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An unusual victory for the Mid-Atlantic Pension Counseling Project

When Carol Cascio’s husband suddenly died of a heart attack at age 52, her husband's pension plan told her that she would receive a survivor’s benefit in three years, when her husband would have been eligible for early retirement had he lived. The benefit would be based on the pension her husband had earned during his 33 years of work at a local supermarket. But just days before Carol expected to receive her first monthly payment, she was told that she wasn’t eligible for the benefit after all because her husband’s multiemployer plan had been “terminated by mass withdrawal” before her husband’s death. Deeply disappointed and unsure of what this meant, Carol turned to the Mid-Atlantic Pension Counseling Project.

The staff of the counseling project, including Gary Stone, Darnell Usher and a volunteer, sprang to action to advocate for Carol. They contacted the pension plan on Carol's behalf and were told that Carol's husband had died at the “wrong time.” He died while still working and after all of the supermarkets that had been contributing to the plan had stopped participating. If he had died after retiring or before the plan terminated, Carol would have been entitled to a survivor’s benefit. But because the plan no longer had enough money to pay all promised benefits, it was free to deny Carol her benefit. Carol was a victim of a gap in the law.

Because of Carol's plight and that of other similarly-situated widows, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to close this gap. But the legislative process takes a long time. In the meantime, Carol was having difficulty making ends meet. Then something unexpected happened.

In the course of researching an article about underfunded multiemployer plans, a New York Times reporter spoke with Gary who told her about Carol Cascio's situation. The reporter wrote about Carol in a front-page article.

The day after the article appeared, a reader stepped forward, offering to pay Carol’s survivor’s benefit out of his own pocket. He told Gary that he would like to provide Carol with a monthly benefit for the rest of her life or until a legislative fix is signed into law. Carol has now received her first check of $500 a month. While she is very grateful to her benefactor, Carol realizes that not everyone will be lucky enough to have a stranger come to their rescue. She is determined to close the loophole, so that no other widow or widower in her situation will be denied their rightful benefit.

Read about Carol Cascio’s story in the New York Times article, Thought Secure, Pooled Pensions Teeter and Fall.

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