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
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
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
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,