Deadline Passes For School Employee Retirement Benefits Selection

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The calls are coming in by the hundreds if not thousands at the Office of Retirement Services as more than 250,000 school employees from across the state try to make a decision deadline on their retirement benefits. The increased volume of calls to the call center and to the retirement benefits web site have been hard to keep up with.

"Yes, we've had some slowness this week no doubt about that," said Kurt Weiss, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Information Technology Management and Budget. "But we've been working hard. Our technology people have been working very hard to fix that and when we've seen those problems we've cleared it up and we've gotten people through."

"That's really unfortunate that the state through legislation tells people they have to make a decision, an election, by 5 pm today and then they don't have the equipment that can handle the burden," Art Przybylowicz, the general counsel for the Michigan Education Association.

Not only has the web site been slow this week. News Ten received an email from one school employee who said she was on hold for about 30 minutes.

Management at the call center says the average wait time is about 12 minutes, and workers are doing all they can to keep up. This call center normally has about 30 people answering phones, but at times during the past week there have been more than 125.

"A lot of busy people as you can see behind me that are doing the best they can to keep up, and I think we are doing a very good job," said Weiss.

So far about 70 percent of people have made their benefits selection. Those who don't choose a selection will receive the computer's default selection which is different for each person. In some cases the school employees may want the default selection and so not both calling into the center. That means the number of school employees who have "chosen" their selection could be higher than the 70 percent.

If school employees still want to make a retirement benefits selection, they still should.

"I think it's important to note to that the 5 o'clock deadline today, there's a temporary restraining order out there right now, that could very well make this deadline obsolete, and we will be working with people next week and they can still make their election," said Weiss.

It's up to the Michigan Supreme Court to decide if the new law is constitutional. If it is, then the court will say when the final deadline for selecting benefits really is.

No oral arguments have been filed yet before the state Supreme Court.

"We don't believe that constitutionally they can change the rules of the game after people have already been working and after they already have an expectation," said Przybylowicz. "To ask them to change their expectation in terms of what they have been told their retirement is going to be long after they've been working and paying towards that retirement is just very unfair and we believe unconstitutional."

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