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News

Press Release

For Immediate Release
July 6, 2001

Contact: Pam Henning, (608) 267-2929


ETF Phone Lines Swamped as WRS Retirees Begin Receiving Retroactive Pension Increases

MADISON -- In the wake of one of the most significant pension and benefit increases in Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) history, so many people are trying to contact the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds (ETF) that the phone lines are jammed, e-mails are flooding in, and members without scheduled appointments are taking their chances and "walking in" to the agency's offices in order to get their questions answered.

The enormous volume of unanswered phone calls alone is worrisome to Department officials. "We have been experiencing about 60,000 'blocked calls' a day," says ETF Communications Director Julie Reneau, who heads the Department's state-of-the-art Call Center. Blocked calls mean that the callers are receiving busy signals when they dial the Department's main customer service telephone number.

Many of the blocked calls came from repeat callers who got busy signals. "And that greatly concerns us," says Reneau. "Every member and every telephone call is important to us. There are people that seriously need to get through, but they haven't been successful. Even if all could possibly get through, we do not have enough staff to handle such a large volume of calls."

In addition, traffic on ETF's Internet site has quadrupled and the Department is scrambling to respond to over 500 e-mails a week, the large volume of paper correspondence, and the increasing number of people walking in because they can't get through on the phones.

This has all happened since the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on 1999 Wisconsin Act 11 on June 12. "We knew the delay would create unprecedented workload for department staff and access problems for our members," says Reneau. The Court ruled that all provisions in the pension and benefit improvement law were constitutional. The law affected all 460,000-plus members of the retirement system.

Reneau provided answers to some of the most common questions asked by WRS retirees:

I retired in 2000, why didn't I get an increase in my July 1 check?

Answer: Only those who retired before 2000 were eligible for the 9.6% increase in their annuities due to Act 11. If you retired after 1999, a final calculation will be done on your account within the next 18 months that will include the benefit improvements (higher formula or money purchase benefit) you will receive. When your final calculation is done, you will receive any retroactive amount due to you, plus interest if applicable.

I retired after 1999. When will you recalculate my annuity with the Act 11 provisions?

Answer: Due to the delay in the Court decision, it may take up to 18 months for us to finalize all retiree benefits using the Act 11 improvements. You will continue being paid on an estimated basis until we are able to complete your final benefit calculation. We will start with January 2000 retirements and work our way forward in time through the existing backlog.

My federal tax withholding was increased due to the large retroactive payment I received on July 1, but my Annuity Information Mailer shows that the same large withholding will also be on my August 1 check. Is this correct?

Answer: No. It was a printing error only on accounts that have federal withholding by the federal tax tables. Your August 1 withholding will correctly reflect a single payment in August.

You withheld more in federal taxes on my July check, but no extra was taken for State of Wisconsin withholding. Why?

Answer: Because our current annuity system is quite old (we are in the process of planning a new system), we are unable to accommodate retroactive adjustments to your monthly Wisconsin tax withholding if you have elected withholding by the tax tables. You may wish to change your Wisconsin tax withholding to handle your additional tax liability from your retroactive payment.

I have never had taxes withheld from my benefit and now with the large July 1 check you withheld taxes. Why?

Answer: When you initially retired, you elected withholding by the tax tables. Until the July 1 payment, you did not have enough income to generate any withholding. Due to the large payment, you qualified for withholding and we withheld the amount that was based on your original election.

Reneau points out that participants don't have to call the Department's customer service number in order to change their tax withholding amounts. They can call ETF's Self-Service line toll-free at 1-877-383-1888 or 266-2323 (local Madison) or download the form from the Department's Internet site at: etf.wi.gov

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Statement of Benefits Mailing Delayed

Department officials emphasize that the annual Statement of Benefits mailing sent to 260,000 active and 107,000 inactive members will be distributed in early October. "Please do not contact the Department to request your January 1, 2001 Statement," says Reneau. "We have started the process by which we create the Statements, and it will take until October to get them all produced and mailed. We had to wait until we had a Supreme Court decision in order to get started."

The Statements show non-retired members their 2000 earnings, years of WRS service, retirement account balances, etc.

 

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