Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara’s Office met with staff from the Congressional Committee on Education and Workforce this week to discuss potential federal solutions regarding the ongoing St. Clare’s pension crisis that left more than 1,100 former employees of St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady with their pension payments abruptly cut off in 2018, a decade after the hospital had shuttered its doors. The fund did not have benefit guarantee insurance, allowable under federal law by a religious exemption.
During the meeting, Assemblyman Santabarbara’s Office learned that there is an ongoing investigation by the Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. on the status of church-affiliated pension plans nationwide due to national media coverage of the St. Clare’s pension plan crisis here in Schenectady. Committee staff stated that there had traditionally been limited oversight over these types of pension plans since they were exempt from the rigorous oversight and reporting requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. An 8-0 Supreme Court Decision in Advocates Healthcare Network vs. Stapleton allowed for church-affiliated entities to not be required to have their pensions insured through ERISA. In her concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that, while she agreed with the interpretation of the statutory text, the outcome was troubling because it resulted in employees of large healthcare organizations that in nearly all respects function as secular organizations being denied ERISA’s protections. Since so many “church-affiliated” organizations bear little resemblance to the organizations that Congress was originally considering when it enacted the statutory language, Congress might choose to take a different path. (https://www.oyez.org/cases/2016/16-74)
“At the state level, there are limitations on what New York can do protect these pension plans going forward because federal law pre-empts most potential state regulations regarding pensions,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.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.” Santabarbara added, “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.”