Loyalty and Duty of Care to Our Members

By Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, LivingPower Newsletter Nov/Dec 2023

Department of State Treasurer (DST) focuses on loyalty and duty-of-care for public servants like you who teach, protect or otherwise serve the citizens of North Carolina. This is what drives DST and the North Carolina Retirement Systems (NCRS) to fulfill their mission to protect and preserve the state’s pension system and health care plans, while reducing fees and maximizing value.

Though we have had to navigate some uncharted waters over the last few years with stock market volatility and COVID, NCRS has been consistently in the check-delivery business. At our very core, we ensure benefits due to members are delivered as promised and on time, and that members and their families who are impacted by a life event are taken care of in a timely, efficient manner. I want to recognize our staff that works diligently with a member-first mentality to not only get business done but listen to what is needed to do good business.

Over the last year we launched a new phone system that allows easier access to information through an automated, self-service phone menu. Over 30% of members calling in now find what they need, on their own, through this system. Those that need to speak to a retirement counselor are holding on the line less than two minutes on average. Chat was recently implemented in ORBIT as an additional way to get the information you need. Users who participated in the soft launch of this service have given it a nearly perfect rating. We realize every member’s situation is different, so our counselors are dedicated to taking the time you need to provide value and service.

Recent legislation has brought positive changes impacting NCRS. Members with a retirement date on or after January 1, 2024, will see their first benefit payment made by direct deposit. Traditionally, a retiree’s first payment has been sent by paper check. New retirees will be able to lock in their retirement options earlier and NCRS will be able operate more efficiently as we continue to see record numbers of retirements each month.

For the second time in as many years, the state will pay a one-time supplement for benefit recipients who retired on or before October 1, 2023, are living as of October 1, 2023, and are members of the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System, Consolidated Judicial Retirement System, and the Legislative Retirement System. This one-time supplement will be issued on or before November 30 and is equal to 4% of the annual retirement allowance, where the annual retirement allowance is 12 times the monthly allowance payable for October 2023.

These funds did not come from the Plan itself and were appropriated by the General Assembly as a part of the budget passed on October 3, 2023. This does not apply to benefit recipients of the Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System (LGERS), where a benefit increase may be granted by the LGERS Board of Trustees within certain statutory limitations.

Whether you are planning for or in retirement, there has been a seismic shift in this life phase. People are living longer, and this requires a revised budget strategy for income, expenses, and health care costs. The fact is you have a solid foundation in retirement with your monthly pension benefit and this should serve as your motivation. The NC Pension is widely regarded as one of the most secure and best-funded pensions in the United States. Additional savings in the NC 401(k) and NC 457 Plans, coupled with Social Security Income and outside assets, will also help in meeting a gap in retirement income. Each of you has navigated a change towards retirement and I encourage you to talk with someone younger than you to share your lessons learned.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” As we move to a new year, I wish each of you success in health and purpose and thank you for your service to the citizens of North Carolina.

2023 Legislative Goals Update

LivingPower September/October 2023

District 94 Representative Jeffrey Elmore, right, and NCRGEA’s Executive Director, Tim O’Connell, discuss the importance of a defined benefits plan for retirees and its value in attracting and retaining our current public service workforce. Elmore serves as a member of the House’s Pensions and Retirement Committee and also happens to be a public-school teacher. Meetings like these with legislators are just one of the ways NCRGEA advocates for state and local government retirees.

Representing our state’s more than 357,000 state and local retirees, your NCRGEA board of directors, executive director, and government relations team create a series of legislative goals that best addresses the quality of life for North Carolina’s government retirees. These goals are developed to align with the legislative biennium, a two-year session consisting of one long and one short session, beginning in each odd-number year.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our country, there was a dramatic shift in the quality of life for everyone, including our members and all in retirement. NCRGEA worked to address this with more holistic and expansive legislative goals focusing on healthcare, telehealth, and broadband.

Our focus to keep our state’s pension system healthy and productive for you and generations of retirees remains steadfast. In this new age, job vacancies in all industries have increased substantially. This is especially true in government, where roughly 30 percent of public sector openings remain unfilled. Why does this matter to you? All public sector employees contribute to their respective pension systems. When vacancies are high, less employee and employer revenue is contributed to the pension systems.

Here’s a status report of 2023-2024 biennium legislative goals:

  1. Advocate for annual cost of living adjustments for all government retirees.
    While the budget remains unfinished at press time, your NCRGEA government relations team has tirelessly pursued additional money for state and local retirees. Local retirees can only receive a bonus or COLA with approval by the Local Government Retirement System Board of Trustees. Such a vote will likely occur in January 2024. On our website, you can learn more about the Local Government Trustees and statutes relating to Local Government COLA processes. For state government retirees and retired teachers, bonus or COLA money is expected in the final state budget. We will send a legislative update to all members by email when the biennium budget is approved.
  2. Strengthen the state’s defined benefit plan to attract and retain the best and brightest public servants.
    Efforts to increase salaries for teachers and state government professionals are well underway, and such raises will be released when the state house and senate agree on a tax package as well as salary pay for active employees.
  3. Ensure the State of North Carolina will continue to fulfill its constitutional requirement to fully fund North Carolina Retirement Systems and the State Health Plan.
    The State of North Carolina is bound by the North Carolina Constitution and case law to guarantee pensioners’ benefits. The state will fully fund both the pension system and State Health Plan this biennium.
  4. Increase in-person and telehealth access, improving health outcomes for retirees.
    Healthcare for all North Carolinians has been a battleground in the General Assembly. The largest has been a shift in legislative opinion regarding Medicaid expansion. At the same time, significant legislation on how hospitals are approved and managed, along with bills focused on improving health outcomes for the elderly and children, have been debated.
  5. Expand first, middle, and last-mile broadband opportunities to provide increased, dependable, affordable access to broadband.
    Six broadband bills were introduced for the 2023 long session, many including expanded access in rural areas. An existing effort, the GREAT grant act, has included stepped-up funding since the pandemic.
  6. Expand the Bailey tax exemption for state and local retirees and pursue other tax exemption opportunities.
    Tax exemption bills for government retirees were filed in both the House and Senate. It appears future discussion of this type of legislation may roll into next year’s short session.

More details on the status of bills related to NCRGEA legislative’s agenda can be found on NCRGEA’s FastDemocracy Bill Tracker, that is available to you on our website.