Massachusetts Retirees United: Giving a voice to retirees through education

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By Barbara Allen

Marie Ardito, information coordinator and co-founder of Massachusetts Retirees United (MRU), is proud of and passionate about the work the organization does for retirees.

“It’s a great group of people,” says Ardito. “All volunteers. All member dues go back into member benefits. We’re not interested in your membership to meet a payroll; we’re interested in informing and educating you.”

It is perhaps no surprise that education would be important to MRU; its members are former public sector employees, many of whom are retired teachers, and the organization is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, Massachusetts. Co-founded in 2006 by Ardito and Kathleen Kelley, both retired teachers, the organization started out with 500 members and now boasts over 3,000. The goal of the MRU is two-fold: to protect the rights of retirees by giving them a united voice, and educating them on concerns during retirement.

“Justice issues” are a major focus for much of the work done by MRU, and something about which Ardito is especially passionate.

“Most legislation doesn’t get passed due to a lack of understanding,” explained Ardito, adding that informing members about different bills is an important part of the process. Several of the bills filed by the organization have taken many years to be passed into law, but the group is persistent in its pursuit of retiree rights. MRU has taken on legislation regarding cost of living adjustment (COLA), pensions, and veterans’ bills, to name just a few. The group worked tirelessly on a maternity bill, that allowed those teachers who had retired on reduced pensions due to having taken mandatory maternity leaves prior to 1975 to add up to an additional four years to their pensions. This, claimed Ardito, sometimes increased the amount of the pension from a few dollars to a couple of hundred dollars. And while that might not seem to be a significant amount of money to some, she points out that “just a little money to an older American is a lot of money.”

The group has been involved with legislation for retired veterans which would add four years to their public sector service; they are also working with state representatives on pension reform with regard to taxation. Ardito explained that retirees who might be receiving a pension from one state, and relocate to a different state during retirement, may be unpleasantly surprised to find themselves paying taxes on the pension earnings to both the state from which the pension was issued and their new “home” state.

“People entering retirement don’t always know what the rules and regulations are when they move,” she said. “Decisions made [at this time], if they are not informed decisions, could be costly.”

“A lot of this is education,” she continued. “People don’t think enough about, ‘What is retirement?’ What goals and what dreams do they have going into [it]? What are they going to do with their 50-60 hours of non-work? Where are they going to live?”

Being prepared is key; through MRU, Ardito offers a two- hour seminar to help prospective retirees transition to their new life. She discusses different options for retirement, emotional and psychological challenges, and brings in an elder care attorney who discusses asset protection.

“Entering retirement is an adventure,” Ardito said. “But it is also an adjustment.”

To learn more about Massachusetts Retirees United, the legislation upon which they are working, and other information helpful to those retired or considering retirement, visit http://www.retireesunited.org.