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HomeNewsLocal newsMost Recent Government Retirees Are Still Checkless

Most Recent Government Retirees Are Still Checkless

Austin Nibbs (Source file photo)
Austin Nibbs (Source file photo)

This is not a good time to be retiring from the Virgin Islands government. Of the 250 who retired in 2017, 212 have yet to receive a retirement check.

Only 38 of last year’s retirees have received a check from the Government Employee Retirement System. Tales of the economic hardships this has caused – including losing a home – have abounded.

This year may even be worse. None of the 55 employees who have retired so far in 2018 have received a check.

The last good year was 2016. Of the 278 government employees who retired that year, 254 have received checks.

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Austin Nibbs, GERS administrator, told the GERS Board of Trustees at its meeting Thursay there were several reason why retirees were not receiving annuities, but the major factor was the government not being timely with its share of the contributions. GERS will not issue checks until the government has made the correct amount of contributions to a retiree’s account.

(Full disclosure: This writer retired from the government in 2016. He was short a couple thousand in his contributions and the government was short a couple thousand also. He and the government paid what was due.)

Often the sums owed are small, but occasionally they are large and the employee’s share can seem almost insurmountable and, too, the government, on its end, tends to be slow making its payments.

The situation may get much worse as the government has missed contribution payments last year and this year. Recently it has caught up some on its back contributions. Still, Nibbs reported the government still owes for one payday in October of last year and February of this year, and all the the paydays in November and December.

This means if a person retires in Maym the onus would be on her to get the government to make up the missing payments in her account for those months, plus any payments that might have been missed in previous years. Some missing funds could be from simple accounting errors, like a pay raised not accounted for or a rate change not immediately being put into effect.

Board member Carol Callwood asked Nibbs when recent retirees could expect to get checks. He answered, “The government owes me from October until December, if I don’t get that money, I can’t pay.”

He did add that his staff was doing everything possible and he hoped payments could start in June.

These problems skim the surface of GERS which, if it remains on its present route, will be bankrupt in five or six years – causing calamity to more than 8,500 retirees. That calamity could spread like a virus through the whole economy of the territory.

Although the ratio of government employees putting into the system has been pretty consistent while the number taking out has been climbing, that ratio has not worsened since October. One hundred retirees were deleted from the rolls during the recent months, according to Nibbs, while government employees dropped by 41.

The Senate has enacted reforms of GERS over the years, such as raising the contribution rates of employees. However, Senate President Myron Jackson termed those efforts “a drop in the bucket.” He told the Source Saturday that several senators have made proposals in an effort to help GERS. Those proposal have yet to reach the stage of bills ready to be introduced. The Senate, according to Jackson, hopes to have the GERS representatives at a Committee of the Whole in May to make a presentation. He added, “The big problem is how do you find the money to make an injection in the system.”

In his State of the Territory address this year, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said “The continued viability of the GERS must be one of our highest priorities. Let me be clear; no single action or set of actions will rescue our public pension program. Moving the system to a more solvent and secure footing will require a number of hard decisions and initiatives … Collapse of the GERS is not, and cannot be, an option.”

On Thursday, the GERS board belatedly approved it 2018 budget of $16.8 million for operations and fund management.

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Austin Nibbs (Source file photo)
Austin Nibbs (Source file photo)
This is not a good time to be retiring from the Virgin Islands government. Of the 250 who retired in 2017, 212 have yet to receive a retirement check. Only 38 of last year's retirees have received a check from the Government Employee Retirement System. Tales of the economic hardships this has caused – including losing a home – have abounded. This year may even be worse. None of the 55 employees who have retired so far in 2018 have received a check. The last good year was 2016. Of the 278 government employees who retired that year, 254 have received checks. Austin Nibbs, GERS administrator, told the GERS Board of Trustees at its meeting Thursay there were several reason why retirees were not receiving annuities, but the major factor was the government not being timely with its share of the contributions. GERS will not issue checks until the government has made the correct amount of contributions to a retiree's account. (Full disclosure: This writer retired from the government in 2016. He was short a couple thousand in his contributions and the government was short a couple thousand also. He and the government paid what was due.) Often the sums owed are small, but occasionally they are large and the employee's share can seem almost insurmountable and, too, the government, on its end, tends to be slow making its payments. The situation may get much worse as the government has missed contribution payments last year and this year. Recently it has caught up some on its back contributions. Still, Nibbs reported the government still owes for one payday in October of last year and February of this year, and all the the paydays in November and December. This means if a person retires in Maym the onus would be on her to get the government to make up the missing payments in her account for those months, plus any payments that might have been missed in previous years. Some missing funds could be from simple accounting errors, like a pay raised not accounted for or a rate change not immediately being put into effect. Board member Carol Callwood asked Nibbs when recent retirees could expect to get checks. He answered, “The government owes me from October until December, if I don't get that money, I can't pay.” He did add that his staff was doing everything possible and he hoped payments could start in June. These problems skim the surface of GERS which, if it remains on its present route, will be bankrupt in five or six years – causing calamity to more than 8,500 retirees. That calamity could spread like a virus through the whole economy of the territory. Although the ratio of government employees putting into the system has been pretty consistent while the number taking out has been climbing, that ratio has not worsened since October. One hundred retirees were deleted from the rolls during the recent months, according to Nibbs, while government employees dropped by 41. The Senate has enacted reforms of GERS over the years, such as raising the contribution rates of employees. However, Senate President Myron Jackson termed those efforts “a drop in the bucket.” He told the Source Saturday that several senators have made proposals in an effort to help GERS. Those proposal have yet to reach the stage of bills ready to be introduced. The Senate, according to Jackson, hopes to have the GERS representatives at a Committee of the Whole in May to make a presentation. He added, “The big problem is how do you find the money to make an injection in the system.” In his State of the Territory address this year, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said “The continued viability of the GERS must be one of our highest priorities. Let me be clear; no single action or set of actions will rescue our public pension program. Moving the system to a more solvent and secure footing will require a number of hard decisions and initiatives ... Collapse of the GERS is not, and cannot be, an option.” On Thursday, the GERS board belatedly approved it 2018 budget of $16.8 million for operations and fund management.