Senator Heidi Heitkamp met with members of the Fargo Committee to Protect Seniors Rights, a local chapter of a nationwide group fighting to preserve pension funds.
About 2,000 North Dakotans and 400,000 pension fund participants nationally paid into a program called the Central States Pension Fund, which will no longer be solvent unless Congress intervenes. Many participants have been told their pensions will be reduced by half or even more. Dick Bye drove a UPS truck for 31 years, and says he relied on his pension for his retirement.
"We need that money. That came out of our pocket - that didn't come out of the company's, or anything. That's our money that went every month. So we deserve it."
Donna Madson agrees. Her husband Michael was also a UPS driver for 30 years and currently suffers from several health ailments. She says she never imagined this would ever be an issue because his pension was supposed to take care of them.
"It's just overwhelming, because you never thought this could possibly happen - not when somebody put into it for 30 years, and now they want to take half of it? And we need it now. I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I have a minor surgery on Thursday. So I'm dealing with my own problems, so I'm going to need extra care for him. So it's just overwhelming to hear that this could possibly even happen."
Heitkamp worked on a bill called the Butch Lewis Act last year that would put pension plans back on solid footing so current workers, retirees and employers could count on their pensions without worrying about cuts. She says the bill has some bi-partisan support, but not enough support from Republicans to pass. Heitkamp says solving this pension crisis is more important than many realize.
"This problem could take down our economy. We should not overstate that - we cannot overstate how significant this pension issue is not to just you individually, but to the economy of our country. Wall Street didn't have to stand in the back of the line to get their fix, did they? They said "pants on fire" and everybody threw money at them. I'm not saying that was the wrong decision, but I'm saying right now that we're not going to nickel and dime all of you when we threw money at Wall Street and actually made people take money in Wall Street, and that actually caused the problem that you're in right now - right?"
Heitkamp currently sits on a House and Senate Joint Committee on Pensions tasked with solving the pension crisis. She says the committee will hold five public hearings over the next several months, and work with White House officials on their plants to improve the pension system.