MONEY

Fighting for seniors' financial security

These Money heroes are fighting for the financial security and success of seniors.

  • Helping seniors get their benefits

    Karen Ferguson, director, Pension Rights Cente<strong>r

    Why she’s a hero: Ferguson — who founded the Washington, D.C., nonprofit in 1976 with $10,000 in seed money from Ralph Nader — has fought to protect employee pensions from multiple threats.

    Two of her watchdog group’s successful crusades: strengthening the rights of widows and divorcees, and reining in plan changes that halved benefits for older workers.

    A 1990s campaign led to free pension-counseling programs, now available in 30 states. “The most satisfying part of what we do is pension counseling: helping someone get the benefits they’ve earned and are wrongly denied,” she says.

    Her current passion: Establishing a new retirement savings plan — one supplementing Social Security — that would provide lifetime income and be funded jointly by employers and employees.

  • Protecting seniors from scammers

    Jackie Wiley-Sistrunk, 49

    On a crusade since: 1994

    Day job: Education and outreach coordinator, Seniors Against Investment Fraud

    Achievement: Putting retirees on guard against con artists

    Why she’s a hero: Working at a state financial-protection agency, Wiley-Sistrunk often heard from seniors hit by fraud. After SAIF launched with a Department of Justice grant in 2001 — enabling volunteers to teach peers how to avoid rip-offs — she worked hard to spread its message; last year she spoke to 3,000 seniors herself.

    SAIF is a model for agencies in nine other states.

    “Some seniors are savvy. Some are sweet and trusting. That’s why education is important,” she says.

  • Creating opportunity for older workers

    Art Koff, 79

    On a crusade since: 2002

    Day job: Retired advertising executive; founder, RetiredBrains.com

    Achievement: Started independent job and information web-site for people in or near retirement

    Why he’s a hero: A decade ago, the memory of struggling to learn computing at age 50 inspired a newly retired Koff to find ways to help older workers.

    Websites for this group were scarce, so Koff launched RetiredBrains.com to focus on jobs for seniors. Today the site lists thousands of positions, along with discounts and advice on financial matters, health care, and travel.

    “Older workers don’t need benefits younger ones do. That can give them a leg up,” he says.

  • Helping civil servants get their due

    Tammy Flanagan, 54

    On a crusade since: 1983

    Day job: Senior benefits director, National Institute of Transition Planning

    Achievement: Aiding federal workers with retirement decisions

    Why she’s a hero: Flanagan’s longtime job has been to educate U.S. government employees about their retirement benefits. But it has also been her calling.

    Beyond the seminars, articles, and broadcasts central to her work, she rises early and stays up late to answer up to 1,000 e-mails a month, helping workers select pension options or ensure that they haven’t been shortchanged on benefits.

    “No one is explaining things. I make sure people know what they’re entitled to,” she says.

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