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Washington considers pension fund relief

Nov. 20, 2008 at 10:51 AM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Washington lawmakers said they would consider relief for companies having trouble meeting pension fund obligations as the U.S. economy slows.

The value of U.S. pension funds has declined by $250 billion since the winter of 2007 and companies are hard pressed to make up the difference required by law, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Four U.S. senators -- Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.; and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. -- have announced a bill to allow companies more time to meet stricter guidelines required by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the Times reported.

The 2006 law eliminated previous loopholes that allowed companies to delay payments to pension funds.

More than 300 companies, trade associations and unions, however, sent letters to Washington last week asking for relief.

"At a time when companies desperately need cash to keep their businesses afloat, the new funding rules will require huge, countercyclical contributions to their pension plans," the letters said.

U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said, "Congress needs to make the funding less volatile."

"I believe that taking this step will save thousands of jobs without costing the Treasury anything," he told the Times.

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