Detroit retirees can apply for aid next week

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — City retirees can apply as early as next week for money to stay above the poverty line after suffering pension cuts included in Detroit's bankruptcy plan.

The state is setting aside $20 million to help keep the most vulnerable municipal retirees from falling into poverty after seeing cuts to their monthly pensions ranging from 4.5 percent to 20 percent. The city's pension funds will mail applications to retirees next week and the deadline to apply is Dec. 31.

The money is part of a safety net integral to Detroit's bankruptcy plan, which includes more than $7 billion in cuts and money for improved city services.

"There are retirees on fixed incomes who will be taking cuts to their pensions. This could cause tremendous hardship to hundreds if not thousands of retirees potentially forcing them below federal poverty levels," said Bruce Babiarz, spokesman for the Detroit Police & Fire pension fund.

The average pension for general retirees is about $16,000 and $30,000 for retired police officers and firefighters.

The General Retirement System will hold two town-hall meetings Dec. 17. One session will be held from 2-4 p.m. at Fellowship Chapel, 7707 W. Outer Dr., in Detroit. A second meeting will be held 6-8 p.m. at Renaissance Unity Church, 11200 East 11 Mile in Warren.

"We are very concerned that our retirees receive all the information necessary to help them be prepared for how and when the economic impact will apply to them... ," General Retirement System spokeswoman Tina Bassett said.

The update came Monday during a bankruptcy hearing in front of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes.

The city's pension funds also will hold town-hall-style meetings with retirees in mid-December, pension lawyer Ronald King told the judge Monday.

The hearing comes less than three weeks after Rhodes approved Detroit's plan to end the biggest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history.

He has yet to set a date for Detroit to exit bankruptcy court. City bankruptcy lawyer Heather Lennox told the judge Monday the city wants to exit bankruptcy court and start implementing the plan by mid-December.

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