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October 23, 2013

Pension Rights Center welcomes new board members
The Pension Rights Center is delighted to welcome Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Debra Whitman, both long-time champions of retirement security, as the newest members of our Board of Directors. Kathleen, an attorney and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, is currently a research professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Debra’s career as an economist has taken her from Capitol Hill, where she was staff director for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, to AARP, where she is currently Executive Vice President of Policy, Strategy and International Affairs. The Pension Rights Center extends a warm welcome to Kathleen and Debra.
More: PRC Board of Directors
CBS Chicago investigates devastating impact of “recoupment” on elderly retirees

In 2005, Sheet Metal Workers Local 73 Pension Fund in Chicago discovered that it had overpaid 589 retirees – some of them for decades. In 2013, with the approval of the Internal Revenue Service, the Fund demanded that the retirees pay the money back plus interest. In addition to having their pensions reduced, most of the retirees are being asked to also make very large one-time payments. Chicago’s CBS2 interviewed some of the people facing these recoupment demands and PRC Executive Vice President and Policy Director Karen Friedman, who pointed out that some retirees have been asked to pay back upwards of $150,000 and commented that the Sheet Metal Workers situation is “the worst example of this problem we’ve seen.”

The Pension Counseling and Information Program provides free legal assistance to people facing recoupment and other problems with their retirement plans, and the Illinois Pension Assistance Project is helping a number of the sheet metal worker retirees.

More: CBS2: Pension Fund Demands Overpayments Back, With Interest | PRC fact sheet: What is Recoupment? | List of pension counseling projects

Associated Press article highlights church pension plan “conversions”

An in-depth Associated Press article sheds light on the practice of converting pension plans, covered by the federal pension law for decades, to church plans. Such conversions wipe out all federal protections for participants in the plan, including federal insurance of their benefits. The Pension Rights Center has taken the lead in documenting that this practice is based on a misreading of the law by government agencies. The article discusses several church plan conversions, including the recent announcement by Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick, NJ, that it has received IRS approval to treat its pension plan as a church plan, despite the fact that, for more than 30 years, the plan had complied with all aspects of federal pension law.

More: Associated Press: Law shields churches, leaves pensions unprotected | Pension Rights Center Statement on Saint Peter's Healthcare System "Church Plan" Ruling from the IRS | PRC fact sheets on church plans 

Proposal could hurt retirees in multiemployer plans
A powerful coalition of employers, unions, and plan trustees have joined in support of a proposal that would allow trustees of financially troubled multiemployer pension plans to take the unprecedented step of cutting the benefits of pensioners in ongoing plans. The proposal is included in a report called “Solutions Not Bailouts” that contends that significant reductions in the pensions of people now receiving benefits from “deeply-troubled plans” in industries such as trucking, construction and food service – as much as two-thirds in some instances – is the only way to preserve the plans for the future.
The Pension Rights Center is working with organizations representing retirees and employees to develop alternative approaches that will both strengthen multiemployer plans and preserve retirees’ pensions. A hearing on this issue is scheduled for October 29.

More: PRC statement submitted to congressional subcommittee: Strengthening the Multiemployer Pension System: What Reforms Should Policymakers Consider? | In These Times: The War on Pensions Goes Federal | Labor Notes: Stealth Bill Would Allow Cuts to Current Pensions | Reuters: Do no harm: Protecting retirees in shaky pension plans

Proceeds from Funniest Celebrity Contest benefit Pension Rights Center

Washington newsmakers, journalists, and celebrities gathered for a night of stand-up comedy to benefit two good causes – the Pension Rights Center and the Foundation for the Education and the Rebirth of Haiti – at the 19th Annual Funniest Celebrity Contest. The evening featured noted policymakers like Grover Norquist and Ralph Nader competing against NPR’s Jamie McIntyre, National Journal’s Elahe Izadi, the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page, and others. If you weren’t able to attend the contest but would still like to support the Pension Rights Center, you can do so here: www.pensionrights.org/support.

More: Video of Karen Friedman’s remarks | Video of Ralph Nader’s routine | Event photos

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  Pension Rights Center
1350 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 206 | Washington, DC 20036 | (202) 296-3776