these increases as a justification for the hefty premium increases, more scrutiny is required and will inevitably follow.  Some of the recent lawsuits allege discrimination; others highlight the insurance industries infatuation with “shadow insurance” – a sneaky way for insurers to hold fewer assets in reserve by transferring liabilities to wholly owned captive insurers located in “regulation light” jurisdiction.

If you own a universal life policy and were suddenly hit with an unreasonably large premium increase contact us at (203) 504-8425 or via email at eddie@edwardstonelaw.com.  We may be able to help.

Revised Tennessee Structured Settlement Protection Act

Earlier this year Tennessee joined the many states revising their Structured Settlement Protection Acts to provide more robust protections to those people seeking to sell some of their periodic payments to factoring companies.  Under the Tennessee Structured Settlement Protection Act, the seller is called the “payee” and the factoring company is known as a “transferee”.  The revised Tennessee statute requires that the transfer petitions be brought in the county in which the payee resides.  It also requires that the payee personally appear at the hearing, unless excused for good cause.  The payee must also submit a sworn statement detailing any prior “requested, proposed, or approved transfers”.   Tennessee Senate Bill No. 760 was signed into law by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on April 14, 2016.

United Technologies Corp. Announces Pension De-risking

The pension de-risking trend continues. Farmington, Connecticut based United Technologies Corp. (UTC) will transfer $775 million of its outstanding pension benefit obligations under two of its retirement plans to The Prudential Insurance Company of America.  HartfordBusiness.com, a publication of The Hartford Business Journal quoted Robin Diamonte, UTC’s chief investment officer as saying “This transaction is an important part of United Technologies’ long-term strategy to reduce future pension risk and expense”.  UTC also offered certain retirees an option to take a one-time lump sum distribution. UTC expects approximately 10,000 retirees to accept the lump sum distribution. By year end, UTC will have reduced its pension obligations by approximately $995 million.

Thanks to the efforts of ProtectSeniors.org and Edward Stone Law, special counsel to the retiree advocacy group, UTC’s Connecticut based retirees do not have to worry that their annuity payments will be subject to creditors’ claims.   ProtectSeniors.org and Edward Stone Law worked tirelessly with Connecticut legislators to enact Public Act 15-167 which went into effect on October 1, 2015 provides creditor protections to retirees impacted by pension de-risking transfers.  The ground breaking Connecticut law is the result of bipartisan legislation sponsored by Rep. Robert Megna (D-97), Rep. Livvy R. Foren (R-149), Louis P. Esposito, Jr. (D-116) and Sen. Henri Martin (R-31).  Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass legislation protecting retirees in pension de-risking transfers.

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Maryland’s New Structured Settlement Transfer Laws

Maryland Senate Bill 734, which amends the procedures for structured settlement transfers took effect on October 1, 2016.   Senate Bill 734 requires that factoring companies register with the Maryland Attorney General before filing transfer petitions or applications within the State of Maryland. The bill further requires that factoring companies (known as transferees under the structured settlement protection statute) post a surety bond before doing business in Maryland.   In an effort to prevent “judge shopping” or “forum shopping” the new  law also requires that all transfer petitions be filed in the county in which the payee lives.  In September, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh announced that his office was accepting registrations under the new law.  If a factoring company is not registered with the OAG (Office of Attorney General) the factoring company may not file a transfer petition in Maryland.  This new legislation came on the heels of investigative journalist Terrence McCoy’s article in The Washington Post (“How companies make millions off lead-poisoned, poor blacks”) on the predatory business practices of many structured settlement factoring companies. Attorney General Frosh’s suit against Access Funding, LLC and other structured settlement factoring companies filed on May 10, 2016 is pending in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Maryland’s new Structured Settlement Protection Act is among the most comprehensive of the 49 state structured settlement protection acts.