7 on your Side helps frustrated families receive pension benefits

PORT WASHINGTON, Long Island (WABC) -- Grieving spouses and relatives say they have been hit with what they've termed as 'a brick wall of apathy and incompetence.'

They are fighting to get hundreds of thousands in pension benefits - earned by deceased relatives, after teaching for decades in New York City's schools.

A few weeks back, 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda helped recover a quarter of a million dollars for one family. Now, more frustrated families are asking for help.

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Nina Pineda reports on the teacher and longtime coach from Queens who left a legacy behind when he died suddenly last summer.



Tina Kupferberg says after two years, she still feels her husband of 27 years' spirit, pushing her forward in the breeze off Manhasset Bay.

"He wanted to live," recalls Tina, "He had things he wanted to do we had trips to plan."

Diagnosed in 2017 with bladder cancer, Forrest Kupferberg was a retired teacher who taught math to Rikers Island inmates so they could get their high school GEDs. He vowed to beat the disease.

"He wanted to ski again, hike again," said Tina. "He bought us bikes he just wanted to live his life."

He would only live two more years, and ever since his death in 2019, his widow had to fight for what he left for her and his family; more than a quarter-million dollars in pension benefits with the NYC Teachers' Retirement System.

"I was crying on the phone, 'please just tell me what's going on,'" said Tina.

The widow says codes to access his TRS accounts would expire, paperwork she already sent would disappear and would have to be resent.

"Every time I called and couldn't get an answer it was weeks and weeks and that's why I contacted 7 on your Side," said Tina, "It was consuming me - I couldn't take it anymore. I'd be bursting into tears."

A lot of people are having problems like Tina - not just widows. 7 on your Side was contacted by a daughter whose mom taught in NYC for 44 years. She was known as Mrs. Greenbaum to her kindergarten in Rosedale, Queens.

When Mrs. Greenbaum died in February of 2019, her daughter, Linda was surprised to learn her mom had planned and sacrificed to leave her and her four grandchildren a gift from more than four decades of teaching. There was a balance of $290,000 in the account.

When Linda, who is also a teacher, tried to collect the pension, she hit the same roadblocks with the NYC Teachers' Retirement System.

"Dealing with TRS," said Linda, "was like a wall of indifference."

She says an 'inefficient and outdated system' disbursed checks for only a fraction of what they were owed.

"That's when I called 7 On Your Side," said Linda.

7 on your Side first contacted the TRS in September, and the agency delivered nearly 250 thousand to the widow of a teacher and basketball coach, whose death benefits were benched for more than a year.

Just 24 hours after 7 on your Side reached out to the TRS, Linda got a call. Within a week, she was sent $58,000.

Both families - all eight beneficiaries, were paid in full, $446,438.

That made the total 7 on your Side helped recover to be $665,797.99.

The TRS told 7 on your Side it apologized to all the families for any delays. Once they received all the requisite documentation, they quickly processed the claims.

That made all the families relieved and happy.

"I'm very grateful," said Tina, "Everything they owed me and my family we have now, so I can't thank you enough - I appreciate everything you did."

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Email 7OnYourSideNina@abc.com, or contact Nina on her Facebook page or tweet her at Twitter @7OnYourSideNY! You can also call the 7 On Your Side Hotline at 917-260-7697 or fill out the form below.

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