The Administration on Aging (AoA) has been involved in pension issues since the 1992 amendments to the Older Americans Act. Recognizing that adequate pensions are a key factor in helping older persons maintain financial security and independence, Congress called for the AoA to establish a demonstration program to assist older Americans in accessing information about their retirement benefits and claiming employer-sponsored benefits, where appropriate. The AoA pension information and counseling projects provide free pension and retirement savings plan counseling and assistance, to older individuals.
The Administration on Aging originally funded seven demonstration projects and one technical assistance grantee - the Pension Rights Center - through Title IV of the Older Americans Act. The success of the original Pension Counseling and Information Program demonstrations led Congress to establish pension counseling as a permanent program under Title II of the Older Americans Act in 2000.
In FY 2001 and FY 2002, the AoA began funding regional, or multi-state pension counseling projects. The AoA currently funds six regional counseling projects, each of which is required to provide the following core services for individuals who need help in understanding and enforcing their pension and retirement savings plan rights:
- Counseling and assistance: responding to general inquiries, obtaining and reviewing retirement plan and related benefit information, drafting benefit applications, claims and appeals, and verifying benefit calculations;
- Helping participants and their survivors locate lost plans sponsored by companies that relocated, changed names, merged with other entities, went out of business or had their pension trusteed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation;
- Referring clients to attorneys, actuaries, appropriate federal, state, county and local government agencies, as well as to legal services and other advocacy programs as appropriate;
- Providing program information and outreach across the projects’ service regions, targeting women, minorities, rural and low-income workers, retirees and their families;
- Tracking and reporting project outcome, best practice and other operational data and information in support of national initiatives aimed at developing a comprehensive nationwide pension information and referral system.
Since its inception in 1993, the Pension Counseling and Information Program has successfully obtained nearly $60 million in retirement benefits for the thousands of clients served by this important program. This represents a return of more than $5 in client benefits for every federal dollar invested in the program.
Projects have directly served nearly 30,000 individuals by providing hands-on assistance in pursuing their claims through their plans’ administrative claims appeals process; helping seniors to locate pension plans “lost” as a result of mergers, acquisitions and terminations; providing answers to queries about complex provisions of their plans; and making carefully targeted referrals to attorneys, actuaries, and other professionals willing to help them obtain their much-needed pensions.
Tens of thousands of other individuals have been indirectly served by the Pension Counseling and Information Program. Projects produce helpful fact sheets and other publications, host web sites, and provide important retirement income security information to older Americans and their families. The outreach and education extended through AoA's Pension Counseling Program have been highlighted in local and national articles, including the Wall Street Journal , New York Times , and USA Today .
Legal Training and Case Consultation
The Pension Rights Center, Washington, DC: (202) 296-3776
http://www.pensionrights.org/, serves as AoA's National Pension Assistance Resource Center. It provides legal consultation and training to pension counseling projects, State and Area Agencies on Aging, and legal services for the elderly providers. The Pension Rights Center is also developing an Internet-based dataset of pension information and assistance resources; and will use this data to launch a nationwide Internet initiative offering single point of entry access to pension assistance and referral.
Below is a listing of the six regional pension counseling and information projects:
- Great Lakes Pension Rights Project (MI & OH)
- Mid-Atlantic Pension Rights Project (NY & NJ)
- Midwest Pension Rights Project (MO, IL & KS)
- New England Pension Assistance Project (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI & VT)
- Pension Information, Counseling & Assistance Project of the Southwest (TX)
- Upper Midwest Pension Rights Project (MN & WI)
Contact information for each project may be found at: http://www.pensionrights.org/pages/help.html