Editorial: Keep up pressure for St. Clare’s solution

More than 1,100 retirees facing pension crisis not of their making
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

It’s easy to be disappointed and discouraged that state lawmakers, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, state investigatory bodies and others with a role in the potential rescue of the St. Clare’s Hospital pension fund haven’t been able to help more than 1,100 former workers who have been deprived of all or part of their pensions.

But rather than throw up their hands and allow the pensioners’ plight to continue unresolved, all sides need to redouble their efforts to find a solution.

Area state lawmakers, despite their best efforts, probably won’t be able to secure money for a partial bailout before this year’s state budget is due to be completed on Monday. 

That’s in part because it’s been difficult for them to convince fellow lawmakers that the state should commit more taxpayer money to another bailout.

To persuade their colleagues, our legislators are relying on some kind of matching financial contribution through the diocese to help offset the taxpayer share.

But so far, the church has been like the guy at the restaurant who gets up and goes to the bathroom when he sees the check coming. 

Other than offering thoughts and prayers and showing up for a couple of meetings, the church has been noncommittal about doing anything tangible to resolve a situation to which it has a moral obligation, and very possibly a legal responsibility, to uphold.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger needs to stop his bob-and-weave approach to this matter and either commit to the church to matching state funding, or ramp up his efforts to secure money from a private church-affiliated source like the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

The foundation was set up last year with $3.2 billion in assets from the sale of Fidelis Care to Centene Corporation, with the goal of helping improve the health and well-being of the poor and underserved. The foundation announced last year it planned to distribute about $150 million to worthy causes annually. Certainly, the health and welfare of 1,100 former workers of a church-affiliated hospital meets that standard.

State lawmakers also couldn’t convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli or state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the reasons behind the pension fund’s failure — an investigation that might shed some light on what led to the pension fund’s insolvency, where the money went and who’s financially responsible for compensating pensioners.

Lawmakers need to keep up the pressure. Cuomo, D’Napoli and James are all elected officials who can and should be accountable for their hands-off approach to the pensioners’ woes. 

Since the state played a role in forcing the closure of St. Clare’s in 2008, the state has an obligation to investigate the fallout.

And earlier this month, the St. Clare’s Corp., which manages the pension fund, announced it has asked for permission to dissolve, given that there’s no more fund to manage.

When corporation officials go before a state judge on April 10 to make their case for dissolution, the court should reject their request and require the corporation remain a viable body. Its continued existence could be valuable if and when lawmakers, the church and others find money to support the pensions. Allowing the corporation to dissolve might make the restoration process more difficult and time-consuming when money is found. 

As long as there’s hope for a solution, the corporation needs to stay put.

While the clock likely has run out on including specific language for a bailout in this year’s state budget, there’s always an undedicated pot of money in the state budget available throughout the year for unanticipated expenditures like this.

And with more nudging from lawmakers, pensioners, members of the public and the media, there’s still a chance for the church to make good on its obligation to help the workers, either with a direct payment or by using its tremendous clout to secure a donation.

The key takeaway here is that no one should stop working to find a solution, despite the roadblocks placed in the way thus far.

More than 1,100 retirees who dedicated their careers to helping others are experiencing or anticipating financial hardship because of a pension crisis not of their own making.

For any of the involved parties to stop now without finding relief for these dedicated employees would be a crime.

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