North Carolina’s Pension Funds Maintained During Tough Economy


CarolinaFireJournal - Dale R. Folwell
Dale R. Folwell , CPA
07/30/2020 -

Challenges confront us throughout our lives, but perhaps not on the scale we have seen in recent months. We are in unprecedented times and this invokes a certain level of anxiety about the cer-tainty of change. As Treasurer for the state of North Carolina and keeper of the public purse, it is my duty to reassure the state’s citizens and business leaders that North Carolina’s government is on strong financial footing and well-positioned to weather the storm initiated by the COVID-19 epi-demic.

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Additionally, the North Carolina Retirement Systems, which includes state and local government employees, has been recognized by Moody’s Investors Service as the best funded in the nation when looking at its Adjusted net Pension Liability. Also, a recent “stress test” by Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that North Carolina’s state pension fund is well-positioned to maintain solvency during tough economic times.

When I cut a family vacation short in March to return to work with staff and address the growing volatility in the markets and its impact on the state pension plan’s $100 billion in investments, I had no idea I was about to experience the virus firsthand and understand its true impact. I did not present symptoms and never had a temperature. Yet, I tested positive, was admitted to the hospi-tal and could feel a battle going on in my chest. There was a moment one morning when I woke up from a very, very deep sleep and a scene of the Shawshank Redemption movie came back into my mind. I realized it was time to “get on with living or get on with dying.” I fought forward through recovery with the help of my family, staff, nurses and doctors. I’m very grateful for their support.

Through adversity comes strength and my hope is that we come out of this crisis with renewed vig-or, but we have work to do. The COVID-19 virus has set off a chain of events leading to an economic virus.  The true financial impact felt in North Carolina’s cities and towns will be determined by tim-ing and resumption of local tax revenues and consumer spending. We have seen a fall in sales tax, occupancy tax, vehicle registration tax and more. Local governments, especially first responders, rely on these to maintain their budgets and keep vital services available for citizens.

There is no quick fix or resolution. We must have a level of compassion when we are dealing with over one million North Carolinians who are unemployed and the families and individuals who have become ill due to COVID-19. We need to think about people’s ability to pay taxes and resume spending. But dealing with the now does not mean you forego the future; these go hand-in-hand. One of the best ways you can prepare for the future is to educate yourself on what you can do and what your options are.

I encourage you to learn more about the North Carolina Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund and the benefits available to you.

Thank you for all you do in your service to the citizens of North Carolina.

About the North Carolina Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund

The Department of State Treasurer partners with you during and after your service to North Caroli-na.  The Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund (FRSWPF) is a part of the N.C. Total Retirement Plans and our role is to maintain the integrity and sustainability of the plans. Your role is to make sure you are doing all you can to secure your financial future to retire the way you imag-ine.

In planning for retirement, you should consider not only your FRSWPF benefits but other pension benefits*, supplemental retirement plans and personal savings.

You can participate in the Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund if you are an eligi-ble firefighter or rescue squad worker who meets the requirements outlined in the Handbook**. To become a member of the pension fund, you must enroll through your department or squad and complete Form 350 (Enrolling in the Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund).

As an eligible member, a contribution of $10 per month for each month of service credit in a cal-endar year is made by either you or your department (on your behalf). These contributions can be made monthly or annually. They must be received by March 31 of the following year and properly credited to your account. Members who pay into the pension fund for 20 years become eligible for a monthly benefit at retirement.

Your contributions to the pension fund, the investment earnings on total contributions and an an-nual appropriation from the state General Fund pay the cost of providing your pension fund bene-fits. You may apply for your monthly pension benefits when you have 20 years of creditable service as a firefighter or rescue squad worker and reach the age of 55. Once you meet these requirements and submit the required retirement application (Form 6FR-Retiring from the Firefighters’ and Res-cue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund) you can begin receiving your pension benefit (currently $170 per month) and continue to work as a paid or volunteer firefighter or rescue squad worker.

If you leave the fund before you have 20 years of creditable service, the only payment you can re-ceive is a refund of your contributions.

You can view your creditable service and contributions in the ORBIT website. To create an account or login, visit https://ORBIT.myNCRetirement.com. These accounts are generally updated each year after the contributions and service are properly credited to your account after the annual due date. It is recommended you create an ORBIT account so you can maintain your information, up-date beneficiaries and verify your contributions and service are properly reported.

In addition to the monthly retirement payment, you may be eligible for other benefits. These are outlined in the Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund Handbook**. We also have a team available to assist with questions and to help guide you through the retirement process.  This team can be reached by logging in to your secure ORBIT account and selecting the “Reach A Coun-selor” tab.

For more information on the Local Governmental Employees Retirement System, visit myNCRetirement.com.

*Depending on your employment situation, you may be eligible for benefits from FRWPF and the Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System (LGERS).

**Eligibility requirements are outlined in the Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension Fund Handbook - https://www.myncretirement.com/retirees/benefits/member-handbooks

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