By Emily Gilbert
Last week, we held our annual National Training Conference for the U.S. Administration on Aging Pension Counseling and Information Program. There are six regional pension counseling projects across the country that provide free legal help to people in 30 states who have retirement plan problems or questions. Every year, attorneys from the projects come to Washington D.C. to discuss pension and retirement savings plan issues, hear legislative and case law updates, and to learn from experts, each other, and Pension Rights Center staff, fellows and consultants. The two-and-a-half-day conference opened with remarks by Mary Lazare, Principal Deputy Administrator at the Administration for Community Living. Officials from the Labor Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and specialists in public plans, domestic violence, and conflict resolution also addressed the group.
The attorneys at the pension counseling projects help people understand their retirement rights and claim the benefits they have earned. Pension laws are complex and can be difficult to navigate, and the projects are one of very few resources available to provide people with pension help for free.
For instance, last year, two sisters contacted the counseling project that serves residents of Illinois. Betty and Diane Taylor were both looking for the pensions they knew they had earned filing orders at Spiegel catalog company in the 1980s and 90s. Diane had been trying to find her pension for years. Sophie Esquier, Staff Attorney for the Illinois Pension Assistance Project, helped both sisters track down their pension plan which had gone through a series of mergers, bankruptcies, and company name changes. Then, once Sophie located the plan, she was able to find the documentary evidence they needed to prove that they were entitled to collect their pensions. Betty and Diane each received thousands of dollars in retroactive payments and have since begun receiving the lifetime monthly benefits they earned. A blog post published by the Center for Retirement Research highlights this recent project victory.
This story is just one example of the thousands of people the projects have helped and the millions of dollars in retirement benefits they have recovered for people across the country. You can read more stories about some of the people the counseling projects have helped, here.
If you are looking for help with a retirement plan, you can see if a project covers the state where you lived or worked, here.