In 1963, the Studebaker auto manufacturing plant in Southbend Indiana was closed, leaving employees without their pension benefits. Insufficient funding meant that the company was unable to pay retirement benefits.
The Studebaker retirement plan failure led to concerns about pension plan corruption and mismanagement, which led to reforms and regulations. The incident also paved the way for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
What Is Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
ERISA is a federal law that established minimum standards for retirement and healthcare plans. It also protects the accumulated assets of workers. The Act protects individuals covered by these plans. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act was created in response to a need for oversight over private pension plan mismanagement and abuse.
Enacted in 1974, ERISA was created to prevent financial disasters like the Studebaker-Packard bankruptcy. The Act requires sponsors or administrators of private pension plans to provide beneficiaries and participants with relevant information about their plans. The sponsors are required to have minimum qualifications for plan managers.
In addition, ERISA mandates government reporting and participant disclosure while creating safeguards to protect participants’ funds. ERISA results from a long line of legislation that regulates labor and tax aspects of employee benefit plans.
Since 1974, when the law was formalized, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act has undergone several amendments to meet the changing retirement and healthcare needs.
What Does ERISA Include?
There are several areas that ERISA covers:
- Retirement plans: This plan includes standard defined benefit plans and individual account plans, like 401(k)s.
- Welfare benefit plans: This includes healthcare coverage based on employment, apprenticeship plans, and others outlined in Title I’s section 3(1).
- Long-term disability: This type of insurance pays the insured a portion of their income if they cannot work due to injury or illness. To get more info about long-term disability and ERISA litigators talk to a legal expert.
For employee benefit plans to qualify for favorable tax treatment, they must meet certain standards of Title II. Plans that fail to meet ERISA’s tax qualification requirements may be disqualified or subject to other penalties.
After Studebaker’s failed pension plan, ERISA took ten years to pass. It was Vance Hartke, a Senator from Indiana, not by coincidence Studebaker’s home state, who first proposed the legislation in 1965.
This legislation provides pension insurance and establishes Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to collect and manage premiums. The PBGC offers payouts if a pension plan ends and there is insufficient funding to pay the participants.
In the late 1960s, Senator Jacob Javits sponsored several bills that contributed to the final text of ERISA. The bills consist of rules governing private pension plans, including participation, funding, reporting, vesting, and disclosure.
Both labor unions and companies opposed the passage of new pension regulations, unwilling to be more closely monitored. Businesses embraced national pension regulations to avoid navigating state-specific pension laws. Gerald Ford signed ERISA into law in September 1974 after it passed Congress.
ERISA administration is composed of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS),
U.S. Department of Labor, and PBGC:
- The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for Title II, which contains amendments to the Internal Revenue Code that mirror several Title I rules.
- The United States Department of Labor regulates Title I, which includes rules for vesting, reporting and disclosure, participation, fiduciary conduct, funding, and civil enforcement.
- The PBGC administers Title IV, which provides insurance for defined benefit pension plans.
- The IRS and the U.S. Department of Labor coordinate regulatory and enforcement activities under Title III, which discusses jurisdictional issues.
ERISA was restructured in 1978 to maintain a better structure for future plans. Due to this, the U.S. Labor Department is responsible for reporting, disclosure, and fiduciary responsibilities.
Protection Before ERISA
Before ERISA, the IRS was the leading watchdog of private pension plans, and employees had difficulty accessing benefits. Various laws enacted between 1921 and 1962 provided employees with financial transparency from their employers. This meant providing employees with enough information about their plans to monitor them for mismanagement and abuse.