COVID-19 Update & FAQs

06/16/2020

NYSTRS has implemented a variety of measures related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Large meetings and events, including our PREP seminars, are canceled until further notice. Benefit consultations are being conducted by telephone. A large percentage of staff are telecommuting. Our building is closed to the public but our phone lines remain open at (800) 348-7298 to answer your questions and we are still receiving mail.

We thank you for understanding that the health, safety and welfare of our members and staff are our utmost concern. We will continue to monitor the evolving situation as well as the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the New York State Health Department, and we will continue to adjust our plans as needed.

To ensure members have the information needed to make informed decisions, we have put in place alternative communication methods. Please read on for more information. We also urge you to use the self-service tools and secure messaging function available through your online MyNYSTRS account.

1. Will there be delays in processing forms, requests or benefit payments?

A large percentage of NYSTRS staff are telecommuting until further notice to facilitate social distancing. We are prioritizing transactions such as pension payments, direct deposit changes, disability retirements, death benefits and loans. (Note: We encourage members to apply for a loan via MyNYSTRS and request direct deposit payment as there will be a delay in processing paper loan checks.) All other transactions will be processed as expeditiously as possible. Throughout this challenging time, NYSTRS staff will work diligently to maintain the highest level of customer service.

If you are filing time-sensitive forms or submitting critical documents to NYSTRS, we strongly recommend that you use registered or certified mail through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to do so. The Postal Service is reporting delays in standard mail delivery times due to staff shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more in our headline Consider U.S. Mail Alternatives.

2. What's the most important step I can take at this point? 

If you don’t have a MyNYSTRS account, create one now. This will allow you to file forms electronically, print 1099 tax forms, run benefit projections, correspond with us securely and utilize the many self-service tools available. With an account, you can file a service retirement application without needing to get a notarization. It will also allow NYSTRS to receive your forms even if there is an interruption in the System's ability to receive mail.

To create an account, you will need to enter the last four digits of your Social Security number and your NYSTRS EmplID, so have those handy. The latter can be found on the Benefit Profile sent to you each fall or on personal correspondence you have received from NYSTRS.

3. With NYS schools directed to remain closed through the end of the school year due to COVID-19, will I still receive service credit?

If a member remains on payroll during the COVID-19 school shutdown, the member should receive service credit, provided the reason is solely related to COVID-19 or other permissible forms of leave pay. The situation is fluid and is evolving, and the System reserves the right to revise its position as warranted.

As always, the System will review service credit for members who may be on payroll but are receiving termination pay or another form of leave that is not deemed permissible for the granting of service credit.

4. Are there any changes regarding loan repayments or distributions?

Repayments: If you remain on payroll with a NYSTRS participating employer, regular loan deductions will continue as usual. Members with a loan who are not currently employed in a NYSTRS-eligible position will continue to receive a monthly loan statement and make payments directly to NYSTRS. Members are not required to make loan payments in July and August.

Distributions: Under the CARES act, the 10% additional tax that would generally apply to early distributions will not be in effect for calendar year 2020 distributions that meet the IRS’ definition of a coronavirus-related distribution (e.g., if you, your spouse, or dependent were diagnosed with the virus based on a CDC-approved test; or due to the virus, you experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of: being quarantined, furloughed, or laid off; having your work hours reduced; or being unable to work due to a lack of child care). You would report this distribution status to the IRS as part of your federal tax return.

5. Given concerns with COVID-19, what are the eligibility rules to apply for disability protection?

If you haven’t been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, you should not file a disability retirement application with us related to the pandemic. While we certainly understand and share the health concerns that members have, a member cannot apply for disability protection just on the possibility that they might end up getting sick. You must have been diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition like COVID-19 or be facing a significant surgery in order to qualify.

In general, if you face a potentially life-threatening illness or surgery, pre-emptively filing a disability retirement application provides protection to a beneficiary if you were to die. In most cases, the lump-sum retirement payment a beneficiary would receive would be significantly more than an in-service death benefit. You should contact our Disability Unit at (800) 348-7298, Ext. 6010 for additional information before making a decision to file. Our video "Filing for Disability Protection: What You Need to Know" is another helpful resource.

Another important step you can take when planning for the future is to have a power of attorney (POA) on file with NYSTRS. For more information see our Power of Attorney FAQs, which includes links to the Public Retirement System Special Power of Attorney form.

6. Does the COVID-19 death benefit for public employees apply to NYSTRS members?

Chapter 89 of the Laws of 2020 establishes a COVID-19 accidental death benefit for New York State public employees. The law would apply to NYSTRS members who reported to work at a place of employment as directed on or after March 1, 2020 and contracted COVID-19 within 45 days, and who died on or before December 31, 2020 with COVID-19 causing or contributing to their death. Please check back soon for a fact sheet containing additional information regarding eligibility.

7. I need to submit a form that requires notarization, but am having difficulty obtaining a notary at this time. How should I proceed?

A New York State executive order permits the use of e-notarizations through July 6. Refer to How to E-Notarize in Six Easy Steps for additional information. Members who are in New York State and need a NYSTRS document e-notarized can contact us for assistance by calling (800) 348-7298, Ext. 6250. Please note that notarization is not required for service retirement applications submitted through MyNYSTRS.

8. Are retired health care workers who want to help during the COVID-19 crisis still subject to the Section 212 earnings limits?

Normally, most retirees who return to New York State public employment before age 65 have an annual $35,000 earnings limit. That limit has been temporarily suspended by a New York State executive order, primarily to recruit retired health care workers to assist with pandemic efforts. Pay earned from March 27, 2020 through July 6, 2020 will not count toward a retiree’s annual earnings cap.

9. I was looking forward to attending a PREP seminar to guide me as I plan for retirement. What other options are available to me?

To ensure you have the information you need, we produced video versions of our PREP seminar modules and posted them on the PREP page of this website. There you will also find our PREP workbook, broken into chapters to correspond with the video modules.

A host of additional useful online resources is also available. For example, our Ready to Retire page has links to a variety of publications, videos and forms to help you prepare for retirement. If you have a MyNYSTRS account, you can run estimates of your projected benefit based on various scenarios.

If you have specific questions regarding your situation, send us a secure message from your online MyNYSTRS account. If you have general questions, email them to our Information & Communication Center at communit@nystrs.org. You can also call us at (800) 348-7298, Ext. 6250.

10. Will a telephone consultation offer me all the same information I would have received at an in-person or video consultation?  

Yes. The estimates you would have received during an in-person or video consultation will instead be uploaded to your MyNYSTRS account. A NYSTRS representative will review that important information with you over the phone and answer all your questions. Alternatively, documents can be mailed to you after the consultation.

If you don’t have a MyNYSTRS account, we strongly urge you to register for one prior to your telephone consultation. You will need to enter the last four digits of your Social Security number and your NYSTRS EmplID so have those handy. The latter can be found on the Benefit Profile sent to you each fall or on personal correspondence you have received from NYSTRS. 

11. The coronavirus has impacted the stock market. What does that mean for my retirement benefit?

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted global markets. However, your NYSTRS benefit is safe. NYSTRS is well funded, meaning we have funds on hand to pay promised benefits. The System invests in a well-diversified portfolio and follows a long-term investment strategy. The System’s Retirement Board, staff and external consultants continually monitor our asset allocations and adjust as necessary.

12. I’ve heard talk of states potentially declaring bankruptcy due to financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. How would that affect my pension if that happens in New York?

The United States Bankruptcy Code does not permit states to file for bankruptcy protection. Accordingly, in order for New York State to file bankruptcy, Congress would first have to amend the Bankruptcy Code to permit it to do so. Notwithstanding this, political subdivisions, agencies, and other instrumentalities of New York are permitted to file for bankruptcy protection provided certain preconditions are first met, including the granting of authorization by the State of New York to appear as a debtor in a bankruptcy case. You can find more information about state and municipal bankruptcies at: https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy/bankruptcy-basics/chapter-9-bankruptcy-basics.

NYSTRS is well funded and your pension is secure. New York’s Constitution protects NYSTRS’ funds for the exclusive use of paying retirement and ancillary benefits to New York’s public educators and administrators. Article 5, Section 7 of the New York State Constitution guarantees that promised public retirement benefits cannot be diminished or impaired, and it refers to a public pension as a “contractual relationship” formed the moment an individual joins a public retirement system in the state.

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