Our client, a 75-year-old Rhode Island widow living on an annual income of less than $20,000, contacted us in 2010 about a Notice of Potential Private Pension Benefit which she had received regarding a pension her late husband had earned from a small manufacturing company called P & C Quality Turned Components, Inc. Her late husband had died at the age of 56 without receiving the pension. The Notice stated that the value of the pension in 1988 was approximately $5,000. Prior to hearing about the New England Pension Assistance Project at the Pension Action Center, the client had tried to track this pension down herself, and had contacted the former owner of the company, the person who had subsequently bought the company and re-named it, the pension consulting firm Mercer, several insurance companies, and the Rhode Island Attorney General, all to no avail.
After pursuing a number of these same and some other sources of information, we turned to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Its database showed that this plan had paid PBGC premiums until 1988, and was now listed as “inactive,” although there was no record of any plan termination. In December of 2010, we filed a claim with the PBGC, alleging that the plan was a defined benefit plan which had never been properly terminated and that the PBGC should pay our client her survivor’s benefit, as these benefits were guaranteed by the PBGC and had never been paid to her.
The PBGC spent more than three years investigating our claim and what had happened to the plan. We spent countless hours answering its questions, and attempting to get some resolution. At one point in July 2013, the agency informed us that it had been “unable to locate any evidence of the existence of this pension plan.” No one had been able to locate a copy of a Summary Plan Description for the plan, although we had requested this information from the Public Disclosure Room of the U.S. Department of Labor.
We responded immediately that we had submitted evidence that the plan had paid premiums to the PBGC for 12 years, and again provided the plan number to the PBGC. We further requested any documents which showed whether or not the plan had ever requested a refund of the premiums paid, as a member of the PBGC’s legal staff suggested that the plan may have paid premiums in error. In October of 2013, we replied to these issues, including copies from the PBGC’s own databases of the premium payment history, and reiterating that there was no evidence that the plan had ever sought a refund, and arguing again that the plan was clearly a defined benefit plan which had not been properly terminated.
In January of 2014, we reached out to the PBGC’s Participant and Plan Sponsor Advocate, Constance Donovan, about the lack of a resolution in this case. She, in very short order, was able to locate the SPD in the Department of Labor’s archives, and it clearly showed that the plan was in fact a defined benefit plan. Through her intervention, the PBGC ultimately agreed to pay our client her survivor’s benefit. Our client received a lump sum of over $9,300 in April of 2014, three years and four months after we filed the claim on her behalf.
As this case so clearly demonstrates, our client needed the Project’s expertise, knowledge and diligence to make sure that the PBGC interpreted the records correctly and paid our client the benefits to which she was entitled. Due to the complexity of the matter, the confusing documentation, and the procedural issues in dealing with the agency, it is extremely unlikely that she would have been able to pursue it on her own or could have found any other attorney, agency, or organization to assist her. Without the assistance of the Project, our client would most certainly not have received the survivor benefit her late husband had earned for her.