Now, however, even the partial payments are being delayed, the Army says.
But wait. Not so, OPM says.
In a notice headlined “What to Expect When You Retire,” the Army told its civilian retirees last month that they should expect longer waits for the interim payments, up to two months.
“With OPM’s current backlog and the expected significant rise in retirement processing workload, the time frame for OPM to place an annuitant in interim pay may increase to 6-8 weeks after their retirement date,” according to the Army.
Asked about the Army’s statement, Ken Zawodny, OPM’s associate director for retirement and benefits, said: “The statement you referenced is not accurate. . . . Also, it is important to note that the time it takes to put people into interim payments is not changing.”
So we’ve got the Army saying one thing and OPM saying another. It is not a bright light for a federal retirement system already clouded with confusion. Pentagon officials did not provide the OPM document on which the Army said it based its information.
The Army statement did show kindness to its fellow agency by saying “OPM has made remarkable improvements by providing retirees interim pay” seven to 10 days after it receives the worker’s employment records.
According to OPM’s Strategic Plan for Retirement Services, “Typically, OPM receives these records about 30 days after an employee’s separation for retirement.”
The plan, which was sent to Congress this month, says “interim payments are authorized within five to seven days, for nearly all new claims (automated or manual) but the payments would come on the next regular scheduled pay cycle.”
But any improvement on the back end of processing interim checks — if there is any — is offset by earlier delays. The problem, according to the Army, is OPM typically did not get those records until four to six weeks after an employee’s retirement date. Now the Army says the four to six weeks has become six to eight weeks.
“Because of these anticipated delays, federal employees retiring in December 2011 or January 2012, are encouraged to carefully evaluate their financial status to ensure they have sufficient financial resources and are prepared for a 6-8 week period before receiving interim (estimated) payment,” the Army said, “and as much as a 6-12 month delay in receiving their final, approved annuity.”
If the Army is correct, this means people could be in tough shape if they are retiring from the federal government and can’t afford to go up to two months with no retirement income.
When they do get the partial payment, it could be much smaller than anticipated. Though the OPM strategic plan says “In FY [fiscal year] 2011, the average amount of interim pay received by annuitants was 80.3 percent of their final annuity,” it is not uncommon to hear of partial payments significantly lower than that.
The strategic plan lists several causes of lower retirement pay. One is the retiree is entitled to special consideration as a member of certain retirement groups such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers. Other reasons include a court order affecting the applicant’s retirement or military retirement pay that must be included in the calculation.
In some cases, OPM said it could be unable to authorize interim payments for several reasons: unverified service, the retiree is getting workers’ compensation payments, or the annuity is too small to withhold health or life insurance premiums.
Ron Schneider, an Olney, Md., resident who put in 23 years with Veterans Affairs, said he gets a monthly partial payment that’s about 60 percent of his expected full check. “It’s about $1,000 less than it should be,” he said.
The reasons OPM gives for lower interim payments don’t apply to him.
“It should be a straight computation,” he said.
It’s not just the short check that irks Schneider. It’s also the poor communication from OPM. Like others who have complained to the Federal Diary, Schneider is frustrated with the level of information OPM provides retirees.
“That’s the problem with OPM,” he said. “We can never get answers out of them.”
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