New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is asking an elderly widow to pay back nearly $27,000 in excess pension benefits that she and her late husband received over the last 20 years.
Shirley Findel, who turns 80 next month, says the MTA told her she can pay back the money over nine years through a monthly deduction of $240 from her benefits.
Her husband, Harry Findal, was an engineer for the Long Island railroad until he retired in 1995. When he died in September at age 83, the MTA checked its books and found a clerical error in his pension.
The Findels were receiving $124.80 too much each month for 214 months, which now totals $26,707.20.
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"I don't think I should have to pay for their mistake," Shirley told Newsday. "It took them 18 1/2 years to find out? We didn't know – I have the paper Harry signed, we gave them the paper and we figured everything was fine … I wake up thinking about this and I go to sleep thinking about this."
Shirley says the MTA originally wanted her to pay $380.09 a month, but lowered those payments to $240. She said the income already dropped sharply when Harry passed away. She’s now living in New Port Richey, Fla., where she and her husband retired to from Long Island.
"If I have to, I'll sell my house and get an apartment somewhere," she said.
The MTA, a billion-dollar public-benefit corporation, is defending its attempt to recoup the funds.
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"The LIRR pension plans have a fiduciary duty to the participants and beneficiaries of the trust to recover funds that are improperly paid to a beneficiary, even if it is the result of an inadvertent error," said MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena in statement. "The MTA will work with Mrs. Findel to review the circumstance of her case and reach a fair and equitable solution."
New York pension attorney Mark E. Brossman told Newsday that while fiduciaries have a responsibility to try to recoup they overpayments, they should use discretion.
"I would tell the trustees you have to try to get the money, to see what's going on," he said. "If she says, 'I'm living day to day, I'm 80 years old and I don't have the money,' in my view, the trustees have the discretion to decide 'We're not going to harm this person because of our mistake.'"
While Shirley plans to reach out to Harry’s union headquarters, their daughter Linda Box says she will contact local elected officials on the matter.