Law shields churches, leaves pensions unprotected

October 5, 2013 • Business

Armantina Pelaez, a former crisis counselor at St. Mary’s Hospital, in Paterson, N.J., sits in Paterson’s Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Federal law requires most private employers with pension plans to contribute to them and insure them, in case they fail to honor their obligations. But those protections do not cover all workers or pensions. Because of a legal loophole, there are actually parallel pension systems. One comes with safeguards. The other has no safety net. Congress set it up that way by crafting an exemption in benefits law to protect churches from government interference in their finances. But the exemption applies to religiously affiliated employers like hospitals and service agencies, including some that have let pension funds dwindle. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

PASSAIC, N.J. (AP) — Working at St. Mary’s Hospital was all about making do. When supply shelves emptied, respiratory therapist Lori-Ann Ligon made frantic calls to compatriots at nearby medical centers, arranging meetings on the fly to barter for blood gaskets. For a couple of years, she and other managers were told the endless budget squeeze left no room for raises.

But when St. Mary’s outlasted two competitors to become this city’s lone hospital, executives heralded a new era: “Not just health care. Human care.”

That care, though, only went so far.

“Presently, the Login to read more

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