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06/12/2020

PSERS Quick Response Ensures Continued Service to Members throughout COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Release
For Immediate Release
June 12, 2020

For More Information Contact:

Steve Esack
Press Secretary
Public School Employees' Retirement System
Phone: 717-418-7526
e-mail:  stesack@pa.gov

PSERS Quick Response Ensures Continued Service to Members throughout COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Provides Update on Remote Operations during Board Meeting

 

HARRISBURG – During the height of the pandemic, the PA Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) continued its century-old mission of administering and investing retirement benefits for public school employees throughout Pennsylvania, according to information released at Friday’s public meeting of the PSERS Board of Trustees.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented health and economic crisis across the globe,” said Jennifer Mills, PSERS Deputy Executive Director and Director of Defined Contribution Investments. “For PSERS, there was no choice but to continue operations.  [Benefits] for our members needed to be processed without interruption.  Investments could not be ignored, even for a day.  But there’s more to PSERS than just monthly annuity benefits and investments.”

The Board of Trustees public meeting on Friday and committee meetings held on Thursday were conducted through a hybrid system of in-person attendees and virtual attendees who participated via Skype or phone. It was the first full schedule of Board meetings since the government shutdown began on March 16 in Pennsylvania. 

PSERS Bureau of Benefits Administration received 2,697 retirement applications between March and May, which is about a quarter decrease over the same time frame last year and 2018. It is too early to determine what caused the decrease, Mills said, however, applications have since picked up above normal June rates.

PSERS Bureau of Communications and Counseling continued to respond to members’ and employers’ questions after PSERS’ Harrisburg headquarters and regional offices closed to the public. Between March 16 and May 31, the bureau answered 78,000 emails. BOCC staff had limited ability to respond to members’ phone calls before the agency was able to remotely re-establish its member call center in late April. BOCC also transitioned from in-person retirement counseling sessions to online Skype counseling sessions and conducted more than 350 exit-counseling webinars with over 1,700 attendees.

“It was a new world for staff who were dealing with their family life, work life, and now this new technology,” Mills said. “We had to ensure everyone had the right resources.”

Prior to the shutdown, less than 30 percent of PSERS’  361 employees had the technological capability to work remotely, said Joe Wasiak, Deputy Executive Director for Administration. “Within days of the lockdown starting,” he said, “PSERS Information Technology Office deployed 250 laptops, 350 monitors and software upgrades, including a new virtual privacy network.” Nearly all PSERS employees now have the ability to work remotely from home.

The agency also secured additional sanitation equipment and hired a contractor to ensure the safety of essential on-site employees, Wasiak said. “The agency has developed a plan for when and how staff can return to the offices as lockdown restrictions begin to ease across the state,” he added.

“Proper emergency planning allowed the Office of Financial Management to remotely process more than 709,000 benefit payments totaling $1.6 billion to PSERS retirees, and 204 investment-related allocations totaling $3.2 billion,” said Chief Financial Officer Brian Carl.

In other financial news, Carl added, the Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly deserve enormous credit for budgeting PSERS’ full actuarially determined contribution in the state’s 2020-21 budget that begins July 1. That funding commitment will go a long way to helping PSERS continue its financial recovery and continuing to fully fund contributions will ultimately help improve the state’s overall bond credit rating, he said.

Finally, Carl announced, PSERS, for the 37th consecutive year, received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).  The award is the highest recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting. The GFOA is a Chicago-based association that represents 20,000 elected and appointed officials in the United States and Canada.

About the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System

PSERS, founded in 1917, began operations in 1919 to oversee a statewide defined benefit pension plan for public school employees. PSERS' role expanded upon the passage of Act 5 of 2017 to include oversight of two new hybrid options consisting of defined benefit and defined contribution (DC) components and a stand-alone DC plan. As of March 31, 2020, PSERS had net assets of approximately $55.8 billion and a membership of about 256,000 active and 234,000 retired school employees.