Pension Action Center

Read about clients helped by the center's services and current issues in the pension field

“Lights, Camera, Action!”

The Pension Action Center recently expanded its investor education initiative beyond its fact sheets by producing an educational video to help workers prepare for a secure retirement. In the video, Jeanne Medeiros, JD, Director of the PAC, and Emily Brown, JD< Staff Attorney, interview PAC Advisory Board Member, Glenn Frank, a financial planning expert, who covers basic investment concepts such as return on investments, asset class selection, and asset class capture. The goal of the video is to educate workers and retirees who are faced with the responsibility of having to manage their own retirement portfolios.

Glenn Frank is a personal financial planner at Lexington Wealth Management and Professor at Bentley University’s Graduate Financial Planning Program. Glenn has been both a practitioner and an educator for over 25 years. He was listed by Worth Magazine for 10 years in a row as 1 of the top financial advisors in the US – Professor Frank has been quoted many times in The Wall St. Journal, Readers Digest, Investment News, The Boston Globe, and other media sources.

The PAC Investor Education Initiative is made possible thanks to a grant from the Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education, and support from the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The video can be found on the PAC website.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

“What’s That Sound?”

The New England Pension Assistance Project recently helped a 68-year-old African-American man living in Bridgeport, Connecticut to get benefits long overdue to him. Before getting this pension, our client’s only income was his monthly Social Security check. He had worked in the Remington Arms factory in Bridgeport for about 15 years up through the early 1980s. He was referred to us last year in late summer by Connecticut Legal Services because he did not know how to find the pension he had earned from this job.

Remington is now headquartered in North Carolina, and our research showed that it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Dupont Corporation. We contacted the corporate headquarters of both Remington and Dupont shortly after opening the case. Dupont then asked our client to complete a detailed questionnaire about his employment, and to provide Detailed Earnings information from the Social Security Administration. We spent the next seven months trying, through repeated calls and emails, to get a response and to get our client the benefits he was entitled to. We kept getting the same response and to get our client the benefits he was entitled to. We kept getting the same response, that the client’s pension was “being researched”.

Finally, in June, we wrote to the Chief Executive Officer and the Senior Vice-President for Human Resources, pointing out that the plan was not complying with its obligations under ERISA to respond to benefit inquiries, and requesting that these executives address the matter urgently. Within two weeks, we received a reply telling us that our client was eligible for a pension, and that he would receive a benefits package within the month.

Our client is now receiving a monthly pension of $256. The expected lifetime value of this pension is nearly $57,000. If it is true that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”, sometimes we have to be just that squeaky wheel for our clients!

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

June 11, 2015
by pension

$13,500 in Retroactive Pension Benefits Recovered for Illinois Man

“Staff Attorney Emily Brown’s work on my behalf was the indispensable factor in reversing a prior denial of my pension appeal. Professional and courteous throughout, the Illinois Pension Assistance Project is providing an outstandingly good and needed service in defending individual pension rights. Thank you.”

A 69-year old man from Richton Park, Illinois, contacted the Pension Action Center when he was denied three years of retroactive pension payments.

He had worked for Blue Cross-Blue Shield from 1973 to 1995, was fully vested in his pension, and entitled to $435.18 monthly—commencing at age 65.   Although he turned 65 in January of 2011, he did not elect to start his pension payments until April, 2014, when he had turned 68.  Once the client began receiving these benefits, the plan informed him that, because he had only applied in 2014, the benefits would only be payable from the start date forward. In other words, they were not willing to pay him retroactively for the three years of benefits he should have been receiving between age 65 and 68.

By the time he contacted us, the client had already filed a claim with the pension plan pro se, arguing that he was entitled to three years of retroactive benefits. The plan had denied his claim and he had already filed a pro se appeal. After reviewing his case, Staff Attorney Emily Brown quickly filed a supplemental appeal on his behalf, laying out all the legal arguments which had been missing from the client’s original appeal.

Attorney Brown successfully argued that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prohibited the forfeiture of the client’s retroactive benefits, since this federal law states that vested pension benefits are “non-forfeitable.” As a result, the client received a lump sum payment of $13,500, money he had earned but may not have recovered without the help of the Illinois Pension Assistance Project at the Pension Action Center.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

November 12, 2014
by Pension Action Center

Low-income Rhode Island widow finally gets her survivor’s benefit thanks to years of help from center staff and volunteers

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.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

June 10, 2014
by Pension Action Center

Union Pension Fund Demands That Retiree Pay $2,000 (Plus Nearly $8,000 Interest!) For a Supposed Overpayment

In a previous article, “Unfair Pension Takebacks,” we discussed what happens when pension plans mistakenly pay retirees the wrong benefit amounts for months or years before discovering their mistake. Many clients contact us when, out of the blue, they receive a letter from the pension fund telling them that their monthly benefits will be cut so that the plan can recover the overpaid amount, and sometimes also demanding that the retiree pay back a large lump sum as well. Many retirees from Illinois received letters like this from their union pension fund, Sheet Metal Workers Local 73, this past summer, and contacted the Illinois Pension Assistance Project for help. We worked on many of these cases throughout the summer and fall of 2013.

Just a few months ago, a 75-year old retired mechanic who was in Local 73 called us because he had recently received a similar letter. His letter stated that, approximately 20 years ago, he had received four checks of about $540 each that he should not have received. The pension fund now wanted him to pay back this $2,000 and also wanted him to pay an additional $7,800 in interest for the 20 years since he had allegedly received this money. The letter further explained that the pension fund would therefore be lowering his pension by over $125 each month to recover this amount – which totaled $10,000 when the interest was added to the “overpayment.”

Fortunately for us and for the client, he had kept meticulous records over the years. Because of this, we were able to show that the pension fund had made yet another mistake: He had never actually received any pension funds from the plan in 1993 and 1994!! The fund had sent him checks that he was able to prove he had returned uncashed. We filed an appeal on our client’s behalf and proved that he had never been overpaid. Once the fund reviewed our appeal and evidence, it agreed that our client did not owe any money, restored his monthly pension to the correct amount, and sent him a check refunding the amount it had already withheld.

This client was lucky that the documents he had kept over the years allowed us to dispute the fund’s obvious error. And he was lucky that the Illinois Pension Assistance Project was able to file an effective appeal on his behalf free of charge.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

March 10, 2014
by Pension Action Center

Massachusetts Man Denied His Retirement Benefits Due to Frequent Changes in His Employer’s Name and ID Number

Our client, a 70-year-old man from Central Massachusetts, told us that he had worked as a tool and die setter for a manufacturing company called North & Judd in New Britain, Connecticut, from about 1969 to 1980 or 1981, but had never received his pension and did not know who to contact about it. We opened a case and began to investigate in May of 2011. We very quickly determined that the North & Judd plan had been terminated and was trusteed by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC). We helped the client to file a claim with the PBGC, which asked him to provide Social Security Detailed Earnings in support of his claim, since it had no information regarding client’s benefit status.

In May of 2012, the PBGC denied the client’s benefit claim because the Social Security Earnings listed his earnings under four different employers with four different Employer Identification Numbers (EINs), and all these were different from the number of the trusteed plan. The employer’s name was variously listed as North & Judd Manufacturing, North & Judd, Inc., Gulf & Western Manufacturing, and Gulf and Western Precision Engineering. The PBGC therefore concluded that he was not vested in the North & Judd Inc. UAW Pension Plan, which it trusteed.

Refusing to let this retiree be denied the benefits he had clearly earned, we appealed the PBGC’s decision to its Appeals Board, after obtaining PBGC premium payment history records through two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, compiling corporate records from the State of Connecticut, and other corporate information sources.  We argued that detailed analysis of the premium payment history tied Mr. Moore’s earnings information to the records of the trusteed plan’s payments, and that evidence in the PBGC’s records showed the merger from one EIN to another, and the change to the third number. This appeal was filed in July of 2012.

In July of 2013, we received a favorable decision from the Appeals Board. It concluded that North & Judd had been a subsidiary of Gulf & Western and that the employer had sometimes filed reports such as SSA earnings, PBGC premiums, or Form 5500s under the parent corporation or the subsidiary, but that all of our client’s years of employment should have been counted under the trusteed plan.

The client was found eligible for a monthly benefit of $134.21 retroactive to 2006, when he had reached Normal Retirement Age. The present value of this pension is over $29,000! This is money that can help pay for basic living expenses, like groceries and heating bills. It is unlikely that the client would have received his retirement benefits without the help of project staff.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

December 3, 2013
by Pension Action Center

Unfair Pension Takebacks

One day, out of the blue, you receive a letter from the pension fund telling you that you’ve been receiving the wrong amount all these years.  The plan tells you that you have been overpaid by thousands of dollars through no fault of your own, but due to errors the plan made when it calculated your pension amount.  The letter goes on to tell you that your pension is being lowered not once, but twice – first, to the correctly-calculated amount, and then by some additional percentage -25% or even more, so that the plan can recover the amounts it overpaid.  In addition to that, the letter asks you to pay a large lump sum within a month,  because, according to the plan’s actuaries, the plan does not expect to recover all the money it overpaid  you before you die! 

This nightmare scenario is, unfortunately, becoming more and more common, and has prompted numerous calls to us in the past few months.  One large pension fund in Illinois, for example, recently sent out letters like this to over 500 retirees, asking for repayments in the tens of thousands from individual retirees who the plan claims were paid the wrong benefits for decades.  The Illinois Pension Assistance Project is currently helping a number of these people.  We are asserting that the plan’s recovery efforts are inequitable due to the fact that none of these retirees were at fault , that the overpayments were completely the result of the plan’s errors and failure to corrects its own errors for so many years, and that the plan’s recovery efforts would create severe financial hardship for these retirees. 

Plans justify these recoupment actions by claiming that the plan has a fiduciary duty to collect overpayments on behalf of all other participants in the plan.  Unfortunately, given the state of the law right now, many pension plans feel they can write their own rules when it comes to overpayments.  Some plans just lower the benefit amounts with little or no warning to retirees and with no formal process for challenging the plan’s actions.  Although a Department of Labor Advisory Opinion  specifically authorizes a plan administrator to consider financial hardship to the retiree in these situations, this guidance does not seem to be widely known, and does not set any specific, objective limitations on a plan’s ability to recoup. The only standard it sets is highly subjective , and does not define the type or level of hardship a retiree should show to get relief.  There is a body of case law that supports our position that a plan must look at all of the equitable factors before undertaking any recoupment, but this is also subject to interpretation.

In the lack of more clear and definite guidance in this area, plans take widely varying approaches.  We have succeeded in getting some plans to waive some or all of the overpaid amounts, but we have also had plans fail to even acknowledge that these issues are subject to formal claims and appeals procedures.  Plans and participants would all benefit from having more definitive guidance in this area.  Some of the proposals over the years have included time limitations on a plan’s ability to recover overpaid amounts, a requirement that financial hardship to the retiree be considered, along with some definition of financial hardship, a limitation on the monthly amount which can be recouped, and clarification of the procedures by which a retiree can challenge a plan’s recoupment action.

Overpaid benefits present a difficult situation for both plans and participants.  Plans need to balance their duties to an individual participant with their duty to all participants, while retirees should not be subjected to unexpected and excessive financial burdens created by a plan’s mistake.  While we will continue to strive to help our individual clients with these cases, we see the need for more definitive guidance setting  appropriate limits on a plan’s ability to recoup these overpaid amounts.

For more information on services provided by the Pension Action Center, visit or call 888.425.6067.

November 26, 2013
by Pension Action Center

Illinois Pension Assistance Project Helps to Find Lost Pensions for Clients

The Illinois Pension Assistance Project (IPAP) has recovered nearly half a million dollars in pension benefits for clients since its inception in July of 2012. One of the project’s areas of expertise is finding lost pensions. Workers and retirees can lose track of their pension benefits since, over time, companies may have gone bankrupt or changed ownership through mergers and acquisitions. Therefore, it is not uncommon for these companies’ retirement benefits to become lost.

For example, a 52-year old Illinois resident recently contacted IPAP asking for help locating his pension. The company he worked for from 1984 – 1999 had gone out of business and he did not know who to contact regarding his retirement benefits. The only documentation that the client had was a statement that he had received in 1995 stating that his pension plan had been frozen, as of December 31, 1994, and that he was entitled to a monthly pension at age 65.

The case was assigned to Teresa Ryan, one of the pension counselors on staff. She began to research his former employer, Sullivan Graphics. She found out that the company had changed its name to American Color Graphics in 1997 and, as of 2008, had been a subsidiary of Vertis Holdings. Vertis filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Due to the bankruptcy, The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation had trusteed the plan. Teresa was able to obtain the summary plan description and other information about the client’s benefits.

Teresa informed the client how he could obtain his benefit. It is estimated that he will be eligible for a retirement benefit of $512.98 per month at age 65. It would have been very difficult for the client to navigate his way through the investigative process that led to this positive outcome. Our client can now look forward to a more financially secure retirement.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

August 26, 2013
by Pension Action Center

Corporate Mergers Make Claiming Pension Difficult for Massachusetts Woman

The New England Pension Assistance Project recently assisted  a 60-year-old woman from Waltham, Massachusetts, who was having difficulty claiming her pension benefits due to a series of corporate mergers and acquisitions. She had worked for the GTE Corporation at two separate periods of time. During those years, there were a number of corporate changes. She was aware that the company had merged with Bell Atlantic.

Her Detailed Earnings Report showed her employer as “Genuity” for a certain period and the entity responsible for the pension was now, she thought, Verizon. She also had a break in service of 11 years between the two periods when she was in these jobs, but believed that there had been some agreement that all of this service would be “bridged”.

After a lengthy investigation and communications with Verizon and Genuity, Verizon initially denied that all of the client’s work should be recognized for pension vesting and credit. We appealed this decision and ultimately prevailed. Verizon agreed that the client is entitled to a pension of $432 per month when she reaches age 65. The present value of this benefit is over $54,000 and the anticipated lifetime benefit is over $100,000.

It is very unlikely that our client would have been able to get this pension without our assistance, as all the corporate changes and insufficient communication among the corporate successors made it very difficult to piece this all together.

If you would like to request assistance from the Illinois Pension Assistance Project or the New England Pension Assistance Project, please contact us directly by calling 888-425-6067.

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