From Zero to Two Pensions - With Help From the New England Pension Assistance Project
David Howell of Connecticut had worked in many different jobs for Stop & Shop from 1964 until 1991. He started work as a parking lot attendant and ended as a manager, so he was surprised to hear from Stop & Shop that, with all those years of work, he was not eligible for a pension. Unable to pursue his claim without experienced help, he called the New England Pension Assistance Project in early 2011. He had heard about the Project in a 2005 article in the New Haven register, and had saved the article in case he ever needed help with his pension.
The case was assigned to Pension Counselor Mollie Feeney, who quickly realized that Mr. Howell might have more than one pension, since some of his years with Stop & Shop were in union work, and other years were in management. Among Mr. Howell’s documents, she found a 1985 letter from the Retail Employees Union stating that he may be eligible for a pension when he reached retirement age. Over the years, union pension plans, like corporation plans, can move and merge. Working through the national United Food and Commercial Workers Union, she was able to trace Mr. Howell’s union pension to the Retail Employers Union United Food Pension Plan in Farmington, Connecticut. As a result, Mr. Howell is now receiving a monthly pension.
In the meantime, Mollie was investigating the possibility that Mr. Howell was eligible for a separate pension as a result of his management work. The company’s response was that Mr. Howell was not eligible for this pension, since he had worked in management for less than 3 years, while 5 years were required for vesting. What the plan had not taken into account, but NEPAP knew, was that a provision in the federal law that governs pensions could change this result. Even though Mr. Howell only had two years of “service credit” under the company-sponsored plan, the plan was required to count all of his Stop & Shop employment for purposes of vesting. We filed a claim with the plan administrator, pointing out this provision of the law and providing proof of the union employment. As a result, the plan agreed that Mr. Howell was vested in the pension plan, and paid him a lump sum pension.
The New England Pension Assistance Project’s advocacy on Mr. Howell’s behalf resulted in his receiving a lifetime monthly benefit from his union pension and a lump sum payout for his two years of work as a Stop & Shop manager. As Mr. Howell wrote upon learning the news, “Thank you for your great service.”
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A joint-and-survivor annuity is an annuity that pays a monthly benefit over the lives of the participant and his or her surviving spouse. This is the default form of benefit for married participants in most defined benefit pension plans. Because it lasts for the life of both the worker and the spouse, a joint-and-survivor annuity typically results in a lower monthly benefit payment than a single-life annuity.