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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Do You Think I Really Care?

PERS is notorious for making some totally mystifying decisions.  The latest mystery is why PERS is NOT going to give those retirees already in payback mode, the option of switching to the newer system adopted for later retirees.  Back in 2006, PERS made its original (bad) decision to permit retirees two options for paying back monies owed due to overpayments between 2000 and 2006 from 1999 earnings crediting.  PERS gave retirees the option of either an Actuarial Recovery Method (ARM) or repaying the entire balance in a lump sum.  The ARM took the member's balance due, computed his/her actuarial life expectancy and divided the balance by the number of months the retiree was still expected to live.  This became the ARM amount.  The catch with this method is that there never was a mechanism in place to stop the payments after a member had fully repaid his/her debt.  Thus, the mechanism was designed so that longer-lived retirees (and their beneficiaries) would subsidize the accounts of shorter-lived retirees.  This proved to be immensely unpopular, although the repayment amounts were typically so small that retirees didn't ever bother to complain too much about it.

Once the Supreme Court ruled that PERS could begin collections again, OPRI, the PERS Coalition, I, and many others began to petition PERS to come up with a more reasonable method that would insure that retirees paid no more than they owed.  This led to a higher repayment amount, but over a shorter time period and with the certainty that members would pay what they owed and no more.   I expected, perhaps naively, that PERS would offer the same deal to retirees already under a payment plan using the ARM.  To my surprise, and many retiree's chagrin, PERS does not currently plan to make the new payment plan available to any member already under the ARM.  This is both unfair and also contrary to PERS' objective of recovering the money faster.  It is unfair because it saddles retirees under the ARM with the continuing burden of repayments for an indefinite period of time.  They risk paying significantly more than others, although at a much reduced monthly amount.  I fail to see how this is an equitable treatment of people who, for no other reason than pure bad luck, had the misfortune of being billed before Judge Kantor issued his original restraining order.

PERS' rationale is that they didn't plan for the "extra" work required to (a) turn off the ARM and calculate a retiree's current balance, and (b) turn on the new method that takes a minimum of 2% per month.  I have no idea how many people are affected by this, but I don't imagine it is very many compared to the number of people who will be placed under the current repayment system.  There are 28,000 members affected by the new repayment system.  It is estimated that there were approximately 35,000 "window retirees".  So, assuming all of the ARM'd retirees are still living, or have living beneficiaries, we are looking at no more than 7000 people.  PERS has a brand new computer system and it is hard to imagine (at least for me), that programming their database is that difficult.  Presumably, it is a variant of Oracle or mySQL or something common like that.  A good programmer armed with the structure of PERS' database ought to be able to cobble up the code to make the necessary adjustments in an afternoon and test it out fairly thoroughly the next day.  Even if PERS does the calculations with a spreadsheet, we are not looking at THAT many calculations.

I basically don't buy PERS' current excuse for not offering the new system to members repaying under the ARM.  PERS has asked the legislature for 3 limited duration positions to handle the initial calculations for the affected 28,000 members.  I wonder how much PERS will save by not doing this compared to the cost of defending themselves in litigation complaining about the inequitable treatment of retirees in the same class.  Somehow, I think this falls into the category of "penny wise, pound foolish."


Unknown said...

Marc, with your permission, I would like to print out a copy of your blog, attach a note saying how right I think you are, and how off base PERS is on this issue and send it to our governor. PERS has done some crazy things over they years, this is in the top 3.

mrfearless47 said...

You certainly may do what you want. In the future, please be aware that there is a way to forward and email copy of the post directly to another person, with your own comments right in the comment section. By all means print and send it to kitz.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tip and the permission. Most of all, thanks for continuing to fight the good fight on the PERS front, Marc.