With the Government Employees’ Retirement System possibly headed toward insolvency within three years, the University of Virgin Islands’ CELL program has its work cut out for it as it tries to come up with a five-year strategic plan.
In a preliminary step to devising that plan, CELL held a virtual town hall meeting to get input from active members, retirees and the UVI community Tuesday evening.
Haldane Davies, one of the people conducting the meeting, gave a hopeful introduction to the meeting saying he looked forward to a future in which GERS would play a part. Participants in the meeting, however, appeared to be less optimistic saying they were unable to feel financially secure about their future.
When asked what they saw as a successful future for GERS, one asked for nothing more than the system be financially solvent until she “passed.” One participant, who has only been working for the government for about five years, said she felt that the money she contributed each paycheck to the system was just “money down the drain” and wondered if she could get a tax credit for the “loss.”
The meeting was centered on eight questions asked by Wendy Coram-Vialet of CELL. The questions concerned strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the system. The participants were also asked how the system’s problems could be solved. One participant said Delegate Stacey Plaskett should be lobbied “to get the federal government to help GERS.” Another suggested federal COVID funds could be used to prop up the system.
A couple of participants indicated they thought the system could benefit from better investments and cutting back on administrative staff costs. The GERS board of trustees has acknowledged every little bit helps but has many, many times emphasized the main problem is that each month the system collects a lot less money than it pays out in annuities.
The system now has a two-tier status for employees, with the employees hired in the last decade paying more into the system and receiving lower annuities. Participants recommended changes in the tiers and the possibility of creating a third tier.
Participants also had the opportunity to say what they thought worked well in GERS. They said customer service was excellent and that annuities checks were always sent out on time. However, one participant said the time between an employee’s retirement date and receiving their first check should be shortened. Another said GERS employees were good about getting word to the public about the financial status of the system, but the YouTube broadcast of the board of trustees meetings left a lot technically to be desired.
One retiree stated, “I am already at borderline poverty level and any change in the monthly payments will be very difficult.”
A virtual town hall meeting is scheduled for the business community at 6 p.m. Thursday. Davies said people in the community who said they were not concerned about the possible insolvency of the system should be.
A virtual town hall for active employees is set for 6 p.m. March 25. Participants on Tuesday said that new employees needed to be educated about the system.