Hundreds of current and former employees of the Diocese of La Crosse have received letters announcing they won’t be receiving all of the pension benefits they were counting on — and won’t know exactly how much they’ll actually receive for at least three months.
The plan, to which the diocese and parishes were the sole contributors, covers Catholic school teachers, rectory workers, custodians, secretaries and other employees in 19 west-central Wisconsin counties.
The letter from Bishop William Patrick Callahan dated Feb. 27 stated: “After much analysis, discussions and prayers, it has been determined that it is necessary to terminate the Diocese of La Crosse Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan at this time.”
The bishop’s letter informs recipients: “I take seriously the benefits that have been part of our employee’s employment agreement, but unfortunately, this plan has been underfunded for years. When it was frozen in 2007, we continued to bill parishes and allocate funds from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to help make up this shortfall. These efforts have helped but have not allowed us to fully fund this plan. I know some of you are counting on these funds currently and others are relying on them for the future.”
The letter states that all funds in the plan will be distributed as a one-time single payment to eligible participants “based on the ratio of available plan assets divided by total plan liabilities.”
The letter from the diocese states that detailed information will be sent to individuals by the end of May, and that monthly benefits will continue until then.
The bishop states that the fund has been a concern for many years, and that when it was frozen in 2007, it was converted to a 403(b) fund.
The bishop points out that “economic conditions have been favorable over the past months, which mean the pension payouts are at levels that didn’t seem feasible even a few years ago.”
“This difficult decision has been made to ensure that all plan participants receive as much benefit as possible,” the bishop wrote.
“It is alarming,” Regis Catholic Schools President Mark Gobler told the Eau Claire Leader Telegram on Tuesday. He estimates more than 1,000 people could be affected by the change.
The 160-parish Diocese of La Crosse is celebrating its 150th anniversary.