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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Comfortably Numb

I've been stunned by the number of people who have emailed me with questions about how to challenge PERS on the recalculation letters. Back in September 2005, PERS presented its plan to the Board, the stakeholder attorneys, and a fairly large audience of union representatives and plain old affected citizens like me. The "Strunk/Eugene" remediation plan included a phase in which retirees would receive two letters, the first informing them of PERS' intent to adjust their benefits in accordance with the rulings in Strunk/Eugene cases and the "settlement agreement". The second of these letters would *detail* the calculations and lead the retiree to the recalculated amounts. PERS promised that the letter would contain enough information for the retiree to determine how PERS arrived at the recalculated benefit. Although I've not actually laid eyes on a single letter, I have nearly 150 emails telling me that the numbers just aren't there and there is no way for a retiree to reconstruct much of anything from the information provided with the letter. PERS assured us that this wouldn't happen. In fact it is. This borders on criminal contempt. I wrote my Lipscomb calculator to allow retirees to estimate the effect the Strunk/Eugene remediation would have on their benefits, assuming a July 1, 2007 implementation date. From reports I get, my calculator turns out to be pretty good - estimates are frequently within a few pennies of PERS' own calculation. But this is absolutely and positively no excuse for PERS to not supply members with the ability to check the calculations on their own. PERS should be supplying members with a template that walks through the calculations following the same algorithm PERS is using to compute the benefit adjustments. It is the least we can expect. Otherwise, EVERY RETIREE receiving one of these letters, should challenge the adjustment for no other reason than to force PERS to supply ALL the numbers making up the calculation. We cannot afford to be comfortably numb. If we accept PERS' numbers without independently verifying them, we might as well give PERS the gun to shoot ourselves with. They've already got a reputation as a rogue agency, interpreting Supreme Court rulings willy-nilly and making up rules as they go along. We cannot sit back idly and let them continue to shove things down our throats (and other parts of our anatomy). Don't be comfortably numb. Challenge the letter.

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