The 80-year-old widow of a Long Island Rail Road engineer is appealing the MTA's decision to deduct from her monthly benefits nearly 20 years of pension overpayments paid by the agency due to its clerical error.
Attorney Mark R. Blaustein of Garden City, who has agreed to represent Shirley Findel, now of New Port Richey, Florida, at no cost, or pro bono, said the monthly cuts of $230.23 left the widow with only $155 a month in discretionary funds after paying monthly expenses.
"This amount does not allow for unexpected expenses . . . in the event of an unexpected medical expense during the month, she may have to pay [it] and forgo paying for some other necessity," he wrote in his letter requesting the appeal to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's general counsel Richard Gans and the pension fund. Findel, he wrote, wished to negotiate a "reasonable" deduction that would allow her to "enjoy the rest of her natural life without the fear of not having enough monthly income to live on." Her husband Harry died in September.
Given the leniency shown by a federal court judge recently in the disability fraud case of an LIRR retiree who owes hundreds of thousands to another railroad pension system, but is being allowed to repay it at the rate of $25 a month, Blaustein said, "you would think they could look to what is going on here, and exercise reasonable discretion."
Salvatore Arena, an MTA spokesman, said Tuesday the agency has received Blaustein's letter on Findel's behalf, "and all I can add at this point is that we have always said we would be happy to continue to discuss how this case can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction."
Findel said that the May deduction was returned to her after her daughter, Linda Box of Brentwood, complained the pension fund hadn't given her mother enough time to appeal. Findel's June payment did have the deduction of $230.23, which the MTA wants to continue for 116 months until the $26,707 in overpayments is recouped.
"I won't have much left over at the end of the month," said Findel, in a phone interview from her home Tuesday. "There are things I did before I'll cut back on . . . What frightens me is if my air-conditioning goes, or my hot water heater."
Blaustein chided the MTA for imposing the deductions, despite its fiduciary responsibility to redress the overpayment.
"To not ask her how this would impact her but just demand the money back is unconscionable," he said, "in light of the fact that it wasn't her mistake."