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Pension problems

If you weren't married to a member of the city's old pension fund when he or she retired, don't expect to continue getting a check after that member dies. (KATV Photo)

NOTE: STORY UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION ON SEPT. 14TH


NORTH LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - For the spouses of some retired North Little Rock police officers and fire fighters, pension checks stop arriving when their loved one stops breathing.

Seven-On-Your-Side explains why this is so.

They say it's not what you know but who you know.

In this case, what matters is who you were married to when you retired.

Gene Barentine was a North Little Rock police officer for 23 years, and he was married to Betty Barentine for 23 years.

The problem for Betty is none of those years overlapped.

So when Gene died a year ago, his $1,365 monthly pension checks stopped coming.

"The money I thought I was going to get was going to supplement my other income and make me be able to live in my house,” says Barentine of Sherwood. “And to just pay my bills."

Back in 1983, the year Gene Barentine retired, North Little Rock joined the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System (LOPFI).

For members of the old plan, the decision was made by the North Little Rock city council to not extend pension benefits to anyone who was not married to the officer or firefighter at the time he or she retired.

State law allows police and fire retirees to change beneficiaries provided they have been married at least five years.

North Little Rock says adopting that policy would have jeopardized the old pension fund, which needs to be subsidized by the city's general fund as it is just to serve current retirees.

"We're wondering how many more people are out there that maybe don't know about it yet and that would be willing to maybe do something about this and take it before the city or maybe a class action suit,” says Barrentine. “Just whatever it takes to change this injustice."

Do other cities refuse to extend retirement benefits to surviving spouses following a post-retirement death or divorce?

Some do, some don't.

In addition to North Little Rock, the police and fire pension funds in Fayetteville and Springdale also opted not to allow for a beneficiary change following a marriage of at least five years. Fire departments in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Jonesboro made the same decision. But in Fort Smith both police and fire department pensions allow for such a change. So do police departments in Little Rock, Jonesboro and Hot Springs. This is the larger city information requested from and shared by LOPFI. To find out what police and fire pensions in your city decided you will need to ask the pension managers which in NLR's case is the city council but might be different in your area.

As for Betty...she says North Little Rock's decision not to extend benefits to her has forced her to go back to work as a pain clinic nurse in retirement to keep the bills paid.

Air date: September 13th, 2017

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