Mon | Apr 24, 2017

Pension pinch: Elderly Greeks stand on line to get cash

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2015 | 7:00 AM
Pensioner Giorgos Petropoulos shows ten euro notes he received from the National Bank of Greece in Athens, yesterday. Pensioners are the forgotten victims of the Greek crisis. Their monthly payments have been cut in recent years, and since many lack bank cards they were totally cut off from their funds until Wednesday’s special bank sessions allowed them partial access. (AP Photo/Spyros Tsakiris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP):

Don't mention the golden years to Michaelis Kotaras. Not after the 78-year-old got up early Wednesday to stand in line, twice, outside the National Bank of Greece for the privilege of going inside to withdraw €120 (US$134), less than a quarter of his monthly pension.

He emerged with the cash, but without any certainty about when (or whether) he will be able to access the rest of his payment, which has been repeatedly slashed as Greece imposed austerity upon austerity. Since he doesn't have a bank card, he can't use the ATMs that are the only source of limited cash for most Greeks this week, after the country imposed capital controls to prevent a run on banks.

"I'm furious," the retired builder said. "Before these new controls, my wife and I could live easily. Now I'm anxious about money. And Europe wants to cut my pension still more. I am sure that we are dead as a country."

He started off angry, but soon began to cry - not because of financial woes, but because his treasured Sunday family lunches, a hallowed Greek tradition, have turned into shouting matches between him and his children over the left-wing Syriza government's policy.

Greece's five-year crisis has deepened this week after it failed to repay €1.6 billion to the International Monetary Fund. It has called a referendum Sunday on whether to accept the austerity package demanded by its creditors in exchange for more aid.

Cut off from their funds

The nation's 2.6 million pensioners have been hit particularly hard. Since many retirees like Kotaras lack bank cards, the capital controls - which included the closure of all banks - cut them off entirely from their funds until special bank sessions beginning Wednesday gave them partial access.

Even then, they had to stand in line to get numbers that allowed them to stand in line a second time to be admitted to the bank lobbies. Police stood guard, and bank officials sometimes helped those using walkers or wheelchairs to get in and out more quickly.

Then came yet another hurdle: Banks announced hours before they reopened that customers would be served alphabetically. That led to confusion at the roughly 1,000 branches that opened, with many retirees waiting for hours only to be told they would have to come back Thursday or Friday.

Others were told their pensions had not yet been deposited and they would have to return once they have been.