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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Retraités : 800 euros de prime à Noël

by Kareen Janselme

Retirees: 800-Euro Christmas Bonus

Translated Sunday 4 January 2015, by Gene Zbikowski

The Health ministry is promising exceptional aid before the holidays for new retirees who have been without a pension for months.

“This is rather good!” Communist Senator Michelle Demessine admitted yesterday at the announcement of the Health ministry’s freeing up of 800 euros in exceptional aid for all the retirees who have not been paid a pension for months because their files have not been processed. The good news came after a one-hour meeting with the French president’s advisor, who received the senator and a delegation from solidarity associations (Secours populaire, Secours catholique, Croix-Rouge française, Droit au logement, Restos du cœur and la Conférence Saint-Vincent-de-Paul de Guînes).

The advisor heard them tell how for months thousands of people in the Nord Pas-de-Calais region have been living without an income as a result of malfunctions at the Nord-Picardie CARSAT. The CARSAT, a retirement insurance fund formerly known as the CRAM, is overloaded with a backlog of innumerable unpaid files. The consequences have been tragic.

We just want our pension to be paid, just our due.

Michel Guillard and his wife have been suffering since April from the file bottleneck in the Nord département. “We’re at our wits’ end. The situation is terrible: my husband should have been on a retirement pension since Spring. But he hasn’t received any pension yet.” Her husband had worked at the factory from age 16. Today, he says’s he’s “sickened.”

He had paid more than the required number of contributions when he quit his job at a little industrial maintenance company in Dunkirk. Suffering from polyarthritis and bony growths, Michel Guillard had earned the right to retire at age 60 after a long working life. His wife quit her job at the same time to take care of their grandchildren, because “that’s the order of things.” But today the couple is living on the husband’s severance pay and “five eight-euro food stamps a week to do the shopping” which the social worker allows him. Moreover, the social worker opened an RSA (active solidarity income) file two months ago, but Patricia Guillard hasn’t “received anything yet.” “What’s the point?” she asks, hurt. “We just want our retirement pension to be paid. We’re not asking for alms. Just for our due.”

Patricia Duvieubourg brought several stories like that to the French president’s advisor. She is in charge at the Saint Vincent de Paul association in Fiennes in the Pas-de-Calais department, and she was the first one to ring the alarum bell. “Usually, it’s the unemployed who come to us asking for help. Not retirees. But in this case, they haven’t anything left in the fridge. Some have tried to commit suicide at age 62-63. I tried contacting the social services in the town halls, but they knew nothing of it… The retirees came to see me because I answer them, I go to them: it’s not so impersonal, and they need human contact. The second retiree who came to see me has been waiting for her pension check for nine months. It isn’t fair, she was ashamed to ask for help. Many are isolated and don’t want the neighbors to know they can’t pay their bills. These retirees worked their whole life long, they’re not asking for charity. To my mind, it’s an attack on their dignity.”

“We wanted to sound a warning on the consequences of this situation,” Michelle Demessine explained. “It isn’t just a problem of the number of files that have to be processed. It’s a question of people who find themselves with nothing, no wages, no retirement pension. Their welfare rights are frozen. Some are threatened with eviction and for the first time in their life they’re turning to charity associations and solidarity associations for food aid. It’s scandalous.”

Since September, the senator has been outraged over “the unbearable waiting periods” that these retirees suffer before their pensions are paid. Three months ago, she wrote to the Health Minister to demand that they be paid, on an emergency basis, “an advance which they will easily be able to pay back once they get their retirement pensions.”

But Marisol Touraine, the French Minister of Social Affairs and Health said soothingly that everything would be put right soon. Unfortunately, things got worse.

Early in the year, even the ombudsman expressed his worries on the matter to the director of the CNAV (the national old age insurance fund) and requested the setting up of a mechanism to pay advances to the most vulnerable retirees. Ineffectually.

“Fifteen years ago,” Michelle Demessine continued, “the insurance funds were autonomous and could pay emergency aid.” But since 1996, the CARSATs have been supervised by the state, which centralizes and evaluates the regional budgets. It’s up to the CARSATs to remain within the limits.

A 2012 report by the Cour des comptes (the French equivalent of the U.S. general accounting office or the U.K. controller and auditor general) criticized the mistakes in the cases processed by the Nord-Picardie retirement fund. Measures were taken: from now on, half the files have to be double-checked, age-old pay stubs re-checked, etc.

In 2014, the number of people retiring ballooned due to the baby boom generation reaching retirement age and the many people in the region who started working full-time when they were young teenagers.

Paying retirement fund workers to work overtime examining all the documents was not enough to counter-balance the understaffing and the failure to replace those retiring from the CARSAT, conditions which the trade unions have condemned.

These points were taken up with the president’s advisor, who recognized that there was a financial emergency and that the CARSAT was disorganized. “He committed himself to doing what he can with the ministries and the CNAV,” Michelle Demessine said happily. Financial aid from the CARSATs in other regions for the Nord-Picardie CARSAT has been envisaged. But time is short: backlogs of files in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the Ardèche region, and the Creuse region are beginning to loom…

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