Retiring? Think canned food and cash

Tuesday - 11/8/2011, 2:04am EST

So how long can you hold your breath underwater? Is six months asking too much? I mention this because ...

If you are planning to retire anytime soon — like within the next 12 months — you better have a rainy day fund to help you keep current with the little things in your life: Like eating, paying your utility bills and avoiding foreclosure.

Over the next few months, a record number of federal workers are likely to decide to retire, or be forced out of their jobs. That would put tens of thousands of extra bodies into the already clogged federal retirement pipeline.

Once they retire, individuals get monthly interim payments until the Office of Personnel Management figures out what their regular benefit should be. The process involves lots of paperwork, and it is complicated when individuals have broken service or worked with several agencies or the military.

Two of the government's largest operations, the U.S. Postal Service and now the Internal Revenue Service are downsizing, big-time. The USPS is talking about eliminating 100,000 jobs through buyouts ($20,000 in two annual payments). Thanks to a $600 million budget cut likely to be imposed by Congress, the IRS — one of Uncle Sam's few money-making operations — says it would have to offer buyouts to employees that don't directly deal with taxpayers. A second round of buyouts, going to those who deal directly with taxpayers, might be in order.

In addition, other agencies say that pending budget cuts could force them to offer buyouts and early retirement to employees. Bottom line: A lot of people may be added to that already long, slow-moving retirement line. So how bad can it be? Read and weep:

"I understand you have been actively involved in writing about the collapse of OPM to process CSRS retirement claims in a timely manner. Have you heard of anyone still waiting after over ten months? If so, I'd like to join that list. All my efforts to get any info from OPM, whether by phone, mail or email, have gone unanswered. I started my requests after the second month mainly because my interim checks are only about 40% of my projected annuity.

"I've even resorted to contacting my congressman, two state senators, both major Washington D.C. papers and the New York Times newspaper, all to no avail. Sure hope you can shed some light on this for me. I've almost run out of money and my home is now in jeopardy. I truly thought after working for the government for 43 years I wouldn't have to worry when my full retirement check would come. It's like a slap in the face..."
Tony Boccio, San Diego

David Snell, director of Retirement Services for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, says the above situation "is the exception rather than the rule," since the average processing time is closer to four months according to OPM, he said.

"That said there are many exceptions and there are different circumstances that may affect the amount of time it takes to complete a retirement claim," Snell added. "For example if the retiree has a court order due to a divorce and the order awards retirement benefits to a former spouse then before the case can be completed there are extra steps that have to be taken and these take a long time to complete. Mr. Boccio might want to contact OPM's Ombudsman."

In January 2010, OPM established the ombudsman to provide a neutral, independent and confidential resource to review, identify, facilitate and timely resolve individual claims, concerns or complaints by OPM customers and employees.

The ombudsman will help raise and resolve issues of concern or complaints regarding the agency meeting courtesy, service and timeliness standards. To email: OMBUDS@opm.gov


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

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