Widow fights city for husband's JEA pension benefits

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sandra Kass is fighting to get what she feels belongs to her -- four years of her deceased husband's pension.

"They told us a lot widows fell through the cracks and there's nothing they can do about it," she said.

Kass' husband retired from JEA in 1981. He passed in 1990 and she began receiving survivors benefits. Six years later, in 1996, she married John Kass and notified the city's pension fund.

"I took them a copy of my marriage certificate and it ended the benefits," she said.

Kass expected that. What she did not expect was that the law would soon change to continue to restore pension benefits to surviving spouses.

"The ordinance passed in 2003 and stated that any widow who remarried could receive benefits upon application," she said.

The Pension Advisory Committee said it notified survivors of the change, but Kass said she was never properly notified of her new eligibility.

"They said they used a list of pensioners and they sent out letters which I should have been on," she said, "but I never got a letter."

She learned from a paralegal friend about the change, four years after the law went into effect, and in 2007 made an application.

Kass began receiving survivor benefits but only from 2007; she believes the city owes her for the years from 2003 to 2007.

"It is the money of course," she said, "I felt we weren't being treated very well."

She estimates the benefits to be about $14,000 a year.

We asked the city to review her case and was told via email:

"It appears that (Kass) has NOT followed the appeal process as instructed in her hearing. She needs to follow the proper protocols in place."

In September 2013, there was an informal hearing before the pension advisory committee; some expressed concerns about missing some survivors,but it was felt that "great due diligence" was performed and when there was a call for a vote, Kass was denied her benefits.

"I may have never known if this friend had not told me about it," she said.

The city treasurer in the email said it appears that Kass was paid in accordance with the law and any retro-active payments would be illegal. The ordinance does not allow for this. The general counsel office also stated that benefits are retroactive only to the date of filing of the applications, not to the date the law was changed. Even so, she is being encouraged to file an appeal.


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