St. Clare's pensioners push for law preventing corp. dissolution

June 17, 2019 07:37 PM

ALBANY - Former employees of St. Clare's Hospital were at the Capitol on Monday to support a bill that would help them find out what happened to their pension funds. If passed, it would prevent the dissolution of St. Clare's Corporation.

Nearly 100 retirees gathered on the Million Dollar Staircase to ask the Governor's Office, the New York State Comptroller and New York State Attorney General's Office to investigate the corporation before it's allowed to dissolve.

Earlier this year, the corporation filed for dissolution, stating they had no more money to distribute to the some 1,100 pensioners who once worked for the hospital.

St. Clare's Corporation officials have said decades of financial issues and the recession led to the plan's collapse.

The pension plan was classified as a "church plan" and as such did not have to comply with ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which helps insure pension money.

Years ago, the state stepped in before St. Clare's was sold to Ellis, giving over $28 million to help get the fund back on track.

Earlier this year, local lawmakers pushed for another $25 million to be set aside in the state budget, about half of what would be needed to make the pensions whole again, but it didn't pass.

Lawmakers said this new bill doesn't require any funding.

"If that corporation was allowed to close, we would have virtually no chance to restore those funds or ever find out what happened," co-sponsor Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara said. "At the very least, these pensioners deserve answers."

Tedisco and Santabarbara were joined by Senators George Amedore and Daphne Jordan, as well as Assemblymembers Phil Steck and Mary Beth Walsh.

Legislators said this session has focused heavily on downstate issues. They believe it's been ignored by many of their colleagues because it's an upstate issue.

"If 1,100 of their constituents from the majority leader in the Senate and the speaker of the Assembly and my colleagues in both majorities were going to lose their pension system, this bill for transparency to find out why it was happening would've been passed a month ago," Tedisco said.

Santabarbara said he's frustrated with the lack of response from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"I've written numerous letters, I carry the letters with me here, numerous letters to the governor's office, not even an acknowledgment that the letters were received, no answer, no response," Santabarbara said. "Everyone in this building, if they're not concerned with this, they should be concerned with this because it could happen anywhere."

St. Clare's Committee Co-Chairs Mary Hartshorne and Bob Bradley said many retirees are struggling without their pension checks. Many of them stopped receiving any money back in February.

"They are hurting," Bradley said. "I've been contacted by quite a few who are financially suffering. There have been a few people who are considering selling their homes or making other sacrifices making other life choices that they shouldn't be having to make at this point."

Hartshorne said they haven't heard from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger about a possible source of funding since their last meeting three weeks ago.

"The word that he had given us was that he was actively working with a couple of different funds," she said. "He did not specifically say [Mother] Cabrini, although I'm sure that's one of them."

Lawmakers will have until Wednesday to get the bill out of committee for a vote, something Tedisco and Santabarbara believe is possible.

If you'd like to help St. Clare's pensioners, you can visit their website and sign their petition. They have also started a GoFundMe page.

Stay with NewsChannel 13 for updates on this developing story.


Emily Burkhard

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