CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State legislators pushed the executive director of the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board to increase the pace at which benefits kick in for new state retirees.
A new system called COMPASS has delayed the start of benefits for many public employees who retired in the latter months of 2017, state officials have acknowledged.
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.
Prior to the new COMPASS system, the average time for processing retirement benefits for new retirees was 8-10 weeks.
Recent retirees have become vocal with their complaints over the delays.
During a meeting today of the Joint Standing Committee on Finance, lawmakers said they have been getting complaints from recent state retirees in their districts.
“Can you give us any idea whether that time frame will be shrunk to a reasonable level?” asked Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
Jeff Fleck, the executive director of the public retirees board, said the new computer system along with a wave of teacher retirement at the close of the past school year, created a backlog.
He said staffers have been diligently working through the logjam and hope to get it under control soon.
“We are addressing it. It’s an issue that we know is there,” Fleck said. “It took a while to work through that backlog.”
July 1 retirees didn’t get check until October or later, Fleck told lawmakers. Now staff is about halfway through processing November retirements.
“The wait time is much less than it was previously,” Fleck said. “I’ve got staff working Saturdays, working evenings.
“The expectation is once we get caught up, people will get their check within 30 days. There will be peak times when 30 days may not be a possibility but it won’t be four or five months.”
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle also pressed Fleck.
“I, likewise, have received telephone calls in regard to this issue,” said Sponaugle, D-Pendleton. “What is the problem? Why did it take four or five months?”
Fleck responded that staff with the retirement board has gone through a learning curve. He said employers have had a learning curve, too, with the retirement information they provide.
“So we’re working through that, and it’s getting better every day,” Fleck said. “The goal is for us to improve our customer service.”
Sponaugle followed up by commenting that many recent retirees have had to dip into savings until their benefits have kicked in. He suggested the agency should pay new retirees their estimated benefits and follow up later with the actual, calculated benefits.
“Why not pay them the estimated amount, rather than holding them up?” he asked.
Fleck responded, “We’ve talked about that. It would be almost like having to do the same thing twice. It would be double the amount of work on staff. We wanted to get it right the first time.”
Sponaugle then asked, “Are you paying them interest?”
Fleck said, “No, we are not paying them interest.”