Home News Local news SENATORS HEAR RETIREMENT SYSTEM CONCERNS

SENATORS HEAR RETIREMENT SYSTEM CONCERNS

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June 18, 2001 – The V.I. government owes the Government Employees Retirement System $513 million, and the Notice of Personnel Action process is causing delays of up to a year in payment of annuities to retirees, a Senate committee was told Monday.
Late payments were only one of the concerns expressed in a meeting of the Youth and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Vargrave A. Richards.
After Sen. Emmett Hansen II expressed concern about dwindling resources, GERS staff attorney Alphonso Nibbs said that if contributions to the system are not increased, GERS will not be able to pay all of its retirees. He said the system currently pays out $98 million a year, but only collects $63 million in contributions.
Edward Phillips, spokesman for the American Association of Retired Persons, said he was concerned that GERS was invading the principal from its investments to pay benefits, according to a release from the committee.
Roberto Caraballo, district manager for the Social Security Administration, painted an entirely different picture for Social Security recipients. He said eligible retirees can expect to receive their first checks within 13 days of signing up at the local office or on the Internet. There are 13,000 residents receiving $103 million in Social Security. None, however, is eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because of the Virgin Islands' political status as an unincorporated territory.
Seldonie Halbert, Human Services commissioner, said programs for the growing numbers of senior citizens and elderly in the community need to be expanded, including greater funding for the pharmaceutical prescription program, which needs $400,000 to sustain it.
Adding to the burdens on the system is the effect of the Public Employee Voluntary Separation Act of 2000, which was to be funded by $15 million from the $300 million bond issue. Of the 800 government workers eligible to retire under the act, 256 did so. But Nibbs said the government hasn't paid its obligation. GERS has taken them to court over the non-payment
According to published reports Nibbs said giving government workers step increases, as promised last week by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, will exacerbate the problem, as many workers eligible to retire, were only waiting for their salary increases in order to do so.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, concerned about the increasing unfunded mandates, said she would be "more than happy" to sponsor legislation to keep the fund from collapsing.
Richards, calling the NOPA process "disgusting," said he would make it a priority to resolve the archaic and outdated procedure.
Committee members present at the hearing in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on St. Thomas in addition to Richards, Hansen and Berry were Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Roosevelt David and David S. Jones.

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