New England Pension Assistance Project Hits the $40 Million Mark
February 14, 2012
The New England Pension Assistance Project recently celebrated a significant milestone: helping 5,800 people recover $40 million in pension income since 1994.
“Most of the clients for whom we get benefits would never be able to get them without our assistance. It would be such a tragedy, because they earned them,” said New England Pension Assistance Project Managing Attorney Jeanne Medeiros.
Part of the Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center, located in UMass Boston’s Wheatley Hall, the project is funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging. It provides free assistance to current New England residents as well as people whose pension plans or former employers are based in New England.
“We are the only organization that provides free pension counseling like this in New England,” Medeiros said. “It’s a great project.”
The project serves about 300 clients a year, handling issues relating to retirement benefits, problems with 401(k) or other retirement savings plans, survivor benefits, and problems finding pensions that have become lost due to corporate changes and bankruptcies.
“A lot of clients worked for small manufacturing companies where the employers are long gone from this region and they have no way of knowing who is responsible,” Medeiros said. When a company is bought or sold, or when they experience financial problems, record keeping can go by the wayside and employee records can get lost, Medeiros said. In some cases, the pension plan will have inaccurate records about a person’s employment, so project staff file an appeal, find the correct documentation, and represent them in the appeal process. “People will have to prove they worked there,” she said.
Medeiros said that most interaction with clients is through phone, email, and mail, allowing them to serve people all over New England. Clients send in the documents that they have and the attorneys use them to make legal arguments on their behalf.
“A lot of these people who come to us have received a piece of correspondence and don’t know where to turn or don’t have the resources to hire an attorney. For some people, we really are the last resort,” Medeiros said.
While some of the payments clients receive are large lump sums, most are small monthly annuities of $100 to $200, Medeiros said. It may not seem like a lot, but the money can make a large difference for people living on a fixed income. “Pensions play an enormous role in economic security for older people. Social Security, in general, replaces about 40 percent of their pre-retirement income, so without pension that’s a drastic reduction,” she said.
Most clients are low to moderate income, Medeiros said, adding that monthly benefits are especially valuable when people are increasingly living into their 80s and 90s.
“Pensions enable individuals to remain financially secure in retirement, helping them stay out of poverty,” said Ellen Bruce, director of the Pension Action Center. “Unfortunately, complex pension laws and corporate red tape sometimes make it difficult for people actually to receive the pensions they have earned. The New England Pension Assistance Project is here to ensure that workers and retirees receive what they have earned.”
Even if they cannot help a client get a pension, project attorneys can explain why a claim was denied. “We can present them with closure and a fair explanation of what happened,” Medeiros said.
In order to make sure seniors know about the services, the center does outreach through newsletters, such as the Boston Seniority Newsletter, and through legal and aging services networks. “We try to think of where a person would go when they have this problem.”
For more information, visit www.pensionaction.org or call 617.287.7307 or 888.425.6067.