Employer-Sponsored Benefits: Many Factors Affect the Treatment of Pension and Health Benefits in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

GAO-07-1101 Published: Sep 06, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 06, 2007.
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In recent years, considerable debate has centered on companies using the chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization process to reduce or eliminate employer-sponsored benefits in an effort to become more competitive. Congress recently enacted several laws, in part, to help address this issue. Most notably, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) and the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA). BAPCPA contained provisions related to chapter 11 business bankruptcies and sought to address the treatment of benefits during the bankruptcy process. In addition, the PPA amended several Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) provisions related to defined benefit (DB) plans in bankruptcy. This report addresses (1) how, if at all, recent legislative changes affected the treatment of pension and health benefits during chapter 11 bankruptcies, and (2) what is known about the extent to which businesses have modified employee or retiree pension and health benefits. GAO reviewed filings of 115 public companies that filed for bankruptcy between October 17, 2004 and October 17, 2006, and conducted interviews with various experts on the treatment of benefits in the bankruptcy process. Relevant federal agencies agreed with the findings contained in this report.

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