If the state attorney general’s decision to begin looking into the St. Clare’s pension situation should teach the public anything, it’s that government officials can indeed be swayed into action by sustained public pressure and by reasoned, impassioned arguments from people in crisis with a legitimate case to make.
But this decision shouldn’t lull anyone into complacency.
Pensioners will need to keep up the pressure on everyone with a role in securing a solution until every last option for relief has been exhausted.
For the more than 1,100 former workers at the former St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady who have either lost their pensions or seen them substantially reduced, it has been an uphill battle to get any action from the state government, which authorized the pension deal a decade ago, or the Albany Diocese of the Catholic Church, which was closely connected to the hospital for years.
Aggrieved pensioners had managed to secure meetings where they made their case to the church and state legislators. And they did manage to secure some vague pledges from the bishop to look into possible solutions.
But until last week — when state Attorney General Letitia James’ office filed legal objections to the dissolution of pension-fund steward St. Clare’s Corp, — it appeared as if all they might get from efforts was lip service.
To their credit, local state lawmakers, particularly Sen. James Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, but also other local representatives, didn’t let the issue die. They made impassioned public appeals for the attorney general, comptroller and governor’s office to investigate the crisis.
Tedisco and Santabarbara co-sponsored legislation (A7503/S5596) to prohibit the corporation from dissolving without an investigation by the AG, state health commissioner or the comptroller.
That legislation — designed to keep the corporation in business so that funds can be distributed more efficiently should they become available — is tied up in committee.
But the overall effort to get an investigation bore fruit, as the AG’s office, which previously had refused to look into the situation, has changed its mind.
And pensioners have kept up the pressure, calling local and state officials, writing letters to the editor (We’ve published more than a dozen since the first of the year.) and arranging their own meetings with elected officials and representatives of the church, including Bishop Edward Scharfenberger himself.
It’s made a difference. People in a position to help the pensioners are finally starting to move from listening to acting.
But it’s not the end. A legal solution supported by money from the state and/or the church will still be needed if pensioners are to see actual financial relief.
The attorney general’s involvement is a great step forward.
But much more of the effort that got us to this point will be needed to get this horse across the finish line.