Frequently Asked Questions About CalPERS and COVID-19
There will be no change in your warrant amount due to circumstances related to COVID-19. Changes to deductions, such as taxes, could affect the warrant amount as always. If additional data is reported, an adjustment would be processed which could change your warrant.
Due to COVID-19, the State Controller’s Office (SCO) did not mail the April or May benefit statement to CalPERS retirees enrolled in direct deposit. If you need to view or print recent benefit statements, log in to your myCalPERS account. If you have questions regarding when funds are placed in to your account, contact your financial institution.
No. Pay cuts or furloughs will not impact your retirement check or CalPERS' ability to issue the check. You will receive your retirement check as scheduled.
No. The Governor is proposing to redirect supplemental funds provided to CalPERS earlier this year to pay the state's unfunded liability obligations over the next two years. The revised budget also proposes to refocus $660 million in existing state payments on behalf of school plans to achieving lower rates over the next two years. These changes will not impact your retirement check.
No, members can't stop contributing to their pension unless they terminate their membership with CalPERS (ie terminate employment.) Members who withdraw their "employee" contributions automatically terminate their membership and are no longer eligible to receive a pension. Employer contributions aren't refundable.
The Regional Offices are conducting phone appointments and are working to open more slots. You can schedule those appointments through your myCalPERS account. While no same-day appointments are currently available, appointments for the following day and thereafter are available.
You may apply for service retirement through your myCalPERS account. In most cases, a notarized signature won't be required. If you're married or in a registered domestic partnership, your spouse will be required to sign the spousal acknowledgment form and have it notarized.
The only exception for not having a notarized signature would be if your spouse or registered domestic partner is named as the ongoing monthly beneficiary, receiving 100% of your benefits under a lifetime option and they are the sole primary beneficiary for which 100% of the benefit will be received at the time of your death.
We recommend that you utilize mobile or local notary services to ensure there’s no delay with the processing of your retirement application. We don't provide notary services.
No, the Governor is proposing a 10% pay cut for active state workers. However, he is reopening collective bargaining to see if leaders can reach an alternative agreement to achieve the 10% savings. If an agreement is not reached, the Governor will seek to effectuate the savings through alternative means including furloughs (roughly two days per month).
At this time, we do not know the impact until an agreement is reached through collective bargaining, or, in the absence of an agreement, through an action by the Governor. Please contact your union representative for more information about the progress of negotiations.
Our Sacramento headquarters and Regional Offices are currently closed to protect the public and our team members. But we're open for business, and there are many ways that you can still reach us:
- The CalPERS Contact Center remains open and our benefit team members are available to assist you Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. by calling 888 CalPERS (or 888-225-7377).
- Telephone appointments with the Regional Offices are available next-day and beyond by registering through your myCalPERS account or by calling 888 CalPERS (or 888-225-7377). You may choose any Regional Office for a phone appointment, not just the one closest to you.
- You can also use your myCalPERS account to make important updates online like making changes to tax withholdings or direct deposit, or you can submit secure member inquiries.
- Our website also includes resources and publications to help answer any of your questions.
- CalPERS support teams will continue to process documents sent by U.S. Mail and route them to team members to process and respond.
CalPERS is a long-term investor. That means we prudently and patiently invest through all market cycles. Our team is focused on working together through the extreme volatility of the markets
We've also been planning for an economic downturn for some time. As a result, we are better prepared now than during the financial crisis of 2008. The steps we have taken to lessen the impact of a downturn include:
- Lowering the discount rate, or what we assume our investments will earn each fiscal year
- Implementing a diversified and balanced portfolio, which is essential during times of market volatility
- Shortening the period in which employers pay down their liabilities. That increases the cash into the system and saves public agencies millions of dollars in the long run
- Investing the additional $10 billion in contributions made to the CalPERS fund by Governors Brown and Newsom
- Maintaining a healthy liquidity position to take advantage of market opportunities
We're fully committed to protecting the fund and the retirement security of California's public employees.
If your CalPERS health coverage has been terminated because you didn't submit the Dependent Eligibility Verification documentation in time because of COVID-19, contact us and the CalPERS Health team will review the situation. You'll receive a response within one business day.
We continue to process Service Credit Purchase elections in a timely fashion. Those elections with a pending expiration date are processed first. Members impacted by COVID-19 who had their election period expire are encouraged to contact CalPERS for assistance.
Yes. Our Electronic Payment Gateway allows you to make making electronic payments to CalPERS securely and conveniently.
You may make, reschedule, or cancel your appointment through your myCalPERS account.
There currently are no changes to the time it takes for a service retirement, disability retirement, or survivor benefit determination. The processing time frames for Service Credit Purchases and refunds also remain the same.
We're making every effort to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and are prioritizing our workload to ensure the most critical needs are addressed as quickly as possible. We're committed to ensuring refund request applications are processed timely, minimizing any impacts to our members. In addition, service credit costing requests with a pending retirement date are prioritized and worked first by our team. As part of our process, our team will contact members with a pending retirement date to inform them that the election packet is on its way and to remind them to respond in a timely fashion so we can complete the election prior to the retirement date.
Your eligibility to receive a federal economic impact payment is not affected by your status as a CalPERS member. Find information on who is eligible to receive stimulus payment checks on the Economic Impact Payment Information Center page of the Internal Revenue Service's website.
Our estimated rate of return of 7% for the pension fund represents an average expectation over a long-term time period. We recognize that there will be periods where investment returns are lower and higher than the average, but the long-term average assumed rate of return is 7%. As part of our Asset Liability Management (ALM), these expectations are reviewed on a four-year cycle to avoid being overly reactive to any episodic circumstances such as are happening now. The chief investment officer has an ongoing dialogue with the CalPERS Board about various investment efforts believed to have the potential to increase the probability of achieving the 7% return objective.
The fiscal-year-to-date return for the pension fund was positive 5.6% as of December 31, 2019 and -4.1% as of March 31, 2020. Markets have recovered somewhat in April, and at the time of our April CalPERS Board meetings the investment return for the fiscal year was near zero. This tremendous market volatility makes any estimate of return for the next two months highly uncertain. If markets remain relatively stable, our best estimate is that the 2020 fiscal year return will remain somewhere around zero.
Through close management of the pension fund liquidity program, we're comfortable with the liquidity profile. Our investment team manages daily across the total fund, which includes assessing and forecasting all sources and uses of liquidity across all asset classes on a look-forward basis. This total fund view allows the team to plan for all anticipated uses of cash. In addition to the management framework, we maintain significant exposure to investments which have historically provided excellent liquidity in times of market stress, such as U.S. Treasury securities. Liquidity is further strengthened by having capabilities to pledge securities in return for immediate cash.
No. Our Total Fund Investment Policy calls for investment restrictions, or divestment mandates, to be reviewed on a 5-year cycle. While the drop in the markets would not necessarily lead to a reconsideration of restrictions, the next review is scheduled for 2021.
Impact of Investment Returns on Contribution Rates
Any investment loss that the fund suffers in the 2019-20 fiscal year compared to the assumed 7% return will be reflected in the June 30, 2020, actuarial valuation. As to when it needs to be paid, the answer is slightly different for state and school employers than it is for public agencies. State and school employers will make the first payment on this loss in fiscal year (FY) 2021-22, and the payments will continue for a total of 20 years with the final payment in FY 2040-41. The first, second, third, and fourth payments will be 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% of the remaining 16 payments. The payment structure is the same for public agencies with the first payment being made in FY 2022-23. In all cases (state, schools, public agencies, nonprofits), the required Unfunded Accrued Liability (UAL) payments attributed to the year’s investment loss are made for 20 years.
The Pension Outlook tool, available for non-pooled employers through their myCalPERS account, allows employers to model various scenarios based on different investment return scenarios. We operate on a fiscal calendar, and it is the final fiscal year investment return as of June 30 that is used to calculate employer costs. Generating real-time costs is both impractical and counter-productive for employers, as the returns can vary greatly throughout the year. The lag between observed investment experience and the impact of this experience on employer contributions is designed to allow employers and members adequate time to prepare for changing rates. Employers can choose to make additional discretionary payments (ADPs) during a lag period if they wish to paydown that portion of the Unaccrued Asset Liability (UAL) faster.
Currently, there is no plan to lower the discount rate; there is a plan to review the various factors that go into determining a discount rate, starting in June 2020 and concluding in November of 2021. This is our Asset Liability Management (ALM) review. If the discount rate were reduced, then the possibility of a phase-in of the reduction would be a part of that discussion.
A good year does not offset a bad year in this situation; it would take a very good year. For example, a 19.25% return in 2020-21 would be required to offset a -4% return this year. The average compound return for the two-year period would then be about 7%. For example, a $100 investment that earns 7% for two years would grow to $114.49 ($100 x 1.07 x 1.07) at the end of the 2-year period. If instead the first-year return was -4%, the $100 would decrease to $96 at the end of the first year. It would then need a return of 19.25% year 2 to get to $114.49 ($96 x 1.1925 = $114.49.)
Actual investment returns do not impact the normal cost – only the UAL. However, any change to the expected return rate (i.e., the discount rate) would impact both the normal cost and UAL.
Actuarial Valuations & Costs
The Pension Outlook tool was created to allow employers and other stakeholders the ability to project such results. Also, the annual actuarial reports provide projections and sensitivity results which can be used to approximate future costs.
Estimated rollout is August 2020.
If the payment could be deferred, the employer’s UAL would grow at 7% interest during the period for which payments were suspended. The employer’s funded status would decrease, and ultimately the costs paid by the city would be higher. Suspended payments would eventually need to be made with 7% per year interest added.
Any investment loss experienced during the current fiscal year will not directly impact PEPRA member contribution rates.
Payment Options & Ideas
This option is not available to employers. We need to continue collecting employer contributions in order to fund the system, invest the contributions, and sustain retirements benefits for our more than 2 million members. If your agency is experiencing a temporary financial necessity, we advise you to contact our Pension Contract Management team so we may, on a case-by-case basis, conduct a financial assessment of your agency to determine an appropriate course of action to get you back on a sustainable track. We cannot reduce your overall liabilities and any potential flexibility is both temporary and required to remain actuarially sound as determined by our chief actuary. But we're willing to work with you to the greatest extent possible.
What is typically referred to as the CalPERS financial necessity or hardship policy is Item 10 of the Actuarial Amortization Policy. Under this policy, employers experiencing financial difficulties may request an extension of the time period used to pay down unfunded liabilities. The Pension Contracts Management team will conduct a financial assessment where an employer must demonstrate both legitimate financial necessity and sustainability of all future required contributions under the extended amortization period. The chief actuary then reviews all analyses and circumstances in determining if an amortization extension is appropriate. If approved, the chief actuary sets the modified amortization method and period. The standard method of amortization will be a fresh start of the total Unaccrued Asset Liability (UAL) and level dollar amortization over a 25-year or shorter period. In extreme cases, the chief actuary may consider an amortization period up to 30 years, or an amortization method that results in increasing payments over the amortization period. For Inactive Agency Plans the standard method of amortization will be a fresh start of the total UAL and level dollar amortization over a 20-year or shorter period.
CalPERS has no formal position on POBs. Issuing such bonds inherently involves risks that local agencies must weigh on their own. Historically, there have been success stories and failures with POBs. Our actuaries are available to answer basic questions about POBs but will not provide advice.
Yes. The California Government Code (sections 20901-20904) still allows employers to grant Golden Handshakes provided certain conditions are met, and we'll continue administering this service credit option for employers electing to exercise this provision. If you're interested in opening a Golden Handshake window, contact your assigned contracts analyst.
Yes. We provide regular updates to our Board of Administration in open session about our participating employer decisions.
Administration & Advocacy
For those employers that opted into a COLA as part of their formula for employees, it has historically been considered part of the pension benefit design.
No, we don't have the authority to suspend or reduce COLAs paid to retired members, even in a crisis. We administer COLAs according to the Public Employees’ Retirement Law (Government Code Sections 21310-21335), so any modification to COLAs requires legislative action.
The board has a fiduciary obligation to ensure promised benefits are adequately funded. Benefit design changes are the purview of the California Legislature and the Governor. We'll supply our expertise and resources to properly evaluate and cost out any benefit changes entertained by the legislature.
Workforce, Personnel & Membership
There are some exemptions for retired annuitants that are being utilized to ensure adequate staffing during this state of emergency. Those exemptions include the 960-hour limit per fiscal year, 180-day wait period, and 60-day bona fide separation for those under normal retirement age. All other requirements/restrictions remain in effect, including no predetermined arrangements for those under normal retirement age or resolutions for those individuals fulfilling a permanent position on an interim basis.
Employees who are being directed to use unemployment insurance but are still technically on staff.
Unemployment Insurance is not reportable for CalPERS purposes. Current law does not allow for unemployment insurance to be considered as compensation earnable or pensionable compensation and is not reportable to CalPERS.
Employees who are being furloughed.
Any furlough questions and reportability should be directed to 888-CalPERS (or 888-225-7377) so they can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Employees who have COVID-19 and cannot work, are on extended leaves of absence directly or indirectly related to COVID-19, or on any sort of FMLA related to caring for family members sick from COVID-19 or caring for children who cannot go to school.
If your employees are granted compensatory time off or posting leave credits such as vacation or sick, that time is still reportable to CalPERS. Current law does not allow for unemployment insurance to be considered as compensation earnable or pensionable compensation and is not reportable to CalPERS.
If a public agency or school's closure impacts the timely submission of their regular earned period payroll reports to CalPERS, the late reporting penalty and interest will automatically generate. However, it's understandable timely reporting may not be feasible. If the employer is aware in advance the report may be late, CalPERS encourages them to submit an extension request for all impacted earned periods. To submit an extension request, log in to myCalPERS. Select the Reporting global navigation tab, and then select the Payroll Schedule local navigation link. Within the Payroll Schedule Options panel, employers can request an extension for existing payroll or request an exemption for a non-reportable payroll earned period. If the system does not provide an extension request option for a select earned period, employers will then be required to request a waiver of penalties through the waiver request and dispute process.
CalPERS is committed to working with employers on a case-by-case basis to determine if late reporting penalties and interest should be waived through the established dispute process. This includes all fees related to late reported payroll, retired annuitant fees, State Social Security fees, as well as interest on unpaid contributions and unfunded actuarial liability contributions.
CalPERS will still apply Government Code section 20283 for late membership enrollments. The employer will be billed for both member and employer contributions and a $500 administrative cost will be assessed when membership enrollments are reported 90 days or later.
Pursuant to Government Code section 20630, a member's compensation should be reported for items such as vacation, sick leave, compensatory time off, or leave of absence. If a member is on a paid administrative leave, earnings should continue to be reported as normal as it can be considered either compensatory time off or a paid leave of absence.
If your employees are granted compensatory time off or posting leave credits such as vacation or sick, that time is still reportable to CalPERS. Current law doesn't allow for unemployment insurance to be considered as compensation earnable or pensionable compensation and isn't reportable to CalPERS.
CalPERS will accept an advanced estimated payment for a future period. Once payroll is due for the future period, the employer can make up the difference between the estimated payment and what is truly due. CalPERS will waive any administrative fee and/or interest when the receivable is paid in full.
On March 4, 2020, Governor's Executive Order N-25-20 was issued, which lifts the work hour limitations and wait period requirements for retired annuitants. View the Circular Letter: Governor's Executive Order N-25-20 (PDF). There are no changes with the requirements for independent contractors.
The exceptions outlined in the Circular Letter only apply to retirees working to ensure adequate state staffing to expedite emergency response and recovery. It can apply to existing retired annuitants if they are redirected for this purpose.
All CalPERS-covered employers need to email this information to California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) at CAStateofEmergency@calhr.ca.gov. CalHR has a notification process in place to share this information with CalPERS.