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Retirees who opted out of settlement stiffed in September

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – 66 Providence retirees and pensioners’ widows who sued the city over the 2013 pension settlement did not receive their monthly checks last month, which was supposed to be the first time several of them got a bump in pay they won after a June court decision.

Retired police officer John Simoneau said the missed payment left many involved in difficult financial dilemmas.

“This is outrageous,” Simoneau said. “I get they don’t want to give me the increase, but can we at least have the regular check? We have bills to pay.”

Providence spokesperson Patricia Socarras said the city was prepared to make the payments until the retirees’ attorneys filed a lien for their compensation “which prohibited the city from making any payments to the 66 retirees.”

Socarras said the attorneys filed a modified lien on Thursday that allows for the regular pension payments to be issued “but prohibits the payment of any retroactive pay.”

“Immediately upon receipt of the modified attorney’s lien the city started the process of issuing new checks,” Socarras said.

Socarras said the payments will be issued by the end of next week for direct deposit retirees, but she added it may take longer for mailed checks.

A September 18 letter sent to the city from attorneys Thomas McAndrew and Kevin Bowen stated it was a “notification to establish a lien against any money payable” to the retirees or surviving benefactors.

Neither McAndrew nor Bowen have yet to respond to a request for comment.

The retirees sued the city in November 2013 instead of accepting the agreement that changed how city pensions were calculated, freezing cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) at 3 percent for 10 years, eliminated 5 and 6 percent COLAs and moved retirees over 65 to Medicare.

The settlement was aimed at quelling what was called a category 5 “fiscal hurricane” by then-Mayor Angel Taveras, who estimated the settlement would reduce the unfunded pension liability by $170 million.

The lawsuit was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter in a February 2017 decision that was then overturned in June by the R.I. Supreme Court.

The pensioners’ attorneys met with the city after the high court decision and carved out a partial judgment that gave 38 retirees back-COLA payments that were supposed to kick in starting with the September check.

Simoneau said it will be difficult for retirees and widows to wait for their checks.

“I think this is retribution for us taking this to court while thousands of others settled,” Simoneau said. “If Elorza’s check was stopped for whatever reason, it would be fixed right away. You can bet on that.”

Providence Police and Firefighter’s Retirement Association president Tom Johnson said he could not comment on the opt-out case, but added that the check issue is troubling.

“The holding of a disabled firefighter or police officer with years of honorable service and widows’ retirement monies is reprehensible,” Johnson said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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