Tag Archives: COVID-19

Avoiding Scams During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time of crisis, it’s important to be on the alert for those who would attempt to defraud you or your family. Here are some consumer warnings and safety tips from the Federal Trade Commission:  

  • Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
  • Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
scams

Reliable Sources of COVID-19 Information

Only rely on trusted sources for information about COVID-19. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. Here are some good online sources:

Reporting Fraud

If you are a victim of fraud, the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection may be able to help. You can call their Consumer Helpline at 1-800-697-1220 or visit their website.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud schemes related to natural and man-made disasters. Call 1-866-720-5721.

You can report allegations of fraud involving New York State taxpayer money to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Call 1-888-672-4555 or report government fraud online.

Woman looking out window

Important Information for Furloughed NYSLRS Members

Unfortunately, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in record growth in unemployment. If you are a NYSLRS member who finds yourself out of work or furloughed (on an authorized leave of absence or temporarily laid off), you may find the following information helpful.

Woman looking out window

What Happens to Your NYSLRS Loan?

If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan and are furloughed from your job, you can defer payments until you go back to work, provided you return to work within one year.

You still must repay your loan within the original five-year repayment period. When you return to work, your loan will be recalculated and your minimum payment will be increased to ensure your loan balance is paid off on time. Interest will still accrue during the deferment, and the added interest will be included in the recalculation.

In order to receive this deferment, you must have your employer send a fax to us (518-486-9877), on their letterhead, indicating the date your furlough began and when they predict it will end.

You can find more information about managing your NYSLRS loan payments in our recent blog post.

Leaving Public Employment

If you leave public employment and are not yet ready to retire, you may want to read our booklet What If I Leave Public Employment? This booklet describes your rights as a NYSLRS member and tells you how to claim any benefits you are entitled to when it comes time for you to retire.

If you decide that this is a good time to retire, you should be aware that you can now apply for retirement online. This new Retirement Online feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. 

COVID-19 Information

We’ve compiled on our website a number of articles and updates about the COVID-19 emergency that you may find helpful. Here you will find information about enhanced death benefits for survivors of COVID-19 victims, filing for retirement benefits during the pandemic and what you can do to protect your loved ones if you become seriously ill.

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. Recently enacted legislation provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

father holding son

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2020; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but have since retired prior to July 1, 2020. If a member met the eligibility requirements above, but died after retiring, their statutory beneficiary will have the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit would be available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier. The legislation is effective through December 31, 2020.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

Stay-At-Home Tips During the COVID-19 Emergency

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, many of us are staying home and practicing social/physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. Staying home is especially important if you are an older adult, have a chronic health condition, or are immunocompromised.

Here are some tips on getting the help and services you need while limiting your time out of the house. And if you must leave your house, follow these steps to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 emergency

Online Banking and Direct Deposit

Many banks have closed or limited the open hours of their branch locations, and are encouraging their customers to use online banking. Online banking allows you to monitor your account balances and pay bills from home. Certain mobile banking features can also allow you to deposit checks using a smartphone. Visit your bank’s website or call your bank’s customer service line to see what services are available.

This is also a good time to arrange for the direct deposit of incoming funds (such as your NYSLRS pension or your paycheck) to your bank account.

If your bank offers a drive-thru or walk-up ATM, the CDC recommends that you clean the ATM keyboard or screen with an antiseptic wipe before using it, and to wash your hands thoroughly after making transactions.

Online Grocery Shopping and Special Shopping Hours

Depending on where you live, your local grocery chain may offer online shopping. Visit your grocery store’s website to see what services are available. They may offer home delivery, where a delivery driver can leave your groceries at your door, or curbside pick-up, where you can pick up your order without needing to leave your car.

Your grocery store may also offer special shopping hours for older or other at-risk customers. If you are unable to place an online order, visit the store’s website or call ahead to see if there are special hours.

Virtual Doctor Appointments

Appointments with your doctor are important to keep, but in some instances, you or your doctor may want to postpone upcoming appointments for you or members of your family. Fortunately, some offices are now offering telemedicine visits as an alternative to in person appointments. Telemedicine visits can take the form of phone calls or video chats with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Visit your doctor’s office website or call ahead to see if this option is available to you.

Your health insurance company may also offer some information about telemedicine. Here are several New York health insurance providers who offer telemedicine resources:

If your doctor wants you to come to the office, be sure to ask about and follow any safety measures they’ve put into place. These safety measures are meant to protect you and your family, medical staff, and other patients.

And Your Pets Too!

Your pets may have medical appointments of their own to keep. Call your veterinarian to see if and how they are accepting pets or prescribing medicine during this time. In some instances, they may ask you to stay in the car while they take your pet inside for treatment.

The CDC offers additional information about keeping your pets safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

Getting Help from the Local Community

Stay in touch with what your local community is doing during the COVID-19 emergency. You can check community websites, social media groups, and local news outlets to see what services are being offered to seniors or at-risk adults. Other community resources, like reputable volunteer organizations, may also be available to assist you.

For more information about running errands during the COVID-19 emergency, visit the CDC’s website. If you live in New York, stay up to date on statewide initiatives by visiting the NY Department of Health’s website.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Your Pension Fund is Strong
Your Pension is Secure

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic uncertainty as well as a public health emergency. Businesses are struggling, more people are unemployed, and markets are volatile. Yet among all the uncertain news we seem to hear daily, there is something NYSLRS members and retirees can have confidence in: your Retirement System and pension fund are strong and secure.

Since it was established in January 1921, NYSLRS has proven its strength and durability. Over the past century, the Retirement System has weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Dotcom bubble burst of 2001, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and more than a dozen other economic downturns. Each time, NYSLRS recovered and emerged stronger than before.

pension fund

Investing for the Long Term

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests the Retirement System’s assets, has been impacted by this largely unprecedented crisis, but the Fund remains strong. While weighing the risk and benefit of every investment, the Fund employs a diversified investment strategy that is designed for the long-term, allowing it to take advantage of growth opportunities in good times, which helps it to better navigate through hard times.

NYSLRS entered the current crisis in a position of strength. Independent analysts, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, have long recognized NYSLRS as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement systems in the nation. The strength of the Fund provides stability and enhances its ability to recover from market swings.

In recent months, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Fund’s professional managers recognized increased volatility in the stock market. The managers made adjustments in the Fund’s investment portfolio in preparation for an expected economic downturn and are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times. The Fund has more than enough assets to pay retiree benefits.

What This Means for You

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the Fund’s assets on behalf of NYSLRS members and retirees. Protecting the Fund is the Comptroller’s number one priority. As a NYSLRS member or retiree, your lifetime retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State constitution, and those benefits cannot be diminished.

NYSLRS continues to be well-positioned to meet both its short-term and long-term obligations. If you are already retired, you will continue to receive your pension payments on schedule. If you are a member, your pension will be there for you when you retire and throughout your retirement years.

We’ve faced similar challenges in the past. We will get through this one.

Power of Attorney

We continue to receive reports of NYSLRS members who have become ill, or seriously ill, as a result of COVID-19. It is vitally important that these members, and their loved ones, be aware of the provisions contained in a NYSLRS Power of Attorney.

NYSLRS provides a Special Durable Power of Attorney form that is specific to retirement transactions and meets all New York State legal requirements. It can be filed with NYSLRS at any time so the designated agent can act immediately in case of emergency, hospitalization or unexpected illness. There’s no need to wait until something happens to file a NYSLRS POA form.

father and son discuss power of attorney

A power of attorney (POA) allows a person to designate someone else to act on their behalf. The designated person, referred to as an “agent,” could be a spouse, another family member or a trusted friend.

A person can designate more than one person as an agent, and can decide if those agents act together or separately. In addition to an agent or agents, a person may designate “successor agents” to act on an individual’s behalf if the person designated as the “primary” agent is unable or unwilling to serve. Successor agents can be named using the “Modifications” section (g) of the POA.

Why is a NYSLRS POA Important?

Normally, NYSLRS won’t release benefit information to anyone without your permission — even to a spouse. With a POA on file, we would be able to discuss your benefits and conduct business with the agent you appointed. This could be especially important now as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If you suddenly become ill and are unable to contact us personally, your agent would be able to take care of your retirement needs for you.

What Can Agents Do?

Agents can file applications and forms, such as service or disability retirement applications. They can get account-specific benefit information, request copies of retirement documents, update addresses or phone numbers or take out loans. For retirees, agents can change the amount withheld from pensions for taxes.

It’s important to note that the NYSLRS POA form only covers Retirement System transactions. It does not authorize an agent to make health care decisions or changes to a Deferred Compensation plan.

Special Authority

If you use the NYSLRS POA form, and your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they have “self-gifting authority.” That means they can direct deposit money into a joint bank account you have with them, designate themselves as a beneficiary to your pension benefits, and/or choose a retirement payment option that provides for a beneficiary after your death.

If your agent(s) or successor agent(s) is not your spouse, domestic partner, parent or child, they do not automatically have “self-gifting” authority, which means they cannot name themselves as a beneficiary or direct deposit money into a joint bank account with their name on it. If you wish to give an agent(s) or successor agent(s) ”self-gifting” authority, you should specifically indicate so in section (g) “Modifications” of the POA. In that section you should identify your agent(s) or successor agent(s) by name and state the specific authority granted to them.

Please note only biological or legally adopted children are considered your “child” for NYSLRS POA purposes. All other children must be granted specific authority in section (g) “Modifications.”

How to Submit a NYSLRS POA Form

If your decision to submit a NYSLRS POA is related to the COVID-19 emergency, please note that on the form in section (g) “Modifications.” If you file a retirement application, consider submitting a NYSLRS POA with your application.

You can scan and email a copy of your POA to NYSLRS using the secure email form on our website.

You can also mail your POA (original or photocopy). You may wish to mail it certified mail, return-receipt requested, so that you know when NYSLRS receives it. The address is:

NYSLRS
110 State Street
Albany, NY 12244-0001.

Find Out More

A power of attorney is a powerful document. Once you appoint someone, that person may act on your behalf with or without your consent. We strongly urge you to consult an attorney before you execute this document.

Please read the Power of Attorney page on our website for additional information.

15-Day Notice for Retirement Waived During COVID-19 Emergency

The 15-day waiting period for a NYSLRS member’s retirement to take effect has been temporarily waived by a governor’s executive order. The waiver, which was requested by Comptroller DiNapoli, is designed to protect families who may lose a loved one to COVID-19 before a member’s retirement is official.

Under the waiver, if you file for retirement between April 16, 2020 and August 6, 2020, you can choose a date of retirement less than 15 days away.

15-day notice waived

Members seeking to service retire should also choose a pension payment option. This is especially important if you wish to name a beneficiary to receive a pension benefit in the event of your death.

Eligible members can file for retirement, choose a date of retirement as early as the next day, and upload retirement-related documents using Retirement Online.

If you choose to file a paper retirement application, you can choose a specific retirement date, or enter “ASAP” and your date of retirement will be the day after your filing date. Find more information about filing for retirement (online or by mail) in our recent blog post, Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy.

A member may withdraw their service retirement application up until the day before they retire.

The waiver will also be effective for members who filed after March 7, 2020 and died due to COVID-19. If these members selected a pension payment option that provides a continuing pension benefit for a beneficiary after their death, and they died of COVID-19, their beneficiary will receive the monthly benefit under the pension payment option that the member chose.

“Many government workers are battling the coronavirus in their communities every day,” New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “God forbid something should happen to them before their retirement becomes effective. Waiving the waiting period after filing for service retirement benefits ensures their families will get the benefits that were intended for them. My thanks to Governor Cuomo for acting on our request and taking steps to protect our heroic state and local workers and their families in these tough times.”

The executive order waives the legal requirement that a NYSLRS member’s retirement application be received by the Office of the State Comptroller at least 15 days before their retirement date.

To be eligible for a service retirement benefit, a vested NYSLRS member must be at least 55 years old, unless they are in a special plan that allows retirement after 20 or 25 years regardless of age. For details about NYSLRS service retirement benefits and death benefits, please check your retirement plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page.

Members who are not yet eligible for a service retirement benefit may want to read our recent blog about applying for a disability retirement benefit.

Retirement Online Makes Applying for Retirement Fast, Easy

During this challenging time, NYSLRS staff continues to work hard to serve you, which includes processing retirement applications. If you are eligible and planning to retire, you don’t need to delay filing. And, if you become ill with COVID-19, you may want to file for retirement to protect your loved ones.

Regardless of your reason for retiring, you can now file for a service retirement benefit using Retirement Online. This new feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. If you don’t already have an account, register today.

filing a retirement application

File for a Service Retirement Online

After signing in to your Retirement Online account, scroll down to the ‘My Account Summary.’ On the right, under the heading ‘I want to…,’ click the green “Apply for Retirement” button.

From there, you’ll go through a series of screens where you’ll be able to:

A big advantage of filing for retirement online is that you do not have to get anything notarized.

After you click the “Submit” button, it is important that you do not close your browser until you receive a confirmation message that your retirement application has been successfully submitted.

This help guide offers step-by-step instructions.

Notarized Signatures

If you decide to file your application by mail, you will have to have your signature notarized on the application and on the payment option election form.

You can have forms notarized using audio-video technology, which allows a notary to witness a signature remotely. You can find more information about the virtual notary process on the New York Secretary of State website.

If you are in quarantine and unable to use a virtual notary, you can submit a signed form that is not notarized. You’ll need to include a letter to NYSLRS to explain that you were under quarantine when the form was signed, and submit notarized forms once the quarantine is lifted.

Filing for Service Retirement by Mail

You can still print an Application for Service Retirement and pension payment option election form and mail them to NYSLRS. If you mail the application, we recommend “certified mail, return receipt requested.” When we receive the form, the postmark date will serve as the filing date.

If you use regular mail, the filing date will be the date we receive it. If you die between the time you mail it and the time we receive it, a legible postmark will serve as the date of filing. (If you mail it from a post office, you can ask for a hand cancellation, which may help ensure the postmark is legible.)

If you plan to mail your application, you may want to read our blog post, Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement.

Disability Retirement Benefit

If you become seriously ill, you may wish to file for a disability retirement benefit. That way, if you were to die before your retirement date, your beneficiary may still be eligible for a continuing pension, rather than a one-time, in-service death benefit. You may apply for a disability retirement at the same time you apply for a service retirement — there is no 15 day waiting period when filing for disability retirement.

For information about applying for a disability retirement benefit as a result of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, please read the Filing for Retirement Benefits During the COVID-19 Emergency blog post or visit our Disability Retirement Benefits page.

For More Details, Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Your service and disability retirement benefits and death benefits are based on your tier, plan, service credit, and other factors. For details about your available benefits, please read your retirement plan booklet, available on our Publications page, or you can call our Contact Center at 866-805-0990 if you have questions.

Covid-19

Work During COVID-19 Crisis Won’t Affect Retiree Earnings Limit

New York State needs the help of certain retirees, especially health care professionals, during the COVID-19 emergency.

COVID-19

Normally, most NYSLRS retirees who return to work for a public employer face an earnings limit, but that limit has been temporarily suspended by the Governor by executive order during the emergency. Pay from a public employer earned from March 27 through August 5, 2020 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings cap.

Under Section 212 of the Retirement and Social Security Law, most NYSLRS retirees under age 65 who return to work for a public employer can earn up to $35,000 per calendar year without penalty. Once a retiree exceeds the earnings limit and continues to work, their pension benefits are suspended for the remainder of the year.

The New York State Department of Health (DOH) is seeking qualified health care professionals to help out during the coronavirus pandemic. You can find more information on the DOH website.