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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Buzzbomb from Pasadena

Not quite that far away, but from Tigard, which has been sending buzzbombs from every direction. It is hard for me to imagine that an agency can be as stupid as PERS. Just when you think they might be starting to get it, they do something that defies rational explanation. What, ask you, did they do? Well, as they are required to do, they sent out the August PERSpectives with the check stub detailing the COLA that many of us have seen for the first time. Great, say you. But then your curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to read PERSpectives. After all, it is one of the few sources of reasonably current information from PERS, aside from PERS' website. The grey box on the first page begins the systematic sizzle factor. PERS announces in this box that PERSpectives will be reduced from quarterly to thrice yearly. The February issue will be deleted, and new publication dates will be December, April, and August. The corollary to this follows on the second page, where they announce the real capper - that the Quarterly stubs we've been used to getting will now come only once annually, in December. Of course, PERS qualifies this by noting that "if your retirement benefit amount changes, due to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or for any reason, you will also receive a check stub in the mail for the month the change is effective. So, you will probably get a statement in August, possibly in February (if you have a variable account after retirement), but no other time of the year. Now, there is an exception. If you have your checks MAILED to you, PERS will have to include a check stub, but PERS employs the big scare tactic about "IDENTIFY THEFT" and lost checks and uses that as the lever to encourage EFT deposit of your monthly benefit check. If you do that, you suddenly cease getting monthly statements.

What makes this so aggravating is that PERS further insults retirees, by providing an updated "PERS: By the Numbers" on the second page, that shows that PERS is not in any financial difficulty - in fact, PERS has rejoined the very upper tier of public employee retirement funds in funding ratios. We have no unfunded actuarial liability, we are at 104% funding and employer rates have stabilized at 15% (before side accounts), when they were predicted to go to 27% back in 2003. Moreover, Tier 1/Tier 2 rates for many large employers are significantly less than the systemwide average. After PERS adjusts for the employer side accounts, the Tier 1/ Tier 2 rate is 8.1% and 6.03% for members in OPSRP.

So, the takehome message here is much like that of Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" routine. The parrot (PERS problem) is dead, kaput, kicked the bucket, pushed up daisies, and so on. And so, this raises the question of why PERS feels compelled to cut down the frequency of our statements to once yearly. No longer will we know how tax changes affect monthly take home benefits because once the new year flips over, we'll get no notification of the new takehome amount because there is no change in the gross benefit.

Why is PERS doing this? Your guess is as good as mine? My guess is that they are being penny wise and pound foolish. They're going to end up with more people requesting a changeover to monthly check rather than EFT, the customer support lights will shine brightly on the first of every month, especially on February 1st. This is about saving a piddling amount of money, but mostly it is to save staff time so they can be deployed in other malignant ways to try to steal back money from us. There is not a single retiree benefit in this. People are already pissed about this. If you don't believe me, take a look over at the Oregon PERS Discussion Group.

Oh, and I'm at a loss for a good word to describe the chutzpah that PERS has to put the back page as a Customer Service Survey. Be sure to fill it out and mail it back it. PERS needs to hear from you about this. Acquiesce at your own peril. Customer service at PERS is defined by how deeply the knife is buried in your back.

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