CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Vickie Hyre retired in late September after 27 years of employment in the Wood County school system.
Hyre realized it would be a few weeks until she received her first retirement check. But, as one year ends and another begins, Hyre is still going to the mailbox and hoping her first check will arrive.
“The thing is, not knowing is worst,” Hyre said. “Knowing would be bad, but not knowing means sort of over-checking the mail.”
She is one of the recent state retirees who have been affected by significant delays in receiving retirement benefits.
A new system called COMPASS has delayed the start of benefits for many public employees who retired in the latter months of 2017, said Diane Holley Brown, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration.
The Consolidated Public Retirement Board has said all along that, while it believes COMPASS will be beneficial in the long run, it is likely to cause some bumps at first.
“We’re still getting used to COMPASS, working out the kinks, and catching up on our backlog,” the Consolidated Public Retirement Board warns on its website. “We still have the same goal for improved service. But we think we’ll get to that goal at the end of 2017.
The Consolidated Public Retirement Board has been working on the backlog of processing benefits, Holley Brown said this past week. A primer for retirees on the board’s website suggested that the average wait for those retiring this past October was 12-14 weeks.
“Most of the October 1 retirees have already received their initial payment, but there is a group of individuals who will have their check mailed on January 8. These checks will include payments for the months of October, November and December,” she stated.
The Consolidated Public Retirement Board is now processing benefits for those who retired in November, said Holley-Brown.
After that, she suggested, the situation should improve.
“It is expected that by Spring of 2018 that retirees will begin receiving their first check within 30 days after CPRB receives all of the necessary documentation from the retiree’s employer,” stated Holley-Brown. “Prior to the new COMPASS system, the average time for processing retirement benefits for new retirees was 8-10 weeks.”
West Virginia public employees are accustomed to having their benefits kick in a little more than a month after retirement, said Ernest “Spud” Terry, who lobbies on behalf of public retirees.
“Six weeks is what’s been normal in the past,” Terry said in a telephone interview. “After they go off the active payroll it takes six weeks. But if it would go into months, it would be a problem.”
He said most public employees would be stretched thin if delays were longer than that.
“Our folks, once they retire — and they retire at such a low pension — they need that must as soon as they can get it, to pay their bills, to buy their food, to get their medications,” Terry said.
“But certainly a few months would probably be a hardship. Most people might get one more check after retirement, depending on how they cash out their annual leave and that kind of thing. If it was delayed a few months after retirement it would be a problem for lots of folks, I think.”
Hyre said she retired at the end of September, hoping her benefits would kick in within a few weeks. She worked in the central office for the Wood County school system and discussed her retirement date strategically with colleagues who worked in human resources.
“People I’ve known within the last three years who have retired, usually about a month they don’t get a check — and then they start getting checks,” she said.
She said she’s been calling the Consolidated Public Retirement Board for updates but hasn’t gotten many satisfactory answers.
“I just can’t figure out why somebody can’t figure out the new system by this point,” she said.
Hyre was able to cash out accrued vacation days and got a check for those shortly after retiring. She also has some income from a cell tower lease on her property. And she’s taken some substitute teaching opportunities in middle school math classes.
“So that’s been the only other thing that has helped,” she said. “And you’re looking at that thinking how much longer can it be?”