PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — When you pay into your retirement plan with part of your paycheck each week, you might never think that money may one day just disappear.
But for millions of grocery store employees, factory workers and truck drivers across the country that became a strong – and scary – possibility.
“I don’t know what I would have done, personally,” said Keith Bragg, who has worked at Nabisco for 46 years and has been receiving reduced pension funds since 2016.
“You’ve got to remember, everything that we did was centered around having a defined pension and making smart decisions as you’re moving toward retiring,” Bragg said.
Bragg has worked in every department over the years – from baking and mixing, to packaging, to making Oreo cookies. So, to find out he wouldn’t be getting the money he had put away for retirement was a shock.
“We were caught in a situation where we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen,” he said.
Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) said they knew for several years that pensions across the country were on the brink of failing due to several contributing factors, including deregulation and the 2008 financial crisis.
“Through no fault of their own, people who had earned their pension, delayed their compensation in order to get paid later for work they’ve already done were about to lose their pensions,” he said.
Scott is a member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which formed a study committee with the House and Senate members who wanted to fix this multiemployer pension crisis.
“We heard from a lot of companies that said they couldn’t operate because banks wouldn’t lend them any more because they had this contingent liability,” he said.
“We discovered it would actually cost the federal government more money to let the plans fail,” Scott said.
According to Scott, it would have cost the federal government about $170 billion over the next 10 years.
Instead, Scott’s committee helped pass a package that allocates $90 billion from American Rescue Plan funds to save the failing pensions.
In addition to the Nabisco workers, many employees working at Kroger also benefit from the pension package.
“Kroger is actually part of less than 7% of the Fortune 500 companies that still invest in traditional pensions,” said Corporate Affairs Manager James Menees. “There was hope that this would pass and our partnership would go through.”
“There’s a sense of financial security that comes with a pension… it just continues to incentivize our employees,” he said.
For Bragg, the funds from the American Rescue Plan means he won’t have to think twice when it comes to spoiling his grandchildren when he finally retires from Nabisco next year.
“Your time is your life, and once we gave that time, you can’t get it back,” he said. “So the American Rescue Plan actually saved our lives.”