Hear what State Treasurer Dale Folwell had to say at our Spring Conference

NCRGEA held our 2024 Spring Conference in Raleigh at the McKimmon Center April 1 and April 2, 2024. We enjoyed our guest presentation by current Treasurer, Dale Folwell, who also provided attendees with cards directing them to find Unclaimed Property at NC Cash.

Click the button below for his video presentation.

 

On the Trail

Winter Edition 2023/2024 | LIving Power Magazine

george preiss

George Preiss hasn’t always been the outdoorsy type. When he began his career as a middle school language arts teacher, he befriended a colleague who kept inviting him to go camping, but he always declined. Finally, Preiss decided to accept the invitation and to his surprise, ended up loving the experience.

“Driving home from that first trip, we crossed the sign indicating the Appalachian Trail, and I was like, ‘What is the Appalachian Trail?’ I’d never heard of it,” Preiss says. “My friend explained that it was a 2,000-plus mile continuous trail through the Appalachian Mountains. And I told him, ‘We’ve got to do that.’”

Over the years, Preiss began to see hiking the Appalachian Trailnas a goal for retirement. And when he wrapped up his teaching career in December 2022, he set his sights on finally making the hike a reality. Though he maintained an active lifestyle of walking and biking around his home in Wilmington, NC, Preiss says he didn’t do much hiking prior to tackling the trail.

“I showed up cold turkey, and I’d say a quarter to a third of the people I met on trail had a similar story,” he says. “This was their first hike. So it’s not that uncommon for people to get this idea in their head and do it.”

Preiss did other prep work, though, purchasing all the equipment he’d need on the trail and planning his trek to maximize the best possible weather conditions. On March 11, he set out from the southern entrance of the trail, in
Springer Mountain, Georgia. From there he spent the next 201 days—minus some breaks to nurse injuries—traversing the Appalachian Trail through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Preiss says that one of the biggest misconceptions about hiking the Appalachian Trail is the belief that you’ll be alone in the forest the entire time. While he certainly enjoyed plenty of peaceful solitude hiking and camping through the wilderness, the journey also included stops in trail towns along the way where hikers can rest and replenish supplies.

After completing his trek in September, Preiss says he has gained a greater appreciation not only for hiking, but also his ability to face a challenge.

“I realized pretty early on that I’m a very determined person, and when I commit to something, I’m going to finish it,” he says. “But I’ll never do a six-month hike again with that magnitude. I did learn to love hiking, and I’ll love to go out for a week at a time and go see some new places in the United States—it’s going to be really fun.”

Diving In

Winter Issue 2023/2024, Living Power Magazine

cynthia ferebee

When Cynthia Ferebee retired after a more than 30-year career as a teacher and assistant principal, she knew she wanted to stay active.

“When I retired, I told myself I was not going to sit home and do nothing,” she recalls. Living in Durham, Ferebee says she found the Durham Center for Senior Life, where she encountered no shortage of pursuits from playing cards with friends to taking yoga classes. The latter led her to discover a new passion.

“I fell in love with yoga,” she says. “And after doing yoga a couple of years, I decided to get certified to teach and trained at Duke Integrative Medicine. I’ve been teaching a beginning yoga class at the Durham Center for Senior Life since 2010.”

But yoga isn’t Ferebee’s only athletic activity. Prior to retirement, she ran and competed in 5K races, and once she wrapped up her career, she added biking and swimming to the mix. Cycling and swimming led Ferebee to compete in local, state, and national Senior Games. Akin to the Olympics, the Senior Games hosts athletic competitions for those age 50 and older.

“When I heard about the Senior Games, I knew I wanted to participate,” she says. “I even went to the national event in Birmingham in 2017 and came in 7th place in cycling.” Ferebee says participating in athletics and other activities not only improves her physical health, but it also feeds her mentally and emotionally, too.

“I have a support network with my Scrabble buddies, my meditation buddies, my biking buddies, and my swimming buddies,” she says. “I have people I can talk to and have fun with, and that helps keep my mind sharp because I have an outlet.”

Social Security is Changing How They Collect Overpayments

Wednesday, March 20, 2024 | SSA Press Release

Social Security

Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley today announced he is taking four vital steps to immediately address overpayment issues customers and the agency have experienced. Commissioner O’Malley testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance (excerpt):

“For 88 years, the hard-working employees of the Social Security Administration have strived to pay the right amount, to the right person, at the right time. And the agency has done this with a high degree of accuracy over a massive scale of beneficiaries. But despite our best efforts, we sometimes get it wrong and pay beneficiaries more than they are due, creating an overpayment.

When that happens, Congress requires that we make every effort to recover those overpaid benefits. But doing so without regard to the larger purpose of the program can result in grave injustices to individuals, as we see from the stories of people losing their homes or being put in dire financial straits when they suddenly see their benefits cut off to recover a decades-old overpayment, or disability beneficiaries attempting to work and finding their efforts rewarded with large overpayments. Innocent people can be badly hurt. And these injustices shock our shared sense of equity and good conscience as Americans.

We are continually improving how we serve the millions of people who depend on our programs, although we have room for improvement, as media reports last fall revealed. We have also embarked upon a deep dive into the extent of the overpayment problem at Social Security, the root causes of these administrative errors, and the steps we can take as an agency to address these individual injustices.

Our deeper understanding of the complexities of this problem has set us on the following course of action:

  1. Starting next Monday, March 25, we will be ceasing the heavy-handed practice of intercepting 100 percent of an overpaid beneficiary’s monthly Social Security benefit by default if they fail to respond to our demand for repayment. Moving forward, we will now use a much more reasonable default withholding rate of 10 percent of monthly benefits — similar to the current rate in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.
  2. We will be reframing our guidance and procedures so that the burden of proof shifts away from the claimant in determining whether there is any evidence that the claimant was at fault in causing the overpayment.
  3. For the vast majority of beneficiaries who request to work out a repayment plan, we recently changed our policy so that we will approve repayment plans of up to 60 months. To qualify, Social Security beneficiaries would only need to provide a verbal summary of their income, resources, and expenses, and recipients of the means-tested SSI program would not need to provide even this summary. This change extended this easier repayment option by an additional two years (from 36 to 60 months).
  4. And finally, we will be making it much easier for overpaid beneficiaries to request a waiver of repayment, in the event they believe themselves to have been without any fault and/or without the ability to repay.

Implementing these policy changes — with proper education and training across the people, policies, and systems of the agency — is an important but complex shift. And we are undertaking that shift with urgency, diligence, and speed.

I look forward to working with Members to discuss ideas that could address the root causes of overpayments.”

Social Security launched a comprehensive review in October 2023 of agency overpayment policies and procedures to address payment accuracy systematically. (See Learn about Overpayments and Our Process | SSA and Press Release | Press Office | SSA). These changes are a direct result of the ongoing review. Additionally, the agency recently announced it is working to reduce wage-related improper payments by using its legal authority to establish information exchanges with payroll data providers that will significantly reduce the number of improper payments, once implemented. (See Press Release | Press Office | SSA for more information). The agency will continue examining programmatic policy and making regulatory and sub-regulatory changes to improve the overpayment process. More details on these updates will be shared as they become available.

To watch the testimony and read Commissioner O’Malley Statement for the Record, visit Keeping Our Promise to Older Adults and … | Senate Committee On Aging and Hearing | Hearings | The United States Senate Committee on Finance.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore: NCRGEA’S First Legislator of the Year

Winter 2023/2024, Living Power Magazine

Rep Jeffrey Elmore

The executive board and staff of the North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees’ Association (NCRGEA) is proud to award Wilkes County State House Representative Jeffrey Elmore as our 2023 Legislator of the Year. Elmore is the first legislative member of the year named by the association.

Elmore serves the 94th House District, representing Wilkes and Alleghany counties. In his 11th year in the North Carolina General Assembly, Elmore serves as a House appropriations chairperson and also serves on the House Pensions and Retirement Committee, among other appointments.

Elmore worked tirelessly to secure bonus money for TSER retirees. In addition to his role in the legislature, Elmore also works as an educator in his 23rd year of teaching and has also served as president of the Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC), a nonpartisan group of 7,000 teachers in North Carolina. Prior to serving in the state legislature, Elmore was a planning board member, commissioner in North Wilkesboro, and he served as chairman of the town’s board of adjustments.

A native of Wilkes County, Elmore has deep roots in the region. He resides in North Wilkesboro with his wife and two children, where he’s also a member of First United Methodist Church.

“We are grateful to Rep. Elmore for his service and for championing North Carolina’s public service retirees,” said NCRGEA Executive Director Tim O’Connell.

Prevention is the Best Cure

By Dale R. Folwell, CPA
State Treasurer of North Carolina

The only thing that beats a happy new year is a healthy new year! The State Health Plan offers many preventive care services and medications at no cost to members. Plan members can start their year off right by taking advantage of all the preventive care benefits available to them on all the options the State Health plan offers, including the Base PPO Plan (70/30), Enhanced PPO Plan (80/20), and Humana Medicare Advantage plans.

Preventive care is routine health care that includes screenings, checkups, and patient counseling to help prevent illnesses or disease. Preventive care is covered at 100% when it is provided by an in-network provider, when the claim is filed as a preventive visit, and when services are identified as preventive care under the Affordable Care Act. Examples include mammograms, preventative colonoscopies, and immunizations. There may be exceptions, so it’s important to know what qualifies as preventive care, as well as what questions to ask your provider to avoid extra costs. Good questions to ask include:

  • Will any additional tests, labs, or treatments I get during my appointment not be considered preventive care?
  • Will talking about other topics that are not considered preventive care during my appointment lead to out-of-pocket costs?

For members enrolled in Humana Medicare Advantage Plans, your coverage includes additional benefits, such as the SilverSneakers® fitness program—free of charge—and the Go365 wellness and rewards program, which offers personalized activities, tracking, support, and rewards to keep your health top of mind. To learn more about SilverSneakers and other preventive benefits, visit Humana’s website at Your.Humana.com/ncshp.

These great benefits mentioned above are all part of the Humana Base Medicare Advantage Plan, which is offered to plan members for a $0 premium with Medicare-eligible spousal coverage for just $4 a month, all at no cost to taxpayers. For more information, members are encouraged to visit the State Health Plan’s website at SHPNC.org.

Getting Her Kicks

Winter 2023/2024 Living Power Magazine

julie lowery

Fitness has always been important to Julie Lowery. As a certified registered nurse anesthetist for more than 25 years at UNC Hospitals, Lowery saw fitness as an extension of her health—a way to keep her body strong and vibrant.

Prior to retirement, Lowery regularly attended a gym, taking BodyCombat mixed martial arts classes. Once COVID hit, she switched her routine to home workouts, streaming the Les Mills BodyCombat classes and setting up a gym in her basement. She discovered that she enjoyed home workouts more than in-person classes.

Being able to exercise on her own schedule became even more important as she transitioned into retirement in 2022. Going from a fairly high-energy, high pressure field such as hospital medicine, Lowery knew she would have to figure out a way to stay occupied and fulfilled once she retired.

“I was a little concerned when the actual retirement came,” she says. “You get excited about making a decision such as retiring, but you don’t really know how it’s going to go once it’s actually here, and you hear a lot of stories of people being bored or declining.”

One of the first post-retirement decisions Lowery made was to continue to adhere to her regular workout routine. Lowery says mixed martial arts gives her a total-body workout that not only burns calories, but also builds strength and flexibility that help her stay as healthy as possible as she ages.

“[Exercise] gives me a lot of energy and momentum, and it’s improving or helping me to maintain cardiovascular fitness, as well as flexibility,” she says. “When you get older, you’re really at risk for falling and becoming weak, and muscle innervation gets reduced. So all of the benefits of my workouts combined has helped me to stay in the best shape possible.”

NCRGEA 2024 Spring Conference

RALEIGH April Conference 2024

NCRGEA welcomes our members, pre-retirees and guests to Raleigh on Monday or Tuesday | April 1 or 2 for our Spring Conference! The venue space is limited, so we are offering the event again on Tuesday. Please choose which date works best for you.

We’ll have free continental breakfast to enjoy as you attend our morning sessions, which include:

  • “Medicare and Healthcare” by CenterWell
  • “Local Landscaping Tips” by NC Cooperative Extension
  • “Brain Fitness” by Brookdale Senior Living

There will be many vendors at information tables to answer your questions and provide one-on-one assistance. Giveaways will occur during the day!

Breakout sessions for state and local government retirees will be held to provide updates on your benefits. Candidates for State Treasurer will speak; this is the office that manages the pension for our retirees. Our current State Treasurer will discuss the current news from their office, and presentations will be given by the State Employees Credit Union, the Local Government Federal Credit Union, as well as CenterWell and AMBA.

Door prizes will occur throughout the presentations!

We will have a catered lunch that is free, and we hope you bring a guest to also enjoy this day of fun! They will also attend free~

Stay Active with NCRGEA in 2024

By Deryl Davis Fulmer, PhD
NCRGEA Community Liaison

logos of community outreach for NCRGEA

Over the past year, it has been our pleasure to offer opportunities for members to engage and stay active with NCRGEA. As we move into a new year, we want to take time to recap 2023 and encourage continued engagement in 2024.

In 2023, NCRGEA launched new activities and broke new ground with our outreach efforts while maintaining personal service. I often hear from the office that “the phones are hopping.” Our amazing staff, Margaret Burrell and Cathy Spruill, stay busy each day answering the phones. I heard through the grapevine that they and all others in the office answer hundreds of calls each day and thousands every year. The greatest compliment we often receive is, “I can’t believe I got a live person on the line, and you all helped me!” Thanks, Margaret, Cathy, and the staff at NCRGEA!

In addition, Outreach Coordinator Josephine Lanier, has been traveling across the state, meeting with small groups at our Local Community Outreach Meetings. While there, she explains our benefits and gives a brief legislative update. Check out the “Upcoming Events” list to see when she will be in your area.

In 2023, we added a tool called FastDemocracy, which aids us in our advocacy efforts to key leaders. Last May and June, with our initial use of FastDemocracy, we may have influenced the General Assembly in passing a bigger bonus than the 1% bonus initially proposed. Members sent more than 6,000 letters to their state representatives and senators, resulting in a 4% bonus. When you receive these requests, please use this tool—instructions come with our requests, making it easy to participate.

Our Community Advisory Boards (CABs) are up and running in each of the nine districts. COVID actually helped us to understand the needs of our membership better, as we were challenged to find new ways to engage our membership. We went to cyberspace and quickly learned how to use Zoom, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter). We found that many of you were learning those modalities simultaneously with us. At
the same time, we stepped up our website presence to improve engagement.

Currently, we seek chairs/co-chairs for each of the CABs. Some of you have already accepted the challenge, and we are grateful! We would like to have more of you involved so we can begin hosting fun and informative activities across the state. Please consider joining your CAB and give input for planning activities and other ideas to help retirees remain active and engaged. Your voices help us enhance and maintain retiree benefits.

Last June, we launched the virtual Lunch and Learn webinar series. These programs occur monthly on Wednesdays from 12:30–1:30 p.m. Hundreds of you have enjoyed and benefited from such offerings as Aging Un-Lonely, Social Security Updates, Estate Planning, Long-Term Care, Getting Ready for Aetna and AMBA Benefits and How to Access the Passport Discounts. Tune in and invite your friends to these informative sessions. Membership is not a requirement to participate. Watch your email and website announcements for info on upcoming sessions.

We also joined two major efforts this year as 200 NCRGEA members participated in the March for Meals Champion Week for Meals on Wheels. We plan to join this effort again on March 18–22. Please watch for the notices as we get closer to March.

On Oct. 7, several staff and family members joined the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Raleigh. It was an amazing walk to raise funds for the research and services needed to address this growing issue. Please consider joining such efforts in your respective communities, and if you have, we will feature you in our “Active and Engaged” Facebook posts.

By 2031, the age 65 and older population in North Carolina will be larger than our 18 and under citizens. NCRGEA recognizes that efforts to reimagine aging are paramount for our future. By making you aware of the services and activities you can join efforts in, we hope that we can contribute a small part to healthy aging and your joy in retirement.

Throughout 2023, I featured several agencies and opportunities for volunteerism. I also included the Hometown Strong initiative through Governor Cooper’s office for those interested in part time employment. If interested, please take advantage of these opportunities to stay active and engaged.

Finally, NCRGEA has joined forces with “All Ages, All Stages, A Roadmap for Aging and Living Well,” the governor’s initiative to make North Carolina an aging-friendly state. The initiative aims to ensure that programs and services are addressed to help everyone age in place and the best environment possible. If you are interested in your voice being heard regarding housing, homelessness, food security, social connectedness, transportation accessibility, broadband accessibility, and community safety and protection pertaining to aging in North Carolina, please get in touch with me. We welcome your voices and input in our mission to help you become active and engaged.

As always, if you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at Deryl@NCRGEA.com.

Health is Wealth: Living a Healthy Retirement Lifestyle

Winter 2023/2024 Living Power Magazine

healthy meal

When you’re busy working, sometimes your health can get relegated to the back burner. Now that you’re retired, taking the time to focus on maintaining a healthy body and mind will allow you to lead a richer, more active life.

Eat a Balanced Diet
As you age, you’re more likely to have problems linked to deficiencies in certain vitamins or minerals. While a supplement might seem like an easy solution, getting these nutrients from food will most benefit your body. Try to eat a balanced diet of protein, fat and carbs, and cut back on processed foods, as they can be high in blood pressure-boosting sodium. Lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables should play major roles in your diet.

Stay Active
Regular exercise offers myriad benefits to the body and mind. Aerobic activities such as walking or swimming can boost energy levels, using weights helps build strength, and yoga and pilates keep your body flexible. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of gentle to moderate activity each day, and choose something you enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it.

Visit the Doctor
Putting off medical or dental appointments may have been no big deal when you were younger, but as you age, it’s critical to get regular checkups. Regular blood work and blood pressure tests can help you prevent heart attacks or strokes, and cancer screenings such as mammograms and prostate exams will allow your doctor to catch any abnormalities before they get out of control.

Get Plenty of Sleep
Snoozing for the recommended seven to nine hours per night may be easier said than done, as many experience sleep disruptions with age. But you can sidestep some of those slumber-disturbing issues by limiting caffeine to eight hours before bed, cutting out liquids by two hours before bed, and ensuring your bedroom is dark and cool. Still struggling with sleep? Over-the-counter supplements such as melatonin can help without leaving you groggy the next day—be sure to check with your doctor first.