Overpayment and Repayment
From time to time CMERS will make an overpayment to a retiree or annuitant. This can occur for a number of reasons but the most common is when a retiree or annuitant does not notify CMERS that they are receiving Social Security disability benefits which would reduce their monthly benefit or when an error is made in the calculation of the retirement benefit. CMERS is required to recover any overpayment it has made to either a retiree or annuitant regardless of cause of the overpayment. Even if the overpayment occurs as a result of an administrative error made by the municipality or CMERS, CMERS will seek repayment of the amount. CMERS generally recovers the overpayment by taking a certain amount as an offset from the monthly benefit over a finite period of time.
CMERS makes the initial determination as to whether overpayment occurred. A one time overpayment may be treated differently from overpayments repeatedly and/or systematically made over a long period. Generally, if an overpayment is discovered, CMERS will inform the member:
This initial notification will also contain an Election Sheet which will give the member several repayment options. This notification will also contain a deadline from the date of the letter for the affected member or beneficiary to either make arrangements with CMERS for repayment or request a waiver of repayment. A failure to respond to CMERS within this deadline will result in a waiver of appeal rights and immediate recovery by CMERS of the overpayment.
If a member is deceased or dies prior to total repayment and if such action is permitted by the payment election option chosen by the member, CMERS will continue to collect repayment from the member's beneficiary, spouse or contingent annuitant's monthly benefit entitlement. If there is no further monthly benefit entitlement, CMERS will seek to collect the remaining amount from the member's estate.
Waiver of Overpayment
Connecticut General Statute Sec. 7-439h requires CMERS to recover overpayments but also permits the State Retirement Commission in exceptional circumstances to waive all or part of the repayment of an overpayment.
In order for the Commission to "waive" repayment, a member needs to show that: (1) an error was made that he did not, and could not, reasonably know about and (2) that financial hardship prevents the member from making restitution. With regard to financial hardship the member must both explain the nature of this hardship and show proof of the hardship. In order to determine financial hardship, the Commission examines the total gross income of the member and spouse including cash contributions of any other family member to the member's household (the member and spouse including cash contributions of any other family member to the member's household), during the twenty-four months prior to the discovery of the overpayment to determine whether the member's overpayment should be waived.
In order to determine whether an overpayment of benefits should be waived, the Commission requires at a minimum, that the member produces individual and partnership (if applicable) income tax returns (including all schedules and attachments such as W-2s and 1099s) for the current and previous calendar years and the current balances of all bank accounts, unless the overpayments amounts to more than $10,000, in which case, the Commission reserves the right to require additional information. The Commission may require the member to present any financial records, pay stubs, federal income tax returns, or other data deemed necessary for such determination. The Commission may require the member to provide his spouse's social security number and similar financial information with regard to the spouse for the purpose of verifying the spouse's income.
Appeal of Repayment
There is no formal form a member needs to fill out to request a waiver of the over-payment. To seek a waiver of the repayment, a member must:
1. Follow the directions in the overpayment letter and send CMERS a formal, written request seeking waiver of the overpayment. This request should include as much details as possible as to "what happened", all reasons as why waiver should be granted and how the member first came to realize there was a problem with his or her monthly benefit. Please be aware that a claim of administrative error on the part of the municipality, employer or CMERS by itself is an insufficient basis to seek a waiver of repayment; and:
2. Show that financial hardship prevents them from making repayment. The member must explain the nature of the hardship and show proof of the hardship. The Commission needs proof that the member cannot re-pay the amount being sought and the proof needs to be included with the request. The overpayment letter will inform the member of what financial information to send with the waiver request.
Remember - a member must show financial hardship in order to secure a waiver of repayment. CMERS will not process a request for waiver unless it receives this financial documentation with the member's appeal. If this documentation is not included in the member's appeal, it will be administratively denied.
If a member is also claiming that waiver should be granted because of extreme physical or mental disability, poor health or any other circumstances which would cause extreme hardship, the member must submit appropriate documentation such as medical reports which support the claim. This proof should be included with the member's request in addition to the financial information. With regard to a waiver request because of a disability or poor health, please note that the retirement statutes explicitly call for a benefit offset upon the receipt of a social security disability award. As receipt of a social security disability award implies the member has a disability or is in poor health, it stands to reason that poor health by itself is usually not grounds for a waiver.
Once the appeal and all supporting documentation are received, the members' appeal will be forwarded to the Commission for decision.
TWO VERY IMPORTANT NOTES
1. De Novo Review of Information: Although a member has the right to request a waiver in accordance with the procedures outlined above, the Commission reviews all of the information the member provides to it on a de novo basis. If the Commission denies the member's request for a waiver, the Commission does not have to accept any of the repayment plans outlined in the attached Election Sheet. The Commission can implement its own repayment plan which may be lower but also could be higher than those listed on the attached sheet.
The Commission reviews all of the information the retiree provides to it on a de novo basis. Because the Commission has the financial information before it - information not initially possessed by the Division - the Commission can implement its own repayment plan which may be lower but also could be higher than those offered by the Division. Once a member seeks a waiver, the repayment plans offered by CMERS are "off the table" and the Commission decides, based upon the information the member submits, what an appropriate repayment plan is in the member's case. For example, a member could have been offered a three year repayment plan in the initial notification but the Commission could decide that a two year repayment plan is appropriate. The Commission will decide on the repayment plan - the member will not be able to go back to the Election Sheet provided to the member with his or her notification letter and choose an option.
The Commission also looks at any impediment which could affect the retiree's ability to repay the overpayment in the foreseeable future. To preserve the financial integrity of the Retirement Fund, and because there is no interest currently attached to the repayment schedule, the Commission tries and recoup the overpayment in a timely a fashion as possible.
2. Freedom of Information Requests. Your waiver request is not confidential. It is discussed in meetings that are open to the public and minutes of those meetings are placed on the Office of the State Comptroller website. CMERS may also receive a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from an individual to view, have access to or obtain a copy of your entire waiver file which may contain medical, financial and personal information including but not limited to home addresses. You may object to such disclosure. If you do, you must object in writing that you object to the disclosure of your waiver (appeal) file pursuant to an FOI request. CMERS recommends that you research the FOIC's privacy standards and/or consult with an attorney prior to sending us such an objection. If you send us such a written objection, CMERS will inform the requestor of your objection and not allow the disclosure but be aware that the requestor has the right to appeal your objection to disclosure to the FOIC. It is your responsibility to defend your objection to the FOIC if the requestor appeals your objection.
Unless we receive a written objection to FOI disclosure with your waiver information the Division will assume that you do not object to disclosure and therefore the Division will grant such requests. Given the number of waivers and documents, is impossible for the Division to review each page to determine if it meets the standards established by the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) for non-disclosure.