Former and current government employees received Friday afternoon a total of more than $10 million in interest payments on withdrawn defined benefit plan contributions, forming a line outside the Finance secretary’s office on Capital Hill for at least two hours.
Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson confirmed with Saipan Tribune yesterday that the total amount of paper checks distributed on Friday was “more than $10 million” for some 1,730 individuals on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
“Only those who haven’t filed their Form W9, those off-island and those with inactive accounts haven’t gotten their DB interest payment checks,” Larson said in an interview at yesterday’s 2014 Labor Day festivities in Susupe.
Nelson Ebilane, 52, said he’s setting aside a portion of the DB interest payments for his children’s schooling, including for one of them now attending Guam Community College.
“I’m happy to finally get the interest payment. I will be able to support my kids more,” the father of five said, as he was also looking forward to the Labor Day weekend.
Ebilane was among those who fell in line outside the Finance secretary’s office on Capital Hill on Friday afternoon amid the sweltering heat, to get their checks. He said he worked for 15 years with the Public School System’s maintenance division, and contributed to the NMI Retirement Fund’s defined benefit plan during those years.
Like hundreds of others who withdrew their DB contributions last year, Ebilane was relieved to also get the interest payments on those DB contributions on Friday.
“I thought this day would never come,” he added.
The more than $10 million in distributed DB interest payments came from the $30 million two-year advance license fees that casino resort developer Best Sunshine International Ltd. paid.
Larson said yesterday that some $11.9 million was also released two weeks ago for retirees’ 25 percent pension for nine months, or from October 2013 to June 2014.
“We have enough for everything, DB interest and 25-percent pension payments,” Larson said.
Retirees’ 25-percent pension checks for the months of July, August, and September will be released in early October. Future disbursements are expected to be on a quarterly basis.
A 49-year-old Kagman resident, who also got his DB interest payment check on Friday, said the payment arrives at the right time because he has three children now about to go back to school, and two of them will be attending Northern Marianas College.
“I’m happy. It’s what I expected,” said the father of three and who still remains in government after putting in 23 years of contributions to the DB plan before withdrawing those last year. He said he will also use a portion of those to pay off “some debts.”
Many of those who were approached on Friday for an interview while they were in line to get their DB interest payment checks refused to be identified nor interviewed over concerns that their relatives would ask for financial help from them at a time when they, too, are in need of money for their children’s education and other household expenses.
“I just want to get it now,” one of them said.
Yonie Dejillas, 73, said he will deposit “99.99 percent” of his money in the bank.
“It will be emergency money, savings money,” he said, while waiting for his turn to get his DB interest payment check. “I am happy and I have no regret.” Dejillas worked with PSS for 22 years and contributed to the DB plan that long.
About an hour later, however, Dejillas was still waiting inside the Finance secretary’s office, which was still trying to locate his check.
“I hope they will find it,” he said, adding that he immediately filed his Form W9 as soon as the Finance secretary’s office announced the need to file such tax form in preparation for the release of DB interest payment checks.
Police officers from the Department of Public Safety also helped maintain peace and security around the Finance secretary’s office building during the check distribution.
Henry Hofschneider, special adviser to the Saipan mayor, said he would have wanted his DB plan contributions intact so he can retire financially secured.
“That was the grand plan but something went wrong. Now we will all be on Social Security. We’re expecting a better retirement,” he said, adding that the funds he got would be used partly for his children’s school needs.
Acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider said yesterday that the Inos administration is delighted that the DB interest payment checks were released as soon as it can.
“We appreciate the patience, over time, of the employees that are affected by this decision. I do know that it’s a very significant part of every government employee that elected to join in that group [DB plan],” Hofschneider said at the Labor Day festivities.
The acting governor hopes those who got their DB interest payments would use them “wisely.”
“I continue to encourage them to take care of it and make sure that they use it wisely because that’s funds that were hard earned over at least the last 20 years. As indicated in the settlement plan, this is part of it. We are happy that it’s moving forward,” added Hofschneider, who is seeking to run again as a senator representing Tinian in the Nov. 4 general elections.
Acting Senate president Victor Hocog (R-Rota) separately said yesterday that there was also a line at Rota’s Finance office building on Friday for the release of DB interest payments.
“I’m glad the DB interest checks were released also on Rota,” he said.
The Finance secretary, meanwhile, said she’s thankful for the Finance staff for their hard work and diligence in working on the release of the DB interest payments. The check distribution started at 1pm on Friday. At about 3:30pm, almost all the checks were distributed by the Finance office on Saipan.
In October last year, the NMI Retirement Fund disbursed over $40 million in remaining defined benefit plan employee contributions refunded by over 1,700 individuals. That time, checks ranged from $20,000 to $100,000, based on interviews with some of the members.