ALBANY — The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has launched an investigation into church-affiliated pension plans nationwide due to the spotlight on the plight of the St. Clare’s pensioners, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced on Wednesday.
Santabarbara’s staff met with staff from the Congressional Committee on Education and Workforce this week to discuss a possible federal solution to the 1,100 former St. Clare’s employees who had lost all or some of their pension benefits when their plan was terminated in 2019.
During the meeting, Santabarbara’s staff learned that the GAO has an ongoing investigation into church-affiliated pension plans due to national media coverage of the St. Clare’s matter.
“At the state level, there are limitations on what New York can do to protect these pension plans going forward because federal law preempts most potential state regulations regarding pensions,” Santabarbara said in a statement. “However, this week my office held a productive meeting with staff from the Congressional Committee on Education and Workforce to explore a federal solution and we will continue the dialogue with our federal partners to ensure accountability and justice are delivered for the St. Clare’s pensioners going forward.”
The retirees of the now-shuttered St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady would require an estimated $55 million to make up for their lost benefits.
In May 2022, state Attorney General Letitia James filed suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard, The Very Rev. David LeFort, vicar general; the St. Clare’s Corporation, successor entity to the hospital that merged in 2008 into what is now Ellis Medicine; and Joseph Pofit.
A separate lawsuit filed by the pensioners has been merged with the state lawsuit.
Then, last week, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, pausing the lawsuit filed by the pensioners.
“Committee staff assured my office that the St. Clare’s pension crisis is ‘on their radar’ and they will keep us informed of findings from the Government Accountability Office,” Santabarbara said.
State Senator Jim Tedisco, R,C-Glenville, said on Wednesday that the federal investigation into church-affiliated pension plans provides another avenue to find a solution for the St. Clare’s pensioners.
“The more eyes, the more information and the more government levels, the more exposure we get to what’s happening to these outstanding health care providers, the better,” Tedisco said. “I think we have to rejoice in the fact that people at the federal level are looking into an investigation.”
Tedisco, who met with staff from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office to discuss the St. Clare’s situation on March 7, said he hopes that critical mass could be reached to find resolution for the 1,100 pensioners.
“My expectations of the federal government is that they’d be totally nonpartisan and just let the facts fall where they may,” he said.
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