Foss: Use federal funds to help retirees

St. Clare's pensioner Mary Hartshorne speaks at the offices of Sen. James Tedisco on Dec. 19, 2019. Also pictured are Tedisco, and St. Clare's pensioners attorney David Pankowski.

St. Clare's pensioner Mary Hartshorne speaks at the offices of Sen. James Tedisco on Dec. 19, 2019. Also pictured are Tedisco, and St. Clare's pensioners attorney David Pankowski.

It’s been a tough couple years for retirees of St. Clare’s Hospital. 

First they learned that their pensions would be eliminated or dramatically reduced, robbing them of their retirement security. 

Then they watched as the state, church and hospital officials who signed off on St. Clare’s closure in 2008 denied any responsibility for their predicament, and the push for a bailout stalled. 

It was all very disheartening. 

And then the pandemic hit. 

“It’s definitely harder,” Mary Hartshorne, the 70-year-old retiree who chairs the St. Clare’s Pension Recovery Alliance, told me. “I’m hearing from pensioners who are sick with cancer and might not live long enough to see help come to fruition. I’m hearing from some who might lose their homes.” 

The pandemic “just added salt to our wounds.” 

The massive federal stimulus package passed earlier this month would seem to offer a reason for hope: It contains $86 billion to rescue failing pensions. 

That’s a huge pot of money, but it only applies to union pension plans, which leaves the St. Clare’s retirees in the same place they’ve been since late 2018. 

Out in the cold. 

It’s an unfortunate omission, and one that New York’s political leadership – a group that includes Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – ought to rectify ASAP. 

The St. Clare’s pensioners aren’t any less deserving of pensions than the unionized workers who stand to benefit from the federal stimulus package. 

So why not figure out a way to get them the help they need? 

It should be noted that the stimulus package, at $1.9 trillion, is extremely generous, doling out money to households, states, local governments and schools, extending a $300-per-week boost to unemployment benefits and helping restaurants, live entertainment venues and other businesses. 

The enormity of the bill makes the lack of aid for the St. Clare’s pensioners all the more galling. 

Here’s a relief package with something for almost everyone – surely our elected officials can put their heads together and come up with the funding necessary to restore the pensions of Hartshorne and her fellow retirees. 

The shortfall, an estimated $50 million, might sound like a lot of money. 

But it’s a tiny amount when you consider the sheer size of the stimulus package, and just how much federal aid is already going out the door. 

“President Biden is saying he wants to help all Americans with a rescue plan,” Hartshorne said. “We’re Americans and we need to be rescued. … I have 1,100 members who need to be put back on their feet.” 

Most of the pensioners are seniors over the age of 50, and they’ve found it difficult to find new jobs in a pandemic-ravaged economy. Many have struggled with depression. 

Hartshorne, who worked at the Schenectady hospital as a sonographer, had planned on retiring to a “sweet little” house on Mariaville Lake. 

The unexpected cut to her pension forced her to change course. 

She sold the lake house, which “hit me really hard. That was my place to retire. I loved it there. But there was no way I would be able to afford it.”   

The St. Clare’s pensioners have always deserved better, and the gigantic federal stimulus package, and the broader federal effort to help Americans in need, is an opportunity to rectify a shameful situation. 

Here’s hoping our elected officials can right this terrible injustice.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Sara Foss

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