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GAO Finds Dearth Of Bankruptcy Benefits Data

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Little information is available about what happens to employee benefit plans when the employers file for bankruptcy court protection.

Barbara Bovbjerg, a director at the U.S. Government Accountability Office, delivers that assessment in a report on the factors affecting the treatment of pension and health benefits in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization proceedings.

Bovbjerg prepared the report at the request of members of Congress who wanted to know how laws such as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 and the Pension Protection Act of 2006 have been affected the fate of benefit plans at employers that go through the Chapter 11 restructuring process.

Because federal agencies and federal laws rarely guarantee employees’ access to defined contribution retirement plans or health benefits for current employees, statistics on the fate of those types of plans at reorganizing companies are especially scarce, Bovbjerg writes.

“Most of the 115 employers we reviewed did not offer benefits that specifically needed court approval to change,” Bovbjerg writes.

Only 20 employers studied had defined benefit pension plans, which are protected by federal law, and 28 had employees in plans covered by collective bargaining agreements, Bovbjerg writes.

Of the employers studied, 12 had terminated or started the process of terminating at least a defined benefit pension plan, and 8 employers wanted to change or reject collective bargaining agreements.

Another 5 employers wanted to change their retiree health benefit arrangements, Bovbjerg writes.

Some reorganizing employers seek court approval to change retiree health benefit programs even though federal law does not necessarily require court approval of the changes, Bovbjerg notes.

Many factors other than federal laws and regulations, such as an employer’s continuing need to offer good benefits to keep good employees, affect reorganizing employers’ decisions to keep, change or eliminate benefit plans while going through the reorganization process, Bovbjerg writes.

The GAO report, which includes a table giving some information about each of the Chapter 11 filing employers reviewed, is available


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